Supported employment is changing lives
Supported employment is a tried and tested system, used internationally, of supports to assist people with disabilities to access work. ‘Supported employment is based on the principles of human rights, equality and social inclusion. Work is very important for people,’ explains Eithne Jarrett, a director on the board of the Irish Association of Supported Employment (IASE). The IASE is a national organisation working to promote equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities through supported employment. Eithne is a long-time board member and supporter of the organisation’s work.
As the coordinator of Roscommon EmployAbility, Eithne has considerable experience in the area of employment and disability and she explains why she feels the work of organisations like the IASE and services such as Roscommon EmployAbility are so important: ‘When you think about it, if you are excluded from work, you are really excluded from a whole range of experiences within your community—engagement with other people, being able to contribute to your community, being able to earn money.’
For Cork women Rebecca Bourke and Sharon O’Brien, who are supported by St Joseph’s Foundation in Charleville, supported employment has played a pivotal, even life-changing, role.
‘Well, it’s how I make friends, meet people, especially when I get my break and have a chat over a cup of coffee,’ says Rebecca, who works four days a week in Dunnes Stores in Charleville. ‘I earn a wage and I have some independence,’ she adds.
Rebecca is supported by her job coach Mary Hayes, at St Joseph’s Foundation. Mary delivers the supported employment programme for 36 clients who are in paid employment. ‘Supported employment is about more than simply having a job and earning a wage,’ explains Mary.
‘For many of my guys, if they have a job, they then go on to learn to travel independently, meet people, grow in confidence and one thing leads on from another. I’ve had service users where employment has really changed things completely for them, in all areas of their lives, in a very positive way.’
Sharon is a Special Olympian and she also works in her local Centra store. ‘I love it,’ she says. ‘The staff are lovely and I’ve made some great friends. It gives me independence because I have my own laser card and my own money.’ When Sharon first approached Mary about getting some support around employment, she received travel training, so she could travel to work independently. This has had a positive knock-on effect, explains Sharon. ‘Now, me and my friend, Rebecca go off on our own to Mallow once a week and have lunch.’
A voluntary organisation set-up in 1994, the IASE works at a national level to promote supported employment to employers, jobseekers, decision makers and the general public. One of the IASE’s flagship initiatives is organising and promoting National Supported Employment Week each April and Job Shadow Day. Job Shadow Day is a national project bringing people with disabilities and local employers together for one day to promote equal employment opportunities and to highlight the valuable contribution people with disabilities can, and do, make at work.
Jobseekers with disabilities explore the world of work for a day by ‘shadowing’ someone in the workplace as they go about their normal working routine.
David Mullins (20), from Cork City, is coming to the end of a three-year training programme at the DORAS Training Centre in the heart of the city, a service provided by the COPE Foundation. David took part in Job Shadow Day with his local fire services this year and he said the experience was hugely positive for him. ‘It was a great opportunity,’ he enthused. ‘They showed me around, explained how everything works, what a normal working day would be like. In one day, I got to see so much and try so many new things.’
David is getting ready to begin a National Learning Network course in September and he feels Job Shadow Day helped him gain an insight into the demands of the working world. ‘I do need some extra support when it comes to looking for a job, so Job Shadow Day is very good for me.’
One of David’s classmates, Sarah Lynch (21), took part in Job Shadow Day last year too at her local Supervalu. She subsequently received a job offer. ‘I was delighted,’ she explained. ‘It’s great to earn a bit of money and meet new people and I get on really well with everyone there.’
Lisa Waterman, who, at 18, is a little younger than Sarah and David, and has just completed her first year at DORAS. She says Job Shadow Day helped her decide on the type of work she’d really like to pursue: ‘I did Job Shadow Day in an office. Before, I did some work experience in childcare. Being in the office for the day was great. I liked it, but I preferred childcare so that’s what I would like to do.’
Job Shadow Day 2013 was a huge success, as it saw a 20% increase in the number of employers taking part (more than 400 nationally) compared to the previous year’s figures. Some 16 jobseekers were offered paid employment after their Job Shadow Day experience.
Teresa Mallon is the chairperson of the IASE. She said the growing number of employers taking part is hugely positive: ‘One of the main goals of Job Shadow Day is to promote awareness among employers about the valuable contribution people with disabilities make to the workplace. We work to get employers involved for one day so they have the opportunity to dip their toes in the water of supported employment and see if they’d like to explore further ways they can develop more inclusive workplaces.’
‘It’s always great to see job offers materialise out of Job Shadow Day, but that’s not the main aim. It’s an awareness initiative. So even if the employer is not in a position to recruit someone, they can still build up a good relationship with their local disability service provider and see what supported employment is all about.’
Mairead Forde, another service user at St Joseph’s Foundation, works part-time in Supervalu in Boherbue, Cork. She stresses the support she receives from her job coach Mary Hayes: ‘She helps me out so much. Only yesterday, I came in and we updated my CV and got ready to send it to employers because I am looking for more work. I want to get more responsibility at work, learn new things. I told Mary this and she is helping me to find a way to do it.’
For satisfied clients of supported employment like Mairead, the IASE organises the annual Best Practice Awards which honour employers, employees, job coaches and disability organisations across Ireland who are working tirelessly to break down barriers to the workplace for people with disabilities and promote inclusive recruitment and workplace practices. This year, the nomination process for the awards will open in September, with the announcement of the 2013 award categories. Anyone who would like to see a champion of supported employment recognised and celebrated for their contribution to the area can make a nomination.
Sarah Togher is the national coordinator of the IASE. She said 2013 has been a whirlwind year for the organisation. ‘In June, we hosted the European Union of Supported Employment (EUSE) conference, which is one of the biggest international gatherings relating to disability and employment.’
The EUSE conference, sponsored by the Rehab Group, brought more than 500 delegates and experts from some 30 countries to Dublin for three days to examine and share best-practice initiatives in the area of supported employment. ‘It is fantastic to see Ireland, which already has a strong international reputation for best practice, take centre stage for three days and become a world leader in the advancement of supported employment,’ explained Sarah.