WALK is a progressive organisation where people who have intellectual disabilities are supported to live self-determined lives within socially inclusive communities. WALK is an innovative, forward-thinking organisation that is renowned for leading change within the community and voluntary sector.
Walkways—Creating Pathways to Employment is a partnership project, aimed at increasing the rate of employment for people who have intellectual disabilities and complex needs, developed by WALK in Dublin and Agroiad Cyf in Wales and co-funded by the Ireland Wales programme 2007–2013. The project was conceived in response to the serious gap in state employment services for people who are seen as not being ‘job-ready’.
The challenge for the project was to develop new and innovative ways of supporting people’s dreams of having ‘“a job’ where they were respected, valued and paid the same as everyone else. Very quickly the team learned that
■ Every person is capable of doing work, as long as the appropriate support is in place and the right job match is made.
■ One size does not fit all.
■ Supporting a person to achieve their employment ambition is more cost effective if it is delivered at a younger age.
■ Employers need better communication, support and follow-up in order to see that hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense.
The Walkways project is designed to focus on key employment transition stages in a person’s life, in order to develop plans that are appropriate and sustainable for each individual. As a result, three innovative models were developed and are currently being piloted.
The WALK PEER Programme – providing equal employment routes, focuses on engaging and progressing young people with learning disabilities while they are still in education, to inspire their ambition to have a career, to explore and experience the world of work and to strive to gain their first paid employment.
The WALK PEER model is currently supporting students from DCU, Trinity College Dublin, St McDara’s (Knocklyon), St Kevin’s College (Crumlin) and Our Lady of Mercy (Drimnagh) and has been expanded to support young people in County Louth and part of the Department of Social Protection’s ‘Disability Activation Project’.
The WALK PEER Programme harnesses the power of positive peer example by training, mentoring and managing role models (PEER mentors or buddies) who provide more natural support to the young participants as required. The support is tailored to the participant’s individual needs, agreed with the employers, delivered by the mentors/buddies and monitored and assessed by job coaches. Support is provided only as required and faded at the earliest possible time in order to promote independence.
The WALK REAL Programme – Reaching employment ambitions in life, supports the older person who may have spent their life in services, without the expectation, opportunity or support to gain paid employment. The challenges of institutionalisation, absence of knowledge, skills, experience and expectation, the required level of support, the environment of cutbacks and unemployment along with traditional views of families, employers and services create substantial barriers to achieving employment goals for this group of people.
However, despite all of the drawbacks, there are opportunities in the workplace. The WALK REAL programme works hand-in-hand with employers to carve out roles for people who have the skills to complete tasks and it builds appropriate support plans to sustain jobs. Inclusion in the workforce is always the goal. All participating individuals’ employment progression plans include steps to support integration with existing staff and development of natural supports within the workforce.
In order to facilitate a sustainable move to providing support for service users in the community, training and mentoring is provided to care staff by the Walkways team. In order to support service users to maintain their jobs, a maintenance programme of support is developed for each employee.
REAL People at work
The WALK Social Firm – creating sustainable job, started out as a ‘social enterprise’ concept and quickly evolved into a ‘social firm’ aspiration. The objective of developing an enterprise that would be self-sustaining while providing opportunities for the WALK REAL programme participants in training and work experience has been achieved ahead of schedule.
Partnering with Dublin City Council, Age Action, Healthy Food for All, Dublin Community Growers and local agencies, the WALK Gardening and Horticulture team provides a first-class garden maintenance service to older members of the community in the South Dublin city area, supplies plants, planter boxes and hanging baskets to businesses and residents of the local community and operates a community garden in Scoil Colm (Armagh Road, Crumlin).
Rather than resting on its laurels, WALK is currently developing a multi-functional community centre in Walkinstown Green. The centre will be run as a social firm, providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. It is expected to be opened early in 2014. WALK hopes that the ‘social firm’ model will promote a new way of thinking in the provision of opportunities for people who as disadvantaged and distanced from the labour market in Ireland.