Something meaningful to do every day should be a right enshrined in law

Anna Kingston regrets the loss of so many of our young people to emigration, and makes a compelling case for meaningful occupation for people with intellectual disability in modern Ireland.

With a firm focus on a rights agenda, positive action is needed to forge new partnership with families so people with intellectual disability can enjoy fulfilling lives, Roy McConkey holds that just as the emergence of community based services in the 50’s ushered in the closure of institutions, the personalization philosophy of contemporary efforts will bring about radical changes in the way services are delivered.
Given that family care giving extents beyond childhood and can often be life long, family perspectives will be central to the way series are developed and delivered now and in the future.
The central theme of the importance of the sound relationship that professional service providers have with families first and foremost must be based on trust and respect. This is central in order for the individual is to have a good life.
Families benefit from information and mindful coordination of services.
This article gives testimony to the fact that the best is yet to come.

Youth unemployment in Ireland is currently over 22 percent, and Irish parents are heartbroken watching their young adult sons and daughters emigrate to far away shores for work as there is nothing here for them. As difficult as this is, these young people are, in my opinion, lucky as they are able to emigrate and find a meaningful occupation elsewhere.

In contrast, there are thousands of young people in Ireland, willing and capable of working hard who cannot leave this island as they would not be able to do this on their own. They have special needs and in need of that little bit of extra support in order to carry on with life. Packing their bags and heading off to a foreign country is not an option.

So what is on offer for these young men and women who have mild intellectual disabilities (or any degree of disability for that matter?). Not much really. Some service providers offer a place in a day service or community support service. Sounds great in theory and may even work really well in practice. They get to socialise with peers and do some fun stuff like bowling or going to the gym. Some might even get a few hours voluntary work during the week and if they are really lucky, this might lead to paid employment.

Paid employment, however, is more the exception than the rule and in order to secure paid employment you would have to tick a lot of boxes. The young man or woman would have to behave more or less like any hard working, well behaved and fast moving employee with no obvious impairments. Needless to say that a large group of young people in Ireland with special needs is left outside this paid employment and have lots of leisure time and very little money.

Judging by my 23-year-old son’s daily activities and those of his peers, there is a lot of time left to spend at home, in front of the computer. He has an hour here and an hour there during the week, mostly consisting of voluntary work and social activities during day time. His only paid work is one hour a week in a café run by the service provider at minimum wage. Maybe he should be lucky that he has anything at all? But no, I’m not buying that.

My son is an outdoor person, strong and agile. He would be a huge asset to any employer dealing with keeping the countryside clean. Give him a job gathering rubbish and recyclables along the roads or in public parks and he would work harder than any county council worker. This is obviously not an option as his current community placement has ruled this out. There is apparently a blanket ban from the county/city councils to employ people with special needs? And at the same time the littering is getting worse as people obviously don’t know how to dispose of rubbish properly.

If we lived in Sweden, the city/county councils would have to find employment for him. He would have the right to a meaningful daily occupation of at least 40 hours a week. Most likely he would be paid to do something he would enjoy, such as helping keep the countryside and city parks tidy. Sweden enshrined in law in 1993 the right to support and services for people with disabilities. This includes a meaningful daily occupation of 40 hours a week, or less if the person decides less is better.

In Sweden, socialising with peers, such as going to the cinema or bowling, is for the evenings after work. This is the case also for most people who are employed during the days.

Why do we accept that our young sons and daughters with disabilities are treated as unemployable? Why do employers in the public sector decide not to give these young people paid employment? Why can we not enshrine in law the right to a meaningful occupation for people with disabilities?

It is not good enough to offer leisure activities instead of employment opportunities. All service providers should knock on doors and make loud noises in order for employers (private and public) to open their doors to those young people who do not have the option to emigrate.

Anna KingstonAnna Karin Kingston is a Swedish journalist living in Cork, Ireland, since 1989. She has a PhD in Social Sciences (UCC) and is the author of “Mothering Special Needs: A Different Maternal Journey “(1997) and the book chapter “Mothering Adult Children with Special Needs: Handing in the Uniform” (2013).