Employment for Adults with an Intellectual Disability

This essay is going to discuss the discrimination faced within all aspects of employment by adults with disabilities. Employment has been defined as the right to work ‘on an equal basis with others, which includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to disabled people’ (United Nations 2007). While being a universal human right, gaining employment is also a rite of passage in the majority of people’s lives and often marks the beginning of adulthood, however, living as an adult with an intellectual disability, this can prove immensely challenging. Employment holds a large influence on a person’s social inclusion making it an important issue for people with disabilities, along with the economic benefit of holding employment. According to the National Disability Authority (NDA) if you have a disability, you are only half as likely than others to be employed by the time you reach the working age. From looking at previous research, it indicates a lower employment rate among people with a disability, also shows high instability of employment for those that hold a job (Holmes, 2007). This research essay will discuss the various barriers and discrimination that people with disabilities are faced with while gaining and retaining employment in Ireland including the prevalent employment process of sheltered workshops. Statistics will be discussed to get a view of where people with disabilities are placed in society. It will also look to relevant policy and legislation are in place regarding employment for people with a disability and how it affects them.

Enshrined in Article 23 of the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights is that everyone has the right to work with a free choice of employment and unfortunately this is not the case for everyone, a large number of people are not receiving this human right due to them having an intellectual disability. There is a considerable amount of ways people define a ‘disability’ resulting in skewed statistics, Census 2006 indicated approximately 400,000 people reported a disability, which is 9% of the population. While five years later, the census 2011 showed about 600,000 people reported having a disability, or about 13% of the population, these change in numbers was a result of what a disability was defined as. Participation in the labour market for disabled people remain lower than participation rates for the general population (Banks et al., 2018: p.2). Regardless of the type of employment, sheltered or paid, too few of adults with disabilities are experiencing it (Andrews & Rose 2010; Migliore et al. 2008).

In terms of the employment statistics for people with disabilities, 6.6% of the population were in real paid employment, 7.4% in perceived employment, 12% in sheltered employment and 73.5% were unemployed (McGlinchey et al., 2013). Perceived employment relates to individuals associating a certain place they go every day as their job or work, such as a day service they attend. The small percentage of people in real paid employment were receiving an average of 77 euro as their weekly wage, which is dismal, comparing this to the 12% in sheltered workshops the average weekly wage was 26 euro. These minuscule monetary amounts represent wages that would simply not be accepted by an individual without a disability, therefore people with disabilities are not being treated equally and receiving the right of employment they are entitled too.

In Ireland, a sheltered workshop is defined as ‘work undertaken by people with disabilities in workshops specifically established for that purpose. It is known in Europe, it is the most broadly used employment method of people with intellectual disabilities (Mallender et al., 2015). A great disadvantage along with the low-income levels of sheltered work is the large segregation it creates from the community. An area that has been neglect by research is the effect of this segregation on the individuals working in these types of sheltered organisations, being separated from the wider community resulting in no level of social inclusion. Jobs that return low psychosocial rewards and also hold a poor-quality work environment have been reported to carry equal risk of depressive symptomatology as being unemployed (Butterworth et al. 2011). It is also suggested that those who source real paid employment have a higher quality of life than those without and also increased social incorporation (Kober & Eggleton 2005). Many reports have shown that individuals with an intellectual disability enjoy going to their ‘job’, giving them a routine and structure to their weeks. There has always been strong debate on the process of these workshops being effective or being a means of exploitation. While there are numerous negatives associated with aspects of sheltered workshops it is impossible to say it doesn’t also hold some positive properties. One of the biggest arguments includes that without the facilities of the sheltered workshops, people with intellectual individuals would be completely isolated without anything to do. The workshops do provide an outlet for people to go to providing them with an opportunity to socialise and to meet other people with disabilities. In the case of people with disabilities being unable to provide substantial work of economic value, sheltered workshops adhere to it being possible for these individuals to work (Corley,2014). It is argued that the debate of the wage level is disputable as it is not an adult’s single income, it acts as an added payment, as sheltered workshops pay is extra to money already being received in the form of social welfare disability benefits (May-Simera, 2018). However, despite the few positives that are seen from the process of sheltered workshops they are still viewed by disability experts in a negative light, claiming these workshops adhere to old fashioned expectations that people with IDs are unfit for work and as a result have no impact on society (May-Simera, 2018: p.4).

Smart (2004:25-29) believes that the models of disability serve a number of difference purposes, such as providing definitions of disability and shaping the identities of people who have disabilities. There are two models of disability that are relevant to this topic of employment, the charity model and the medical model. The charity model depicts people with a disability as people to be pitied and sufferers. The types of work that are the most widely available to people with disabilities include sheltered workshops. The settings of these sheltered workshops are usually run by non-governmental organisations, for-profit or charitable organizations, either privately or on behalf of the State relating to both the charity and medical model (Samoy and Waterplas 1992). An outcome of these workshops can be the lack of transition with people remaining in these for long periods of time result in more segregation (Gottlieb et al. 2010). Looking back to the past and earliest history of sheltered workshops, its shown that the settings have largely evolved from religious or medical institutions and were therefore run corresponding to an ethos of the charity and medical models of disability.

There have been few changes to policy and legislation in recent years in relation to employment for people with disabilities. A key policy that covers many aspects of disability, including employment is the National Disability Strategy (2017-2021). The most recent policy initiative being The Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with a Disability 2015–2024 (Department of Justice and Equality, 2015). This sets out a ten-year plan of action in being certain that people with disabilities, who can and want to work, are supported and enabled to do so. It is focusing on the importance of financial security and independence in employment, it aims to make sure people with disabilities who choose they want to work are enabled to do so.

From doing research on this topic, it is clear to see that discrimination towards people with disabilities is still prominent. High unemployment rates are a key reason for the strong link between disabilities and poverty. Both unemployment and poverty are likely to have a disproportionate effect on people with disabilities compared with other sectors of the population. Improved and renewed policies need to be put in place to ensure less exclusion and to get rid of the high chance of poverty on the person with a disability. To conclude, people with intellectual disabilities are not being treated fairly, facing high levels of discrimination in relation to their human right of employment. It would benefit the situation at hand to focus more on what the individuals are asking for, this may be done by more surveys, reports and in-depth research on the self-advocates. From working together with the self-advocates for this module, it was evident that some of them enjoyed when they previously attending a sheltered workshop, where they folded tea towels. I believe this may be the case due to their dependence on daily routine. Regarding the protection of people of individuals working in sheltered workshops, measures need to be implemented to introduce employment protection legislation to ensure the status of individuals is protected. Expenditure needs to be used on creating a maintainable way of creating an employment system for people with disabilities. What has been see is the Government Pilot Programme on Employment of People with Disabilities (PEP) has been a positive reaction from the government. This programme requires immediate and altered and improved as needed. I believe the quota in place regarding the percentage that ,must be employed in public service jobs but be increased as a matter of urgency, since being set at 3% in 1977, this quota target has only been hit for the first time in the last four years. In order for people with disabilities to gain more access to real paid jobs, managers and training staff of a business should be required to complete training to be more aware and educated on disabilities, this initiative could be done with the involvement of the individuals with disabilities.

As a future social care practitioner, with a keen interest in working with adults with disabilities, I believe there is a huge area available to create awareness and advocate for the individuals. From working with the self-advocates and having my own attitudes and perceptions changed within such a short time frame, I believe time needs to be taken with other people who hold negative perceptions of the abilities of people with disabilities.


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