CNEASTA, the umbrella organisation representing people with disabilities and service providers in the area of training, development and employment, held its annual conference in Kilkenny on 25-26 September 2001. ‘Quality Services in a Changing Environment’—the conference presentations reflected that title in two distinct but interdependent strands—quality and change.
As the old adage goes ‘there is nothing so constant as change’, although it is not always obvious. Mr. William Parnell, from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment and deputising for the Tánaiste who was unable to attend, spoke of some of the changes within his department in the past year, since the advent of ‘mainstreaming’ training services for people with disabilities. In the department’s policy of equal treatment for all, a three-pronged strategy has been adopted–to stimulate awareness of the contribution of people with disabilities, develop skills through training, and provide a range of supports. One of the first initiatives had been to standardise training allowances for all trainees whether accessing FÁS training directly or specialised training (now funded by FÁS). In a complementary move those people who participate in what is categorised as ‘rehabilitative training’ receive a bonus payment of £25 from the Department of Health without impinging on other benefits. There is liaison between the Departments of Enterprise Trade and Employment, Health and Children and Social, Community and Family Affairs to tackle common issues.
Ms. Shira Mehlman, Manager, Programme Development, Disability Policy and Development at FÁS, defined a quality service as being ‘fit for purpose, provided by skilled staff and satisfactory to the customer’. FÁS is presently undergoing a strategic review. It is conscious of the inclusion of people with disabilities in its own brief, but regardless of who provides the training, individual outcomes must be the same for all—placement, progression and accreditation.
Erik Koornneef, Senior Standards Officer, spoke about the NDA’s role to develop, coordinate and advise on policy and to promote equality and best practice. Mr Tony McQuinn, Senior Manager, outlined Comhairle’s main responsibility—the provision of information on social services. It saw its role primarily to resource others to provide services. He recommended two on-line sources for information as www.cidb.ie and www.oasis.gov.ie.
Equality and Rights
In the area of equality and rights there were two excellent presenters. Patrick O’Leary of the Equality Authority explained that disability and age (18-65 in employment, 15-65 in training) were two of the nine grounds of discrimination under the Employment Equality. The Equality Authority is an independent body which promotes equal opportunities policies in the workplace, including recruitment, selection, training, promotion and anti-harassment.
Mooney, Director of Muscular Dystrophy Ireland, shared his personal experience of life with a disability–speaking candidly about nights of protest for equal treatment outside Dáil Éireann and about the personal difficulties attached to taking up the gauntlet of equality. It is not the easy option and requires courage and tenacity because with rights comes responsibility.
The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment is now responsible for vocational training. Through the agency of FÁS, a set of quality Standards for Training and Development (QA00/01) has been developed and is being applied to all training centres. Mr Walter Balfe, Standards Officer took delegates through the new standards and highlighted the fact that a large percentage of centres have already received approval. He also spoke briefly about the streamlining of certification awarding bodies (NCVA, IAS, CERT, TEAGASC, BIM, etc.) under a new organisation, the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC).
Jacqui Browne, independent consultant, spoke about the review committee which she chairs that is looking at developing a code of practice for sheltered workshops. The committee has visited a wide range of workshops and it will review policy and practice, personal development, standards, further progression, worker status and support services.
The final presentations at the conference looked at quality services in Northern Ireland (Nora Marquess, Vocational Programmes Manager at Disability Action (NI)), and in the European context (Michael Crowley, Quality Co-ordinator, National Training and Development Institute).
Parallel sessions allowed delegates to discuss issues in more detail. It was a very stimulating conference and in many ways reassuring that much-needed change is happening and issues are being addressed. From a personal perspective I felt the opportunity was missed to have heard from the Department of Health and Children about its progress in mainstreaming ‘rehabilitative training’.