The inaugural meeting of Fórsa’s Disability Network took place earlier this month, with a strong focus on the workplace experience of people with disabilities. The new network provides a forum for members across the union to meet and discuss issues relevant to disability rights in the workplace.
The first meeting was officially opened by Finian McGrath TD, the Minister of State for Disability Issues. Mr McGrath said: "It has always been important to me to understand the practical challenges facing people living with a disability and their families.
"Disability is not a health, transport or employment issue. It's an equality issue. It's a rights issue. It goes right across every department.”
The minister said he took pride in the Government’s decision to adopt the UN convention on disability rights last year, and commended Fórsa for being an agent of change on the issue of disabilities.
Questioned about the level of recruitment of people with disabilities across government departments, the minister acknowledged a slight decrease (0.2%) in employment of people with disabilities in the HSE, and cited a few examples of state agencies and departments where employment exceeds 6%.
He said these levels were achieved in areas where efforts had been made to support and encourage employment of people with disabilities, and he urged employers and unions to be ambitious on this issue.
Delegates asked the minister to comment on policies to progress disability services for children, the challenges of looking at working and educational environments to ensure they accommodate people with disabilities, and about safeguarding policies for vulnerable adults.
Siobhan Barron, Chair of the National Disability Authority (NDA), said unions have an important role to play to support, provide guidance, and to monitor the performance of employers and the support they provide to people with disabilities.
The NDA monitors compliance by more than 270 state bodies to achieve employment targets.
Ms Barron said many of the questions the NDA receives from employees and HR managers are about who is covered by the definition of having a disability. She said the NDA’s goal is to ensure people with disabilities can get a job and enjoy a rewarding career, and outlined the range of employment supports in place.
Delegates posed a range of questions about transport access, the workplace assessment process for people with disabilities (with regard to psychometric testing), stigma, privacy in the workplace, and attitudes of work colleagues.
Equality officer Andy Pike said the national meeting is the second in a series of new equality networks to be established by the union’s equality committee in the coming months. “We were delighted to welcome delegates from all over the country, and very encouraged by the quality of engagement throughout the day,” he said.
More information about the work of the National Disability Authority available at HERE.