UPDATED Monday 27.06.2011 More information on changes here

See message below from Ann Heelan, Director of AHEAD:

RE: SPRINGBOARD eligibility for graduates with disability

The excellent Springboard Initiative has 5,900 new higher education places available to unemployed people on Higher Education courses directed at meeting skill shortages identified by Forfas such as ICT, Retro fitting and the green economy.

Unfortunately these innovative opportunities are closed to unemployed people with disabilities because of the social welfare category within which they find themselves, disability allowance rather than unemployment benefits.  This decision to excluse those on disability allowance is based on the assumption that they are unavailable for work, an assumption which simply is not true. A great many people with disabilities have good qualifications, are unemployed due to their disability or the effect of the recession but want to work and to avail of educational opportunities available to other unemployed people.

The situation of the economy is in crisis, we all know this but it does not justify excluding citizens by denying them their entitlement to participate in education.  A recent UN Report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda clearly states that human rights are not dispensable in times of economic hardship.  It recognises the discrimination that disabled people face in education and in the workplace and urges the Irish Government to meet its commitment to the education and employment of people with disabilities.

The decision to exclude graduates with disabilities from this innovative initiative is unfair and risks discrimination.  Furthermore it is disconnected from objectives in the National Plan to widen education and employment opportunities. Many People with disabilities want to train and up-skill and have the same opportunities to enter alternative careers and this regressive measure puts them once again at the back of an ever lengthening queue.

Ensuring education courses are open to students with disability is standard practice throughout he higher education sector which has made enormous strides in recent years to ensure equality of educational opportunities to disadvantaged groups.  Many courses allocate quotes to students with disability could Springboard not do the same?  Allocating a quota of places on Springboard for unemployed graduates would allow them as citizens ofIrelandto benefit equally from the great opportunities afforded to their peers by Springboard.

We urge you to please endorse our position by contacting me by e.mail ann.heelan@ahead.ie

Your support is much appreciated.

Ann Heelan

Executive Director