Work and Training

7.1 Employment and training are important routes for people with disabilities to achieve economic and social independence. Unfortunately, they are among the many areas in which people with disabilities are at a disadvantage compared to the rest of society. Their abilities and their potential contribution to the economic and social development of Ireland have yet to be positively recognised. The removal of barriers, which prevented the full participation of women in the Irish workforce provides a practical example of how, on the basis of equality, people with disabilities can achieve greater participation within the world of work.

7.2 Reliable statistics on the numbers of people with disabilities within the workforce are not available. The evidence which does exist suggests that the unemployment rate among them is significantly higher than in the labour market as a whole and that employment, where it is available, is often poorly paid and of a low-status. Surveys by organisations concerned with disability suggest unemployment levels of 70% upwards.

7.3 There are clear links between disability and poverty, a connection which is aggravated by high unemployment. Both unemployment and poverty are likely to have a disproportionate effect on people with disabilities compared with other sectors of the population. A fundamental change in existing employment policies is needed to reduce the exclusion experienced by people with disabilities and to reduce the impact of poverty on the individual and members of their families.

7.4 The rapid increase in long-term unemployment since 1980 has created additional barriers for people with disabilities. Labour Force Surveys show that the unemployment rate for those under 25 who left school with no qualifications is significantly higher than for others. People with disabilities are generally likely to be particularly disadvantaged in this regard.

7.5 The report of the Task Force on Long-Term Unemployment (December 1995) recognised the need for positive discrimination measures in favour of those at a particular disadvantage in the labour market. A number of such measures, such as the Employment Support Scheme, have proved their cost-effectiveness in getting people off long-term state supports and into open employment. Notwithstanding substantial savings to the Exchequer in payments such as disability allowances, the resources allocated to such measures are currently insufficient to allow them to be used to full effect.

7.6 The Commission welcomes the government's commitment to the early introduction of legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment and training on the grounds of disability and recommends that appropriate legislation, which should take account of the experience of similar existing legislation in other jurisdictions, be introduced as a matter of immediate priority.

7.7 It also supports the recommendations of the National Economic and Social Forum's report on "Equality Proofing Issues" which promotes equality for people with disabilities. It recommends that the Minister for Equality and Law Reform should bring proposals to Government within six months aimed at securing agreement to a policy of "disability proofing".

7.8 The Commission believes there should be increased expenditure on creating sustainable employment for people with disabilities. The current Government Pilot Programme on Employment of People with Disabilities (PEP) is one example of such investment. This programme should be evaluated as a matter of urgency and, subject to positive results, be renewed and expanded.

7.9 Consideration should be given to allocating a greater proportion of EU financial support to direct employment measures, including the creation of new jobs in personal services for people with disabilities, worker co-operatives, and the development of job-seeking skills. An appropriate proportion of the 1% employment levy should be allocated to the development and provision of work opportunities for people with disabilities.

7.10 Many workers with disabilities acquired their disability while in work. A UK survey has shown that, of 1.5m economically active people with disabilities, about 70% became disabled while in work. As a basic measure towards the prevention of avoidable disabilities, the provisions of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act should be properly resourced and enforced and monitored to ensure that the Act is not used in a manner which impedes the employment of people with disabilities. Consideration should be given to the introduction of a system of disability/rehabilitation leave to enable people who acquire a disability while in employment to avail of medical and/or rehabilitation programmes outside the scope of existing leave arrangements, in order to facilitate their retention in employment and reduce the levels of avoidable unemployment.

7.11 The Commission also notes the continuing incidence of disabilities arising from farm accidents and recommends that State and representative organisations in the agriculture sector should develop additional safety awareness programmes and policies at national and local levels.


7.12 Overall government responsibility for vocational training and employment of people with disabilities should be assigned to the Department of Enterprise and Employment. It should produce a strategy paper on the employment and training of people with disabilities within six months of responsibility being assigned.

7.13 The Department of Enterprise and Employment should arrange for the collection, collation and publication of comprehensive labour market statistics in respect of people with disabilities from an early date.

