Real-life stories

Sheena Watts – Nursery Assistant

Employee Sheena Watts
Job Nursery Assistant
Sector Health and care
Company Happy Times (Leeds) Ltd
“The best thing about the job is the children. You see so many different stages of their development. First word, first step. It’s really good to see that.”

Sheena Watts, Nursery Assistant at Happy Times in Leeds, loves her job. She’s been at the nursery for four years and is key worker for five of the children – assessing their development and behaviour and liaising closely with parents.

Sheena has dyslexia, tinnitus and hearing loss. Although she is articulate, she sometimes has trouble expressing herself – the words can just “come out wrong.”

However, her pragmatic and open approach means that she successfully manages any challenges that come her way and ensures the parents of the children she cares for are aware of her impairments.  “I tell the parents that I might not be able to spell some words and to tell me if they think I’m ignoring them as I may not have heard what they said.” Generally the response is positive: “I think the parents are more understanding these days. More people know about disability.”

Employer's story

Sharon Catley, Head of Nursery, doesn’t see Sheena as a disabled person but as an individual: “She’s a character; she’s got something to give.”

In 2003, when Sharon was recruiting for the new nursery, the Disability Employment Adviser at Jobcentre Plus introduced her to Sheena. Sharon liked Sheena’s proactive and down-to-earth approach and thought she could be a valuable addition to her team. Sheena’s post was funded for a settling-in period through the New Deal for Disabled People, and she quickly proved she could do the job well.

Increased confidence

Sheena sometimes needs a little extra help with the paperwork but Sharon stresses that this extra support is not a big deal. Sheena will ask for help if she needs it but otherwise just gets on with her job. Sharon has watched Sheena’s confidence increase as she has settled into the job and noticed great improvements in her practical abilities such as spelling.

All the staff at Happy Times have learnt ‘Makaton’ sign language – something that makes life easier for Sheena in some situations, but also benefits the nursery as a whole. This includes caring for the children such as a youngster with communication difficulties who started attending the nursery.

Disability Symbol employer

The nursery is now a Disability Symbol employer – meaning it agrees to meet certain commitments in employing and retaining disabled people. Recently the company provided a voluntary placement for a profoundly deaf man, who gained a few weeks of valuable work experience that he can use as a stepping stone to finding a permanent job.

Sharon would be happy to employ more disabled people and encourages other companies to do so. There have been definite advantages for the business – meeting disabled employees gives the parents of children with special needs extra confidence in the nursery.

Message to other employers

“Don’t be frightened by the word disability – it’s a huge umbrella. Give it a go. You can’t prejudge the situation.”

Sharon Catley, Head of Nursery, Happy Times (Leeds) Ltd

Employee's story

Sheena had previously applied for many jobs but didn’t get beyond the application form or a telephone call. “People didn’t know how to react. They didn’t know how I could help children. They weren’t sure how I could communicate with children or help them to write if I don’t know how to spell.”

More independence

Inevitably the repeated rejections damaged her confidence but her perseverance paid off in the end. She encourages other disabled people not to give up and to try to communicate what they have to offer. “Talk to the person who’s interviewing and see if you can help them understand what you have to offer.”

Working at Happy Times has made a huge difference to Sheena. “I’ve got a bit more independence instead of staying at home and doing nothing or going on different courses just to get out of the house.”

Sheena always knew that she wanted to work with children. Having achieved that ambition, she’s not standing still – now she’s developing her skills further by taking an NVQ Level 2 in Childcare.

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Sheena (right) with employer Sharon Catley

Sheena Watts

Employer - Sharon Catley

Sharon and Sheena talking