Minister for Disability, Anne Rabbitte TD, visited Doras Training Centre and the Ability@Work offices on Monday, 19th July. Minister Rabbitte wanted to learn more about the Ability@Work programme and hear from participants.
Craig and Jamie from the Ability Board spoke to Minister Rabbitte about Ability@Work and the importance of their work on the Ability Board. The Ability Board is part of the Ability@Work programme. It is an advocacy forum run by people who access the programme and is designed to ensure that the service is person led and based on the wishes and choices of the young people.
Craig and Jamie explained the kind of work the Ability Board is involved in (consulting; advising on easy to read information; disability awareness training for companies and much more). Craig and Jamie discussed their plans to set up a social enterprise which would provide training to companies on how to become more inclusive for people with intellectual disabilities. Minister Rabbitte was so impressed by the Ability Board and the incredible work being done by the Ability@Work team.
Marian Hennessy, Ability@Work Coordinator, told Minister Rabbitte and her colleagues about the person-centred approach the team uses when supporting people on their journey to employment. In total, 62 people have secured employment through the Ability@Work programme. Marian also spoke about the work the team and the Ability Board do to deliver Disability Awareness Training to employers in Cork and the positive impact this has. Craig noted, “Who better to give disability training than someone with a disability.”
Minister Rabbitte congratulated Marian and the team on their innovative and person-led approach. She acknowledged that much work has been done in the private sector to promote inclusive workplaces – but more needs to be done in the public sector, and this is something she is particularly keen to work on. Marian made the point that 24 of the Ability@Work participants continued to work throughout the pandemic at front line providing essential services.
As part of the visit, a number of other areas of our work were discussed. Derval McDonagh, General Manager, spoke to Minister Rabbitte about the positive impact we are seeing when people move out of group settings to their own homes in the community. We acknowledged the various challenges of ‘decongregation’ and the transformational journey we are on – but that it is the organisation's direction of travel and it will result in people leading happier and healthier lives.
Derval also highlighted the issue of housing, the availability of social housing, and the funding required from the government to support people when they do move into their own homes. Over the next number of years, up to 500 people supported by the organisation will need a new home. Derval mentioned that at this moment, there are at least 30 individuals who require a home of their own immediately.
We also spoke about Progressing Disability Services – the positive impact it should have in equalizing the availability of services, but also the challenges that young people and their families are likely to face in the early stages of PDS, due to funding shortfalls and waiting lists that still exist in the area. Minister Rabbitte spoke about the need to develop a plan to fund posts to ensure the new teams have the resources they need.
Derval spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on the people we support and the services we deliver. It was acknowledged that the last 16 months have been incredibly challenging for the people we support, their families and our team. Derval spoke about the impact on people and their families as a result of our short breaks service being so limited over the past 16 months and the work being done to resume this support. It is evident that some people and their families are really struggling as a result of so much upheaval, various closures, and limited services.
Derval also spoke about some of the learnings and positive outcomes we’ve seen throughout the pandemic – the role of a hybrid approach to supporting people; the use of technology; the value of being flexible and innovative when delivering services; the further development of community hubs, and much more. Derval spoke about the need to take a person-centred approach and bring the learnings with us from the last year. Some of the people we support have expressed their views that they want a different type of service and support as we come out of the pandemic, others want to return to how things were before. These decisions should be person led.
Minister Rabbitte spoke about the very visible efforts and perseverance of the Cope Foundation team and wished to congratulate and thank all staff for their hard work and dedication over the past few months. Derval spoke about our team's flexibility, adaptability and willingness to step up when things were very difficult throughout the pandemic. She told some of the heroic stories of our team's resilience, particularly in the darker days of January-March 2021.