7.14 Some people with disabilities have secure open employment or, in a number of cases, self-employment, with little if any formal assistance. Many have obtained employment through vocational training and job placement services specifically for people with disabilities. Further assistance is clearly required, however, if the number of people with disabilities at work is to be increased. Indeed, the Government has already acknowledged that further measures are needed if the situation is to improve.

7.15 The most direct Government measure to assist people with disabilities in getting jobs has been the three per cent quota of public service jobs reserved for them. Although introduced in 1977, the quota was only achieved for the first time in the civil service within the past three years. It has not yet been achieved in the wider public service.

7.16 The Government, in A Programme for Renewal, committed itself to fully implementing the quota system in the public service and to giving serious consideration to its statutory extension throughout the economy. The Commission endorses the Government's commitment to the full implementation of the quota within the public sector and recommends that this objective should be fully attained within three years. It further recommends stricter monitoring of quota compliance within both the civil service and all State bodies and annual publication of the situation in each government department/State body. Recruitment of a person with disabilities under the public sector quota scheme should not be regarded as being in breach of any recruitment embargo which may exist.

It is disappointing that many of the agencies which exist to provide services to people with disabilities and which receive substantial Exchequer funding give a poor example in employing people with disabilities. It is difficult to understand how such organisations hope to persuade others to employ people with disabilities when their own record in this regard is poor.

7.17 All Exchequer-supported organisations which have been established to provide services to people with disabilities should attain an eight per cent quota within four years.

7.18 People with disabilities participating in, advising or providing consultancy services to the State, State agencies, county enterprise boards and so on should be properly remunerated for their contributions.

7.19 As already noted, the Government promised to consider a wider quota system for the whole economy. There are many arguments for and against employment quotas and their extension to the economy as a whole. The Commission has heard evidence that a number of private sector organisations have voluntarily decided to initiate moves to employ a greater proportion of people with disabilities in their workforce and to encourage other private sector employers to do the same. While the Commission has yet to be convinced that such initiatives will be widely followed, it welcomes what it hopes will be a new commitment to greater equity in private sector recruitment.

7.20 In the light of this, the Commission does not recommend the enforcement of a mandatory quota in the private sector for people with disabilities at this time but recommends that the position be reviewed after three years. That will allow private sector employers adequate time to take voluntary action to include people with disabilities within the workforce and ensure equality of employment opportunities and policies. Should less than three per cent employment be achieved within that period, however, the Commission recommends the implementation and enforcement of a mandatory quota in this sector.

7.21 Employers are represented on the National Advisory Committee on Training and Employment and, together with representatives of trade unions and other key interest groups, have contributed to the development of a number of initiatives to promote employment for people with disabilities. One such initiative, the Positive to Disability Symbol, was awarded for the first time in 1996 to a number of organisations which operate positive policies in relation to the recruitment and employment of people with disabilities.

In awarding contracts of business, the state and its agencies should, subject to compliance with EU or national regulations, give positive consideration to suppliers of goods or services who comply with the employment quota or the Positive to Disability Programme.

7.22 The Commission considers that there is a need to better inform employers, social partners and state agencies in areas such as disability awareness, access auditing, disability equality training and disability prevention training. Such areas have the potential of creating new employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

7.23 The Employment Support Scheme, mentioned earlier, provides wage subsidies in respect of people with disabilities. Employers may also be assisted, where it is necessary to adapt a workplace or equipment, under the National Rehabilitation Board's Workplace/Equipment Adaptation Grant Scheme. In 1995, grants under the scheme assisted the recruitment or retention in employment of 82 people with disabilities. However, the scope of the scheme is limited by inadequate funding.

The Commission recommends that additional resources be made available to enhance these measures and to develop further initiatives. The Employment Support Scheme is a beneficial investment by the state in promoting employment and the Commission recommends that it be funded to achieve a minimum target of 500 jobs a year for people with disabilities over the next three years. It also recommends that the Equipment Adaptation Scheme be expanded to allow payments to people seeking employment and that a minimum target of 500 unemployed people with disabilities receiving such assistance a year be achieved over the next three years.

