Good Future Jobs for all? Persons with disabilities remain on the margins

December 17, 2019

Share this story

by Charlotte May-Simera, National University of Ireland – Galway

The Carnegie UK Trust-TASC Ensuring Good Future Jobs essay collection describes many of the key challenges faced by workers in Ireland today, and proposes a series of policy and practice changes to ensure good future jobs. First published on 28 November, as a coordinated response to the Irish Government’s first Future Jobs Strategy, this blog series showcases the contributions by key social partners in Ireland to the collection.

There is a lack of attention in the Future Jobs Strategy directed towards hardwiring our economy to offer a truly inclusive labour market, where all citizens who are able to work can access work, including those with disabilities. As a result of limited, targeted actions to increase their employment, people with intellectual disabilities, in particular, remain excluded from the general labour market. Ireland has, however, ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provides a legal framework to realise the rights of persons with disabilities to work and to participate in society.

For most people, work is a significant part of how we define ourselves and we relate to each other. Paid employment not only brings social connections and clarifies our roles in society, but its material benefits are also essential to lead a self-directed life. Many people with intellectual disabilities are, however, not in paid employment (Ellenkamp et al, 2016). Instead, according to figures captured by the National Intellectual Disability Database (NIDD), many continue to attend segregated day services, and little efforts are directed at increasing their access to meaningful work opportunities.

Focusing on the numbers attending work, employment and training services, most individuals registered on the NIDD attended an ‘Activation Centre’, (8,476 in 2017) as the principal service. The second most attended service was the “Sheltered Work Centre”, (2,356 in 2017). The Department of Health, (DOH) identifies that those availing of disabilities services are still largely not participating in work or society and spend their days in segregated, group settings (Department of Health, 2012). Despite claims by the DOH to increase inclusion in more open rather than sheltered work settings, there is no significant evidence that this has taken place[1]. Instead, reports indicate that people remain merely ‘occupied’, bored and unemployed as a result of their placement in Activation Centres (McCarron et al., 2011).

Against this backdrop, the Comprehensive Employment Strategy, (CES) was eagerly awaited. Launched by the Department of Justice and Equality in 2015, the CES outlines a ten-year plan to increase the employment of people with disabilities. However, when it comes to increasing the employment of persons in segregated settings such as those previously mentioned, the Strategy merely refers to moving people into “more appropriate” training as opposed to meaningful employment on the open labour market[2].

In 2018 Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (CRPD), a legally binding human rights treaty that promotes and protects the rights of persons with disabilities[3]. Article 27 of the CRPD sets out the rights of persons with disabilities to work and how State Parties are to achieve and ensure access to this right in a detailed manner. Accordingly, States are to recognise the right of persons with disabilities to access work in an open, inclusive and accessible environment. The CRPD clarifies that the provision of reasonable accommodations in the workplace is an integral aspect of this right.

To achieve increased participation, it is recommended that the Department of Social Protection increase the scope and resources available to the Employability services in each county so that more people can benefit. Furthermore, the conditions placed on any benefits packages received by people with intellectual disabilities (i.e. limitations of income through earnings or hours worked) may not function as a deterrent to take up paid employment (often referred to as the benefit-trap). Additionally, all measures and grants available as a means to provide reasonable accommodations in employment must be adapted and designed to support people with intellectual disabilities, specifically.[4] With regard to the types of reasonable accommodations that could be adopted, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers some guidance in the context of job applications:

  • providing someone to read or interpret application materials for a person who has limited ability to read or to understand complex information;
  • demonstrating, rather than describing, to the applicant what the job requires;
  • modifying tests, training materials, and/or policy manuals; and
  • replacing a written test with an ‘expanded” interview’, (to allow the applicant to demonstrate their ability to do the job).[5]

To ensure good quality jobs for all of Irelands citizens, employment policy must be aimed to support all of Irelands citizens into real work and have the opportunity to become future workers and employees, in line with the obligations under the CRPD. To achieve this we need to start tackling the widespread, continued segregation of persons with intellectual disabilities in disability services and address this as a form of continued social exclusion. Real opportunities require tangible actions such as increased supports available. It is suggested here that the existing Employability services must be scaled up and that reasonable accommodations must be further tailored to facilitate inclusion in the workplace. 



Ellenkamp, J, Brouwers, M, Petri J. C. M. Embregts, Margot C. W. Joosen, Weeghel, J. (2016) ‘Work Environment-Related Factors in Obtaining and Maintaining Work in a Competitive Employment Setting for Employees with Intellectual Disabilities: A Systematic Review’, 26(1) Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, pp.56-69.

Department of Health (2012) ‘Value For Money And Policy Review Of Disability Services In Ireland: Final Report’, Dublin: Stationary Office, p. 146.

McCarron, M., Swinburne, J., Burke, E., McGlinchey, E., Mulryan, N., Andrews, V., Foran S. & McCallion, P. (2011). ‘Growing older with an intellectual disability in Ireland 2011: First results from the intellectual disability supplement of the Irish longitudinal study on ageing’, Dublin: School of Nursing & Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin.


[1] See generally: Health Service Executive, ‘New Directions: Report of the National Working Group for the review of HSE Funded Adult Day Services’, (2012).

[2] NIDD

[3] Initially Ireland has signed with intent to ratify in 2008. With full ratification in 2018, Ireland became the last EU Member State to ratify due to extensive delays in progress towards preparing domestic legislation for compliance.

[4] The Department of Social Protection, through its Employability service, provides employment and recruitment services to people with disabilities and operates a reasonable accommodation fund, which includes a Job Interview Interpreter Grant, Personal Reader Grant and Workplace Equipment Adaption Grant to support people with disabilities to gain and retain employment.

[5] Available at: