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06 Oct 2022

Louth branch of Network Ireland hold Disability & the Workplace event

Louth branch of Network Ireland hold Disability & the Workplace event

(L-R) Professor Thomas Cooney, Jane McDermott, Denis Kennedy, Carmel McCarthy, Andrea McQuillan

The Monasterboice Inn was the venue for the recent Network Ireland Louth event with a thought provoking topic “Disability and the Workplace”.

The event focused on exploring the opportunities, and challenges, for those living with disabilities, in securing employment or becoming self-employed as well as the opportunities for employers in hiring them. 

The event was opened by President of Network Ireland Louth, Andrea McQuillan, who spoke about her personal insight into disability and the importance of exploring all options of employment for those with disabilities. 

Speakers for the evening were Professor Thomas Cooney, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Technological University Dublin; Denis Kennedy, owner and founder of DK Accessibility and Jane McDermott who works for the Revenue Commissioners in Dundalk and is Disability Access Officer for Dundalk FC. The event was facilitated by Carmel McCarthy, EMS & Associates, Health & Safety Consultants, Auditors & Trainers. 

Thomas Cooney believes that entrepreneurship can be a great leveller for people who are typically marginalised e.g. people with disabilities. We all have potential, but those who are marginalised are, so often, left out and with simple supports, their potential can be realised.

There are additional, and distinctive, challenges that those with disabilities have that the general population doesn’t. Government departments and agencies need to offer tailored supports rather than applying the broad and general policies that currently apply to those starting their own business. The notion of entrepreneurship, as a career option, for those with disabilities, needs to be discussed on a national level.

Assistive technologies and remote working now make self-employment a feasible option. Self-employment, for people with disabilities, would mean having tailored education, training, and mentoring supports available that is fit for purpose. 

13.5% of the Irish population self-identify as having a disability – approximately 650,000 people. Currently, we have the highest number of people, ever, in employment, in Ireland but we have the 4thlowest employment rate, in the European Union, for people with disabilities. When employing a disabled person, there are social and economic benefits for both the individual and community and employers will reap the benefits of having a diverse workforce. 

Denis Kennedy of DK Accessibility believes that fear is a big obstacle for employers. The stigma varies depending on the nature of the disability. People with disabilities are better problem solvers, are innovative, and are very committed. The benefits are that it increases the reputation of the company, customers are more willing to buy, and investors are more likely to invest.

Employers think it will cost them money but there is workplace adaptability funding available, and in many cases, only minor changes need to be made to the workplace. The simplest thing for an employer to do is ask the employee what is needed for them to carry out their job. 

Jane McDermott lives with a disability, which, she says, does not define her. She has worked for 16 years in the Civil Service and says that many people cannot afford to work because they have to give up all benefits, if they earn above a certain threshold. The cost of travel and, in particular, the cost of medication, all adds up and losing the medical card can result in it not being economically viable to get a job. Generally, there are lower levels of wages, higher levels of underemployment which leads to less experience. We have highly educated, skilled people with a strong work ethic but they are, generally, underpaid. 

Disability tends to be at the bottom of the diversity ladder and generalisation is a big barrier for people with disabilities. We need to move from the Medical to the Social Model, to stop looking at the disability as being the person but look at how the environment impacts on the individual with a disability. 

There was great participation from the audience and a lively discussion ensued. People shared advice, insights, and experiences with each other, and the evening was rounded off with the vision of the work environment of the future, from the three panel members. Denis would like to see a change of attitude through communication, information and education; Jane wants a focus on ability and not disability and to be treated as an equal; Thomas would like self-employment to become a natural part of the conversation for people with disabilities, as a career option. 

Professor Thomas Cooney is running a Start Your Own Business course for people with disabilities, who have a business idea but have not yet started a business. The course starts on 21st September, for 12 weeks, from 11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. (2 hours each week). It will help evaluate the business idea, build a business plan, week by week and explore the viability of the business. More information is available by emailing Thomas on thomas.cooney@tudublin.ie 

Network Ireland Louth is a branch of Network Ireland, a Nationwide organisation supporting the professional, and personal, development of women. It provides support, learning and networking opportunities for women in business and enterprise, throughout Ireland, through the branch network. 

Network Ireland is a non-profit, voluntary organisation, established in 1983 and now has 15 Branches Nationwide. Membership is made up of a diverse group of women, from budding entrepreneurs to SME owners, professionals, and leaders in Indigenous and multinational organisations, the Public Sector, the Arts, non-profit organisations, and charities. 

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