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'When employers saw my cane I'd get a pitiful look': People with disabilities on the challenges of trying to work

Six people with disabilities appeared before three Joint Committees of the Oireachtas today to discuss the challenges they have experienced while working with a disability.

PADRAIC MORAN CANNOT walk because of cerebral palsy and has found, as a full-time worker, the benefits system penalises him.

The system does what it can to keep you on social welfare.

He told the Joint Committee of the Oireachtas today that disabled people are forgotten because they are not seen as a big voting group.

Moran lost his medical card and travel pass when he started working and says that 12% of his monthly salary goes towards additional hours for his personal assistant.

We get a few crumbs every now and then to keep us happy.

Moran was one of six people with disabilities who appeared before three Joint Committees of the Oireachtas today to discuss the challenges they have experienced in accessing and receiving funding from support services.

The Committees – Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Education and Skills, and Health – had their second meeting to investigate how state-funded supports for people with disabilities operate in practice.

Moran stressed that if people with disabilities have their supports taken away then it makes it increasingly harder for them to work.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Another witness, Jessica Ní Mhaoláin, who is visually impaired, told the Joint Committee that she is where she today because she is lucky, but that being lucky is not good enough.

The supports she had were reduced at secondary school but says she was lucky with the support that was there at third level.

With support from a State-funded special needs assistant, she graduated in 2016 with a Masters degree from University College Cork.

Ní Mhaoláin said that despite spending six years in college it was difficult for her to get a job when she graduated.

As soon as employers would see my cane I would get a pitiful look, I have a drawer full of ‘we regret to inform you’ letters.

report from the ESRI in 2017 found that people living with disabilities are four times less likely to be employed in Ireland.

Ní Mhaoláin said that once she did start working she lost her medical card which she relies on but because she was sick of being turned down for jobs, when she was offered one she took it, knowing she would lose her supports.

I didn’t care about losing supports but that was naive on my behalf because I’m feeling it in the pocket now.

Ní Mhaoláin says that she is now handing out 10 to 15% of her monthly income without a medical card.

gary Gary Kearney Source: www.oireachtas.ie


Gary Kearney, an acquired brain injury survivor with partial deafness told the Committee that because he has a high functioning disability he is invisible to the State.

Kearney said that after his brain injury occurred there was no support there for him when he got out of the hospital.

I was 48 years old and I was thrown on the scrap heap.

He credits the support service Headway with saving his life on two occasions.

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”I had to walk in there and ask them to help me,” Kearney told the Committee, saying it was because there was no support for him.

Kearney stressed that he is not the same as the other witnesses giving evidence today at the committee but that all people with disabilities need support regardless.


Dina McAnaspie, who is studying computers and literacy, working four hours a week and trying to find a full-time job told the Committee that the system puts people off getting jobs because they fear that they will lose their services.

McAnaspie attends a day service but says if she was to get a full-time job, she would lose her spot at the centre.

There is a lack of security if a full-time job does not work out.

Speaking after the witnesses gave their statements, John Brady TD said that it’s amazing that people’s disabilities seem to disappear in the eyes of the State because they’re working.

To qualify for a means-tested disability payment, income from various sources is examined to see whether it is under a certain level, according to Citizens Information. 

Medical cards are also means tested, based on the individual’s income.

The witnesses told the Committee today how losing their supports affected them financially, as they had to pay for things like personal assistant support.

The Joint Committee is due to meet again in three weeks.

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Adam Daly

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