Supported employment

“The key challenges of national and European policies relating to people with disabilities are low employment rates, high unemployment rates and a rather high dependency on welfare benefits. For people with disabilities, it is often hard to enter the labour market where they are at higher risk of being ousted from it easily. The future challenge is to promote policies which are able to encourage and empower people with disabilities to enter or remain in the open labour market.”

The United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 13, 2006, is a legally-binding treaty and national legislation has therefore to refer to it. States have to ensure legal consistency with the principles of the convention, such as the obligation to ensure participation of persons with disabilities in social, political and cultural life and their equal right to work and earn a living.

When young people become adults they are expected to get jobs and be responsible for themselves.

Persons who have Down syndrome want to work in paid jobs too but they may need support. As well as the pay, our members like to be proud of going to work.

Society believes that adults with an intellectual disability cannot work, so they are usually given a benefit to live on. Sometimes, sheltered workshops are set up to provide work with other people with disabilities. Working in a sheltered workshop hardly ever leads to a real job. Furthermore, this is not the work environment the Down Syndrome Association wishes for its members.

As more is found out about how to help adults with an intellectual disability to learn, some of them can work in real, paid jobs in ordinary workplaces when and if given a chance. A new way of helping people to work is ‘supported employment’.

Supported employment means: finding a job and putting a person in it; training people on the job and supporting them until they can do it by themselves; being paid; accepting everyone who wants to work, no matter what their disabilities are; the job must be a real one, with other people who do not have disabilities and giving support if people want to change jobs.

There are lots of reasons why it may be hard for adults with an intellectual disability to have paid jobs like other people. In signing the UN Convention on the rights of People with Disability, Malta has laws that state it is wrong to discriminate against people with disabilities.

Maltese law lays down that employers have to recruit a percentage of workers with disabilities. There were benefits that employers got to hire workers with disabilities. However, when the schemes and, therefore, funds ended, the intellectually-disabled persons lost their employment.

Unemployment is a problem for adults with mild disabilities as well as those with severe disabilities

At times, it is hard for lots of people to find jobs or the jobs might require skills and qualifications that people do not have. Adults with an intellectual disability sometimes do not think they can learn new skills and may tend to blame themselves if they are not socially included at work. It can sometimes be hard trying to ‘fit in’ at work and make new friends.

There is also a need to involve adults with an intellectual disability in planning and evaluating their support services.

Unemployment among adults with an intellectual disability is much higher than it is for other people. People with an intellectual disability are not doing a lot better in terms of employment. Unemployment is a problem for adults with mild disabilities as well as those with severe disabilities.

Various studies show that the reasons adults with an intellectual disability want to work are: to earn money; they are bored; to learn new things; to have a career and to be more independent.

Most adults with an intellectual disability need support to find the right job and also need help if problems arise later on.

The government does need to decide how it can best obtain funding and help so that adults with an intellectual disability can work and maintain their job.

Studies that look at the costs and the benefits of any service have shown that supported employment services save the government money after two to three years for various reasons.

If adults with an intellectual disability are not in jobs with supported employment they will likely be in sheltered workshops and day centres which the government also pays for. When adults with an intellectual disability earn wages, they also pay taxes like other workers. Some adults who work in community jobs can stop receiving benefits.

Adults in supported employment have more money to spend than they did before they had a job.

Various Studies have also shown that supported employment services are worth their cost because they benefit both the government and adults with an intellectual disability.

There are barriers that are hindering supported employment in the form of sheltered workshops in Malta because: prominent people are not sharing the same ideas and goals about work for adults with an intellectual disability; families are opposed to change; inadequate funding; lack of trained skilled staff, and opposition by some staff and lack of strong leadership.

Without clear government direction and resources, such services are unlikely to ever come on stream. On the other hand, benefit systems often get in the way of people working because they can end up with a lower income.

Studies have shown that supported employment services provide the best way we know of to help adults with an intellectual disability obtain paid jobs in the community. It has also resulted that most adults with an intellectual disability do want to work.

However, there are practically no supported employment services for all those who would like to get a job. Yet, supported employment services save money for the government in the long run.

The Down Syndrome Association hopes the government would start working on having a supported employment structure that will help persons with intellectual disability find and maintain a job. This is the best way forward, especially for our members.

Anna Farrugia is PRO of the Down Syndrome Association Malta.

Source: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140321/opinion/Supported-employment.511497 Anna Farrugia

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