7.24 The importance to employers of non-financial supports should not be under-estimated. The availability of advice, information and support, when needed, can make an important difference in employers' decisions on recruitment and the retention of people in employment, and such supports should be provided.

Disability awareness training for managers, employees and trade union representatives, should be developed and undertaken in partnership with employer and worker representatives. People with disabilities should be involved in the development and delivery of such training: the state should provide funding to facilitate the training of people with disabilities as awareness trainers.

7.25 The Commission commends the actions of IBEC and ICTU in forming consultative committees to advise on disability issues. Such committees provide a basis for additional actions and policies by the social partners and the Commission recommends that they develop their mechanisms to include people with disabilities within their membership and policy strategies.

7.26 The Commission notes the positive policies of Social Partners at European level. The Commission supports the framework of actions by Social Partners in the Declaration of European Businesses against Exclusion and the HELlOS II programme concerning the economic integration of people with disabilities.

7.27 National and regional structures of co-operation between employers, trade unions, organisations of people with disabilities, State agencies and the voluntary sector should be established to explore, promote and implement policies which increase or create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Social partners in national, sectoral or industrial agreements should implement an equality clause which promotes the recruitment of people with disabilities and which supports measures which promote the retention in employment of workers who acquire a disability. National economic agreements should contain clear and measurable objectives towards promoting employment of people with disabilities, who should be clearly consulted in such processes.

7.28 The Commission is impressed at the potential of people with disabilities being self-employed and indeed of creating new employment opportunities for unemployed persons. Clear potential exists within the services, community and co-operative sectors. The Department of Enterprise and Employment, in conjunction with the Co-operative Development Unit of FÁS, should establish a pilot programme of worker co-operative employment by people with disabilities with a target of 100 jobs a year being achieved over the next three years.

7.29 The Commission comments later in this report on the current dynamic taking place in the areas of arts, culture and the media. These expanding sectors of the economy provide new opportunities for the employment of people with disabilities and these opportunities should be grasped. The Department of Enterprise and Employment, in conjunction with the Department of Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht, should initiate programmes to promote and identify employment opportunities for people with disabilities within these areas.

7.30 Various alternative forms of employment between the extremes of competitive open employment and sheltered work settings have been developed to help meet particular needs. One such alternative, commonly called Supported Employment, continues to develop. It involves a number of key elements, notably:

  • Integration: a person with severe disabilities must be a regular employee of the business and work with co-workers who do not have disabilities,
  • Paid work: work performed is paid for,
  • Individualised services: all aspects of the supported employment should be tailored to the needs and capabilities of the person concerned,
  • Ongoing supports: comprehensive supports such as transport, money and time management, advocacy and strategies for managing social and communications issues must be available for each person who needs them, for as long as required.

7.31 There are many people with disabilities, however, who may not have the capacity to work in open employment and for whom some form of sheltered employment may be the best option. There is an acute shortage of sheltered work places, which are virtually restricted to those who have completed training programmes in centres linked to existing sheltered work places.

The Commission is aware that the NRB National Advisory Committee on Training and Employment (NACTE) is reviewing the medium and longer-term needs, but recommends that government funding should be provided in the 1997 Budget to ensure the continuation of existing under-funded sheltered workplaces and the addition of 500 places.

7.32 The Department of Enterprise and Employment should establish a resource to advise and assist agencies, communities or individuals to develop new employment opportunities, including sheltered workshops. Support should include help with market research, product development, marketing, financial management, and so on.

7.33 Sheltered employment is not generally covered by employment protection legislation and there are no officially approved standards for the establishment and operation of such schemes. Pay is usually given through informal arrangements in the form of a supplement to the individual's Disability Allowance: these arrangements do not involve formal employment relationships and lack the normal protection which such relationships provide.

