EmployAbility Galway (www.employabilitygalway.ie) is one of the national network of 23 supported employment services funded by Department of Social Protection. Founded in 2001 as Galway Supported Employment Consortium Ltd., since 2009 we have been trading as EmployAbility Galway. Our Board of Directors give their time voluntarily and are senior-level managers in Ability West, Brothers of Charity Services and Rehabcare. We have six full-time staff. Our remit is to support job seekers with disabilities to source and maintain paid employment, and to support employers to integrate people with disabilities into the work place. We provide individualised job coach support to all of our clients. We do this by putting an individual action plan in place for each client, searching for employment, supporting people and their employers on the job, and developing people’s confidence in their job to a stage where they can work independently without our support.
The service is responsible for supporting clients in the Galway City, County and Aran Islands geographical area. Approximately 40% of the clients who seek support from our service every year are people with an intellectual disability; about 7% have a combination of two or more disability backgrounds. Because the Conamara gaeltacht makes up a large part of County Galway, gaeilge is the first language for some of our clients.
Communication is a key part of service delivery. Keeping in mind the diversity of people we work with in an average day, it is important that we continually develop our communication strategy. We have always tried to make the service accessible to all of our clients, and for some time we were conscious that we were unable to deliver a full Irish service to the native Irish speakers in our client group. We felt this was a barrier to delivery of service for native Irish speakers, particularly those with intellectual disabilities. In 2009 we were delighted to launch our full seirbhís as gaeilge. We now have one fluent Irish speaking staff member, and two staff members with good levels of conversational Irish. We have the ability to develop individual action plans, meet with employers and support people on the job fully, as gaeilge where needed. This service has been invaluable to clients who in the past have had to struggle to understand information delivered in English, when Irish is their spoken language.
EmployAbility Galway also developed a new website in 2009. We decided to try and make the website accessible for people with intellectual disabilities, where literacy skills were a barrier to accessing information. This involved inclusion of film clips to enable people to listen to the content of the website. While doing this, we decided to include an Irish sign language (ISL) signer, signing the information. The ISL feature was important for the deaf community and for clients who had a dual disability. (Some clients with intellectual disabilities are also deaf or hard of hearing.) There is a common misconception that Irish sign language is a direct translation of spoken English or Irish, however the language is one that has been developed within the deaf community, rather than for it. ‘The Irish Deaf Society says that ISL “arose from within deaf communities”, “was developed by deaf people themselves” and “has been in existence for hundreds of years”, but according to Ethnologue the language arose in its current form in 1846 and 1849 in the girls’ and boys’ schools respectively, British Sign Language (BSL) having been introduced in Dublin in 1816.’ (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Sign_Language)
The films for the website were developed through working with an external sign language interpreter from the Centre for Sign Language Studies www.cslstudies.com. The development of the film led to one of the EmployAbility Galway job coaches commencing studies with the centre at ISL Level 1 in 2011. Róisín has now almost completed studies at Level 3, and she is in a position to work with clients who communicate through ISL. This has broken down another communication barrier for our clients. The true benefit of this is not simply the ability to interpret through ISL. ISL interpreters are required to comply with a code of ethics to faithfully interpret information. Job coaches are required to question, negotiate, advocate and develop employment opportunities on behalf of their clients. A job coach with the ability to work in a dual role can do all of the above, and if they feel that throughout the interpretation important questions have not been raised, or extra items for negotiation have not been discussed, they are in a position to introduce them into the conversation.
The introduction of these new methods of communication has been of great benefit to the clients we support. To the best of our knowledge EmployAbility Galway is the only supported employment service in the country to provide a seirbhís as gaeilge and an ISL service. The development of the seirbhís as gaeilge was a milestone in EmployAbility Galway, joining Gaillimh le Gaeilge www.gleg.ie whose remit is to develop Galway’s Irish image and promote Galway as a bilingual City. This led to the organisation winning the 2012 Gradam Sheosaimh Uí Ógartaigh, which is an award for excellence in bilingualism held by only a small number of Galway companies.
The development of our communication strategy has led to greater numbers of people in employment, greater customer service satisfaction from clients and employers, and a desire within the EmployAbility Galway team to continuously improve in the delivery of its supported employment service.