MY NAME IS Padraig Hannafin. I am from Dingle, County Kerry and I’m the public affairs and research administrator with Rehab Group.
At the age of 16 I had an accident at home when I fell off a small garden wall and ended up with a spinal injury. I spent the next three weeks in the Mater Hospital in Dublin in intensive care and the following 10 months in rehab in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.
I broke my neck in the fall which resulted in the spinal injury that left me without the use of my legs, with only limited use of my arms, but no use of my hands.
I adapted to life in a wheelchair but after I finished my studies I was hesitant about seeking employment at first. I was confident of my academic abilities, having kept pace with my fellow students through a BA and three MAs, but I knew that were I to get a job I would need to overcome some barriers, the main one being obtaining workplace assistance in order to complete some personal care and some basic work tasks throughout my working day.
A wall of confusion
I began to search for workplace personal assistance first in order to have a plan in place for any possible job offers. I was confounded when I was met with a wall of confusion.
I contacted the Department of Health who put me on to the Department of Jobs and Enterprise… who in turn referred me back to the Department of Health.
Each department was telling me that they did not provide such a service. It seemed ridiculous to me as I had received personal assistance throughout my education since acquiring my disability.
The State had assisted me all along the journey to becoming ready for employment but at the moment when it came to entering the workforce it seemed to just disappear when I needed it more than ever. It seemed like a mythical creature that I had concocted in my imagination.
I wrote to local councillors, met with TDs and MEPs but each of them reacted as though I was speaking of something completely alien. I began to feel like I was not meant to have a job, not meant to contribute, not meant to live a life of my choosing.
In the end I got a job with Rehab Group. I have now worked for Rehab since 2009. Initially, my workplace assistance had to be carried out by my family who volunteered to come to my aid. I then received workplace assistance under a Community Employment scheme, it was not ideal as cover is not guaranteed were my Personal Assistant to become ill and not all hours are covered but I greatly appreciated what I’d been given.
Unfortunately, that vital support has now come to an end. As a result, I am back to square one. The person who was working with me, his scheme came to an end and they have been unable to replace him as uptake of CE schemes has dramatically dropped due to the upturn in the economy.
Because unemployment has reduced by two-thirds, some very important CE schemes around the country are having great difficulty filling the vacancies. This is a huge setback for people like myself who depend on such schemes.
If I work in my office in Cork at the moment, my support is provided either by family and friends, only if they are able to pop in for a short space of time here and there, or by a young school leaver who has volunteered to assist me in my daily work tasks and personal care over a couple of hours in the workplace, once a week.
There are other days where I have no support at all, and as a result I am forced to work from home and seek the support and help of my friends and family. While their support is hugely appreciated, unfortunately – yet understandably – they cannot guarantee me what time they will arrive, how long they can stay, or if they can come at all.
From a work point of view this is incredibly detrimental, as simple tasks such as printing a document, carrying it from one office to the other, or consulting with my colleagues in another room prove almost impossible as I do not have somebody to simply pick something up for me, open the door, or post something into somebody’s pigeonhole.
I perform my role and tasks given to me by my superiors but I do need some support in order to carry out the basic physical tasks.
From a personal point of view it is also very detrimental. I go to work sometimes not sure whether I will be able to eat my lunch, I go to work monitoring how much I drink as I am unsure as to whether I will be able to go to the bathroom or not.
I go to work sometimes unsure what time I will be able to take my medication at, and I go to work sometimes unsure whether I will speak to anyone from the time I arrive to the time I leave, which can be very isolating for me.
This is happening to me in the very same year that Ireland finally ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after a 10-year wait.
This means in principle the rights of people with disabilities to participate equally in the workforce are now legally enshrined in the Constitution sadly, in reality, however, very little has changed. It’s beyond time the Government fulfilled the obligations it has committed to for the rights of all people with disabilities in Ireland.
Nationally, 71% of people with a disability are out of work, with more than 26% estimated to be living in consistent poverty. People with a disability are twice as likely to be unemployed as abled bodied persons.
More than 30% of people who use Rehab Group services who were surveyed recently as part of our pre-budget submission believe that ‘people don’t want to hire people with disabilities’ while 20% believe that workplaces are not welcoming of people with disabilities. More than a fifth surveyed had refused a place on a training course in the last year as they were worried about surviving without their benefits.
Rehab Group is calling for an increase of €20 in Disability Allowance as a matter of urgency to provide an adequate minimum income, alongside an automatic entitlement to a medical card and an end to prescription charges.
It is also calling for supports to get more people with a disability into the workforce, as a way out of poverty by providing adequate training and personal assistant hours. I want to continue working and contributing – but I can’t do that unless I can access these basic supports.
If our Government is serious about supporting people with disabilities to live independent lives, then it has to prioritise what we need to be able to do that.
Rehab Group has launched its pre-budget submission which calls for greater supports to get more people with a disability into the workforce as a way out of poverty by providing adequate training and personal assistant hours.