The status and rights of people with a disability in sheltered work settings should be defined and appropriately protected. Standards should be introduced for the establishment and operation of sheltered workshops.

7.34 Consideration should be given to the introduction of measures to promote the use of goods and services from sheltered workshops among organisations in receipt of state funding and public contracts.

7.35 All public employment services should be fully accessible to people with disabilities. Occupational guidance should continue to be available to all people with disabilities who seek it.

7.36 People with disabilities should be eligible, without restriction as to period of unemployment, to participate in all government employment measures directed at those who are unemployed. This includes schemes such as Community Employment, Workplace, Jobstart as well as programmes of County Enterprise Boards, Area Partnerships, Leader and other initiatives.


7.37 The acquisition of relevant skills, through education and training, is essential in order to compete for jobs, particularly in a situation of continuing high unemployment. Training opportunities for people with disabilities must be at least as good - in terms of their availability, relevance to job needs, standards reached and recognition by employers - as those for other people.

7.38 Much of the training for people with disabilities is provided by voluntary or non-governmental organisations and regional health authorities in specialised training centres and largely with financial support from the European Social Fund.

7.39 There have been a number of important measures, particularly in recent years, to help ensure that the quality of training meets specified standards at least comparable to those obtaining in more mainstream training centres. For example,

  • A National Accreditation Committee was established in 1996 to oversee the implementation of the approved Standard of Vocational Training;
  • From 1992 to 1995, 240 instructors in specialised centres were awarded the Certificate in Training (Special Needs);
  • At the end of 1995, 55% of all courses in specialised centres were leading to nationally recognised certificates: it is planned to have all courses certified by 1999;
  • £33.58m of European Regional Development Funding has been allocated over the period 1994 to 1999 to improve and update training centre premises and equipment.

7.40 Notwithstanding the excellent training being provided in many specialised centres, the fact remains that such training is largely segregated in nature. It is separate in both policy and in terms of governmental responsibility from mainstream training.

This is not to suggest that integrated mainstream training of itself is the best option for all people with disabilities. Many mainstream centres are not sufficiently accessible to cater for all disabilities. Specialist instruction and other skills are not available, and curricula, equipment, etc. May not be entirely appropriate. There is no doubt, however, that mainstream training offers a wider choice of courses than can currently be offered through specialised centres, as well as the practical ambience of integration.

7.41 Equality of training opportunity, which does not exist at present for all people with disabilities, requires that the present policies and systems be fundamentally reviewed and revised.

7.42 People with disabilities participating in training should be paid an appropriate training allowance and retain their secondary benefits. Matching funding for European Social Fund supported training should not be dependent on attracting persons who are availing of disability-related income.

7.43 An immediate review of mainstream vocational training programmes should be undertaken with a view to maximising their accessibility to people with disabilities.

7.44 The range of training choices for people with disabilities should be extended by inviting appropriate training providers outside the specialist agencies to offer relevant and suitable programmes. Such providers must be properly accredited and could include educational establishments, employers, private training organisations as well as public mainstream agencies.

7.45 New, innovative and more flexible models of training should be encouraged. There should be a greater concentration on job placement activity.

7.46 Priority might be given to training which integrates people with and without disabilities.

7.47 Training in training centres, whether specialised or mainstream, is not the only or necessarily the best method of acquiring skills, knowledge and attitudes for employment. Many employers have both the competence and facilities to provide suitable training; work experience should play an important part in equipping people for work. The Commission supports additional actions by employers in these areas and notes the development of examples such as "Job Coach" programmes in other EU states which are of direct benefit to the employer and person with disabilities.

7.48 Distance/open learning and new technology provide potential for many different approaches. There is considerable scope for innovation and more flexible forms of training.

7.49 For many people with disabilities, training in areas such as life skills, social skills, representational skills, self-advocacy and assertiveness are, and should continue to be, integral parts of vocational training. Training should continue to be available for those who wish to work in sheltered or supported work settings.

7.50 Specialist agencies should be encouraged to offer mainstream and integrated programmes.