A Programme Tries to Smooth the Path to Work and Education for People with Disabilities

The path from secondary school onwards to further education or a career often isn’t clear-cut, says Ben Lindsay, a guidance officer for the Ability Programme.

Especially for people with sensory or physical disabilities, and mental-health issues. That’s where Ability is trying to help.

The Crumlin-based programme is designed to help people aged 18 to 29, facing these challenges, transition from school to further education, training or work.

“Our outcome isn’t just getting a job for somebody,” says Programme Coordinator Deirdre Moore. “We’re trying to point them in the right direction.”

The programme is officially launching Thursday, but has been quietly up and running since November. And finding some success, Lindsay says.

“There’s a big push around a more diverse and inclusive workforce,” he says.

“We’re finding that an awful lot of organisations are willing to put time and effort into introducing some of the people we have,” he says.

But it’s not just about getting people on to the next step, says Joan O’Donnell development manager at the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI). There also needs to be continuing support for them once they get there, she says.

In the 2016 Census, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 26.3 percent, more than double the 12.9 percent rate for the population as a whole.

The Programme

Based on St Agnes Road in Walkinstown, the South Dublin City Partnership is working with three other groups to deliver the voluntary Ability programme.

This South Dublin City branch is one of such 27 Ability programmes in Ireland, which together received €16 million in funding announced last June by Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty.

Three Ability staff run the programme for areas on the south side of the city, in postcodes 2, 4, 6, 6W, 8, 10, 12 and 20.

Young people who apply for the programme have to be in receipt of disability allowance or an invalidity pension, in receipt of illness benefit for more than three months, or be a user in a disability service project partner.

They can also be referred to Ability by other services or a community group, according to Pobal, which manage the programme on behalf of the government.

Lindsay, the guidance officer, says trying to navigate the next step after secondary school can create anxiety for people.

“Even in education, the leap from one QQI level course could be just too much for an individual,” Lindsay says.

“All of a sudden they’re being asked what they want to do and they’re going, ‘Well no one really ever asked that question,’” he says.

People who come into the service are first assessed in terms of employment skills and mental health.

Staff then help each person create a career plan, based on their interests. They also help them fill out applications and prep for interviews, says Moore.

Programme users attended workshops on employability skills development and even social-media etiquette.

Up and Running

Although the programme has been running for a while, Moore says the organisers decided to have an official launch Thursday to celebrate and promote the project.

Moore says the launch is a way to bring together the participants, local employers, training and education providers and partner organisations.

Minister Doherty will speak at the launch, as well as local DEASP representatives.

There’ll also be activities like yoga and meditation classes, and entertainment from the Crumlin Community Choir and DJ Ziad.

Tracking Progress

There is no limit on how much time a person can spend in the programme, as people’s needs vary, says Moore, the programme coordinator.

“It depends how far removed they were as well. If someone hasn’t engaged in anything in a year or two, which a lot of young people would, we can spend more time with them,” she says.

The programme brings participants on “excite visits”, says Mairead Reilly, the second Ability guidance officer, where they can visit a college. “It reduces the anxiety and the nervousness around that,” she says.

Also, Ability staff have been working with local businesses to get them to take people for work experience.

“Providing work experience is hugely beneficial as it increases confidence, adds new experience to a CV and provides a recent employer reference,” says Moore.

So far, four people have exited the Ability programme, meaning they found something they wanted to do.

Three moved on to further education and one got a full-time job while with Ability, according to Moore, the programme coordinator.

Barriers to Employment

O’Donnell, of the DFI, says there are many barriers that make it harder for people with disabilities to get jobs. The main one is people’s attitudes toward them, she says.

“The attitude of Intreo staff, when they walk through the door, the attitude of people around them who want to keep them safe and protected from rejection, she says.

“The other thing that holds people back are very real concrete things like the actual cost of going out to work if you cannot get their by public transport.”

O’Donnell said proper government support is needed in order to make programmes like Ability successful.

This includes in-work supports like Personal Assistant Services, which the DFI says only 0.3 percent of people with disabilities receive. These supports help people with disabilities engage in everyday tasks such as socialising, education, and employment.

Employers are also supposed to make reasonable accommodations (modification to workplace conditions) for people with disabilities, but there is no legislation underpinning what this means, O’Donnell says.

Still, O’Donnell says she hopes to see sustainable employment created by the Ability programme.

“At a time when the future of work is upon us, and many jobs are becoming automated, it is important that Ability programmes deliver real change and options for people with disabilities,” she says.

“[It’s important that] supports are situated in this real-world context and deliver long term impact for those they serve.”

We’re working to develop a beat focused on jobs in the city. If you’ve ideas for work-related stories or have questions that you’d like to see answered, we’d love it to hear from you at [email protected]

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Aura McMenamin: Aura McMenamin is a city reporter.

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