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National Learning Network Hosts Annual Conference of the European Platform for Rehabilitation

15 October 2009
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An international conference on the integration of people with disabilities hears that investment in social services and partnership are essential ingredients to secure quality services for people with disabilities.

- In challenging times, all involved in services, State and providers, need to work more closely in partnership.

- People with disabilities need to be supported beyond the confines of traditional service models.

- Greater attitudinal change towards people with mental health difficulties is needed.


Thursday, October 15 2009: The annual conference of the European Platform for Rehabilitation, hosted by National Learning Network (the training and employment division of Rehab) got underway in Waterford today. Delegates from 17 European countries heard that across Europe there has been progress in ensuring that services to people with disabilities support people to achieve what they want in their lives. However, there is much to do to ensure that everyone has access to supports that they need to achieve full integration, particularly in the context of people with mental health issues.

Speakers also commented on the need to protect the most vulnerable groups in our society like people with disabilities from the worst effects of the economic recession, of the need for greater partnership between disability service providers, and for greater flexibility by services in responding to people’s changing needs.

The conference is looking at the challenges facing the integration of people with a disability in society at a time of unprecedented economic challenge. The European Platform for Rehabilitation is a network of 28 leading providers of services to people with disabilities in 17 European countries which aims to share best practice in service delivery and support continuous professional development. The theme of this year’s conference is “Managing transition in rehabilitation: supporting the successful integration of people with disabilities”.

One of the keynote speakers on the first day of the conference, Bairbre Nic Aongusa, Director of the Office for Disability and Mental Health, commented, 'We are all keenly aware of the challenges posed by the current economic climate and of the need for all stakeholders to work more closely together. While funding is important, it does not cost more money for organisations to work better together or to work smarter together.”

Government can play a very important role, in partnership with stakeholders, in supporting people with disabilities to integrate into their community. However, cultural and attitudinal change is also required across the community to ensure that every member of society is playing a role in facilitating the full participation of people with disabilities, particularly people with mental health difficulties, in all areas of life. As a guiding principle, it is essential that we listen to what people with disabilities themselves say.”

Angela Kerins, Chief Executive of Rehab, delivered the opening address to the conference. “As service providers, we have a duty to those who use our services to keep championing change in order to progress the position of, and improve the quality of life of, people with disabilities in our society. We can no longer provide all of our services in a fixed location and our services need to be less 9-5 and more flexible to meet the needs of individuals. Our responsibility now extends beyond providing a service to actually ensuring that an individual is prepared for and succeeds in taking that step to the next phase of their lives.

“Undoubtedly, the changes in the economic circumstances create new challenges, but we must all keep our nerve. The ambitions of people with disabilities are not dimmed and we will continue to work to ensure that the National Disability Strategy is delivered in full.”

'Communication is key' said Claire Coffey (age 24) describing her experiences as a young person with Aspergers syndrome, moving from secondary school to third level education. “I was told that I wasn’t able to sit my Leaving Certificate. But, I have done that, completed my degree and am now studying for a Masters. By believing in myself, and speaking up for myself, I have been able to make sure that others listen to me, and so I have been able to achieve what I want and am capable of.” Claire has used a variety of services provided by RehabCare during her education.

Jan Spooren, General Secretary of the European Platform for Rehabilitation, commented that, notwithstanding the recession, reducing funding towards people with disabilities should be a last resort. 'Disability groups need to continue to impress upon policy-makers and funders the importance of continued investment in social services despite the economic difficulties because stability within social services is very important to overall economic prosperity.”