Towards Best Practice in the Provision of Further Education, Employment & Training Services for People with Disabilities in Ireland

Speaker: Donie O'Shea, National Disability Authority

In his presentation Donie O'Shea, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Advisor at NDA, introduced and explained the findings of the Towards Best Practice Report on Further Education, Employment and Training. The report was published in early 2004. Donie first set out the background to the commissioning of the report. He then went on to discuss some of the findings of the report including an overview of vocational & training routes. He concluded with a set of key challenges for people with disabilities to achieve equitable access into further education, employment and training.

Background to the report

The Towards Best Practice report on Further Education is part of a series of reports commissioned by the National Disability Authority. The other reports commissioned are on Health and Transport. In the report, baseline evidence on the quantum and range of service provision was sought to assist in setting priorities into the future.

The report is a resource to the further education, employment and training sectors and the disability sector. The report also gives an indication of key actors and direction for future work.

The overview of policy and legislation contained in the report indicates what should be provided. This is compared with what is actually provided in Ireland. International comparisons are also made with what is provided in Australia, Denmark, Canada and the USA.

Overview of vocational and training routes

The original focus of the research was on further (vocational) education, vocational training and access to employment for people with disabilities. This was extended to include rehabilitative training, sheltered work and supported work. Third level education was excluded.

Policy and legislation in the area of training and employment has been set by the landmark Strategy for Equality (which identified the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment as the Government department responsible for vocational training & employment), the Strategy's establishment group, the NACTE report, National Social Partnership Programmes (including the setting of quantitative targets), equality legislation and more recently, the National Disability Strategy.

Standards and quality assurance come from FÁS QA00/01, National Standards for Disability Services and FETAC.

Key findings

The report evaluated mainstreaming for people with disabilities into employment and found that progress has been slow. Some of the reasons for this are: a lack of targets; poor coordination between departments; fragmented pathways into employment after second level education.

The report also found a 'Benefits trap' for people with disabilities. Much official help with cost of living is conditional on being out of work. Medical card income limits are set below the minimum wage. People with disabilities also risk losing mobility allowance, disability aids, free electricity etc. Earnings from employment may not compensate for loss of benefits.

There are also access issues for people with disabilities. For example, information is often not in accessible formats and the built environment in which work and training is conducted is inaccessible for people with mobility difficulties. There are also problems associated with transport.

Because of the data deficits and insufficient recording systems in this area, accurate and strategic policy making and implementation is very difficult.

Finally, the report finds that there is a problem associated with the conducting of needs assessments. The report notes the various but uncoordinated gateways, including FÁS Employment Services, Health Boards' Occupational Guidance Officers and VECs. In terms of needs assessment, there is no common understanding, a lack of detailed needs assessment and a lack of training for "gateway" staff.

Key Challenges

The report found that one of the key challenges was to achieve mainstreaming. In this regard, the Sectoral Plan of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, flowing from the Disability Strategy, will be very important. A further ongoing and challenging problem to address is that of access to information, transport and physical infrastructure at work and training and education, so that indirect discrimination does not persist.