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'David is 22, he has a college degree and is a wheelchair user. All he wants is a job'

For those with a disability, having a job would do wonders for thier sense of participation and her self-respect. It would also help pay the bills, writes John Dolan who says the governments new plan needs substance not spin.

DAVID IS 22 years old. He is from North Dublin and he has a college degree. He is a wheelchair user, but his chances of getting a job are being severely hampered because Intreo, the Government’s ‘one-stop shops’ to provide employment and social welfare services to jobseekers,  has actively excluded people with disabilities from accessing its services.

The much heralded Youth Guarantee is also of no use to David – it too excludes disabled young people by design.

A feeling of self-respect

Niamh is a woman in her late forties. She is based in Galway. She told me that having a job would do wonders for her sense of participation and her self-respect. It would also help her pay the bills. Living with Spina Bifida is expensive. She worries that even if she does take up a job that she may not be able to get to work because public transport is not always accessible.

Every day in the course of my work I talk to disabled people who want to make a contribution to society, who want to work and who want to pay their way.

There is a palpable frustration that the concentrated and high profile effort to cut dole numbers and to get people back to work has, to date, ignored people with disabilities.

Right now, only three out of every ten adults of working age who have a disability also have a job. This is a type of employment apartheid, which is not making use of Ireland’s greatest resource – all its people.

Ireland is thankfully showing signs of economic recovery after experiencing a long and hard recession. The task for everyone in Irish public life is to now secure a fair recovery that leaves no one behind.

Neglected during the boom times 

Ironically, it will be the real measure of Ireland’s success in this objective if, when the next recession comes, people with disabilities are amongst those to lose their jobs.  During this recent recession, people with disabilities hardly featured in the swelling ranks of the new jobless.

The reason for this was quite simply because most people with disabilities were not in employment in the first place.

It is a shocking indictment of the Celtic Tiger that it did so little to provide meaningful employment or training for people with disabilities. For the best part of a decade, our public coffers were supposedly awash with money and ministers were warning that labour shortages could undermine economic growth if more workers were not enticed into the country.

However, people with disabilities remained largely excluded from the workforce. And this happened despite warnings from international commentators, such as the OECD, about the negative effects of ignoring or putting to the back of the queue the employment needs of people with disabilities.

Lack of vision 

Sadly, the Celtic Tiger era lacked the vision, the ambition and the generosity to move people with disabilities from a place of dependency and hopelessness into a new space where they could make a meaningful contribution to Irish society.

02/10/2015. Launch Disability Strategy. Pictured ( An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Anne Marie Healy from Co Mayo and Tanaiste Joan Burton TD at the launch of the Disability Strategy in Farmleigh House in Dublin today Sam Boal Sam Boal

The big lesson we need to take from the recession is that the tired, old ways of doing things don’t work. We need to seriously embrace reform, not just give it lip-service.  Taxpayers are still paying more for less. Ireland crucially needs new thinking and innovative measures to put opportunity, fairness and efficiency at the core of public policy.

With the clock ticking on this Government’s mandate and an election due to take place at some stage over the next six months, the Taoiseach has launched the “Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities”.

This strategy needs to be more than a pre-election public relations exercise, containing nothing more than promises without commitment to implement them.

What Ireland needs right now is an employment strategy that is comprehensive because it has realistic and implementable deadlines for action and because it shows real ambition and confidence in people with disabilities becoming an integral part of Ireland’s workforce.

Taxpayers should demand nothing less for a strategy that has taken over ten years to develop.

A “comprehensive” strategy must contain concrete plans to tackle the poverty, the exclusion and the loss of opportunity experienced every day by so many people with disabilities. In short, this strategy must be about substance not spin.

John Dolan is CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland

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