Skip to main content
5 min read

How to be an ally in the workplace for a colleague with Down’s syndrome

The Down's Syndrome Association WorkFit programme gives advice on how employees can better support a work colleague with Down's syndrome.

In the past decade, societal and workplace attitudes towards individuals with Down’s syndrome have made positive strides forwards, but there’s still room for improvement. For employers and their workforce, being equipped with the knowledge and understanding of how to better support a colleague with the condition is at the heart of the matter.

In fact, it’s key to achieving an inclusive work environment.

Today, many companies’ perception of Down’s syndrome has advanced significantly and savvy employers realise the numerous advantages of employing individuals with Down’s syndrome and the huge contribution they can make to the business.

Like many people with learning disabilities who are striving to achieve their fullest potential in the workplace, people living with Down’s syndrome need support from co-workers.  Having a work ally or mentor will offer the person with Down’s syndrome a first port of call for any queries or concerns.

It’s fundamental. In fact, it’s the cornerstone to integration.

As is the case with any new starter, it will also help them to form an effective working relationship, encouraging integration and inclusion as one of the team.

But don’t just take our word for it. We’ve taken advice from our colleagues living with the condition to get tips on ways to become a better workplace ally to a colleague with Down’s syndrome.

1. Educate: Learn more about the condition


“The team are really supportive, kind, helpful and positive. It makes me feel like they really helped me out a lot.” – Luke, Wiltshire Police Headquarters

Educating yourself about Down’s syndrome is the best starting point. By understanding the genetic condition and arming yourself with knowledge, you’ll be in a better position to support your colleague.

Ask your employer or HR department to provide learning materials or training. Alternatively, contact an expert organisation for advice, for example The Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA).

The DSA provides resources and bespoke Down’s syndrome awareness training which includes practical advice and information that you can use to support your colleague.

2. Include: Make your colleague feel welcome


“When Cedric, the Pastry Chef, made me a birthday cake not long after I had started at the hotel, I felt so happy as it was presented to me and a valued member of the team’. – Alex, Hilton Bournemouth

Social inclusion in the workplace is important for all employees, and colleagues living with Down’s syndrome are no exception.

Be their support system in the workplace and offer to mentor them in tasks to ensure they have all the help they need.

Making your colleague feel included will also ensure they feel like a valued member of the team, and will create a positive atmosphere.

This could be as simple as asking the employee with Down’s syndrome to join you for lunch, or letting them know about a workplace event that all staff are participating in. An inclusive environment is a happy environment.

3. Speak up: Empower your colleague

People with learning disabilities can be more vulnerable to workplace bullying. Make it your business to ensure that there’s zero tolerance to discrimination or abusive behaviour.

If you see any mistreatment or bulling of any colleagues, including colleagues with Down’s syndrome, vocalise it. Report the incident immediately and speak up for your colleague. Stamp out the bullies.

4. Explain: The unwritten rules


‘By working with Sarah we have learnt a lot, and as a result have adapted our working environment to provide her with the support she needs.’’ – Staff at Thistle Hotel While most employers will dedicate time to inducting new starters in the formal rules and regulations of the workplace, it’s often the unwritten rules that make the difference.  It’s the little things that matter, for example which mug to use, where to make a cup of tea etc.

Acting as a workplace ally/mentor in all things informal will help your new colleague to settle into the workplace. Communication is key.

Communicate with short clear sentences and use open ended questions. Allow time for your colleague with Down’s syndrome to provide you with answers and to ask you any questions they might have.

Always ask questions to confirm that they have understood the task or instruction. Provide further explanation if needed in a way that is clearer, and visual.

5. Don’t underestimate: Respect your colleague


“Before I was only offered unpaid work. But I’ve always wanted a job where I can get paid for my work, to help me understand money & budgeting better & to be more independent.” – Ben, Newlands Hey School.

Although some adults with Down’s syndrome may need additional training or time to get used to their working environment, do not underestimate their work abilities.

In 2015 Ben Small, 28, faced constant rejections from companies in his search for a job, despite having an NVQ1 in catering. Ben has Down’s syndrome and as a result, many companies underestimated his working potential.

In a bid to help her step-son have the chance to work, Fiona Hodge asked for help on Twitter, creating the hashtag #GetBenAJob. Not only did the hashtag go viral, but as a result Ben was inundated with job offers, eventually opting to choose a job in Wilson’s Kitchen.

5-step guide to being a workplace ally to a colleague with Down’s syndrome

Read more about disability in the workplace

What’s it like to be deaf in the workplace? We spoke to two deaf people about their employment experiences.