Leaders in a movement for change

The WALKways Tallaght Hospital Project is a one year programme which helps 11 job seekers with intellectual disabilities gain relevant and meaningful job experience, be accredited for their practical learning and ultimately move on to access paid employment in the open labour market. Maureen Browne reports.

Catherine Kelly from WALK, with colleagues Mick Teehan and Vicky Hogan , Project’ WALK in partnership with Tallaght Hospital’
Catherine Kelly from WALK, with colleagues Mick Teehan and Vicky Hogan , Project’ WALK in partnership with Tallaght Hospital’

The one year programme was launched last year is a partnership with Tallaght Hospital WALK and the Dublin & Dun Laoghaire Educational and Training Board.
Each trainee completes three four month work rotations and is able to choose from a number of role across 11 hospital departments.

Each work placement is as varied as possible in terms of tasks and expectations in order to facilitate a wide range of choices, options and experiences for trainees.
Feedback from the programme trainees and the hospital departments involved has been extremely positive.
Presenting the project to the HMI National Judging Panel, Catherine Kelly, MSc., R.N.I.D., Director of Services said “Our mission is that we are leaders in a movement for change, empowering people with disabilities to live self-determined lives in an equal and inclusive society.”

No additional funding was received for the project.

She said that in March 2017 WALK in partnership with Tallaght Hospital established the WALKways programme.
WALK provided Tallaght Hospital with two onsite coordinators who worked directly to support the trainees.
Tallaght Hospital also provided an onsite training room where trainees received weekly QQI accredited training from the local education and training board relevant to career professionalisation and development.
Designated people from the local business community offered each trainee one to one career support. They also provided relevant expert business advice to the programme steering committee.

“The ultimate aim of WALKways Tallaght Hospital project is to support each trainee to have not just a job but a career and a real life where they contribute as an equal citizen.

“Our vision is an inclusive society where communities value and treat all people as equal citizens This is why we do what we do.”
Ms. Kelly said that traditionally people with ID had been separated from their peers at a young age in “special” services and consequently missed the opportunity to grow and develop as contributing citizens, moving further away from the mainstream as they grew up.
To help correct this practice, WALK had developed a range of “TRANSITION” and “SUPPORTED EMPLOYMENT” programmes to help straighten the red line path so that young people with disabilities were empowered to do ordinary things in ordinary places.

The High level objectives of the project were to:

  • Deliver equality and disability training across the hospital.
  • Develop a training plan and associated accreditation for all training undertaken.
  • Design and implement a trainee journey for all participants.
  • Agree which hospital departments were to be involved, what roles, tasks and responsibilities were to be on offer to interns and develop task analysis process for same.
  • Recruit and Select 11 interns (participants with intellectual disabilities) Each intern to complete 3 X work-rotations in a variety of hospital departments and in a variety of roles.
  • Each intern to complete six hours per week accredited training.

Ms. Kelly said that no additional funding was received for this project. The initial set up costs of the project were €7,000 (including IT equipment, participants’ uniforms, marketing, logo development, office furniture).
The programme aimed to support trainees and families in a completely different way.
“We ensured:
“An effective and high performing partnership was developed between WALK and Tallaght hospital as well as other stakeholders including the ETB, the HSE and Business Support Network members.
“The recruitment process was fair, transparent and effective in recruiting participants with ID.
“The recruitment of committed and effective Business Support Network members.
“All hospital departments and their respective staff teams were fully committed.
“Alternative support measures were in place for all trainees involved in the WALKways project should they fail to complete their 12 month tenure on the project for any reason. “
Ms. Kelly said that barriers included the short lead in time since WALK and Tallaght Hospital first met to discuss the project in March 2017.
To ensure success they had an agreed project plan, a designated operational project lead from both organisations, stakeholder communication plan, clearly defined roles, terms of references for committees.

The HSE had asked WALK and Tallaght Hospital to support them to develop similar initiatives in ten other hospitals nationwide.

There was a risk that not enough departments within Tallaght Hospital would buy in to the WALKways project. To combat this a comprehensive internal marketing plan was devised and there were various information sessions for department heads and key personnel within each department. There was also one to one information sessions where required. WALK’s onsite coordinators also met regularly with each department.

Recruiting Business Support Network members was essential to the success of the project due to the short lead in time recruiting effective members would be difficult.  To combat this existing contacts from WALK’s network of engaged employers (though its existing Supported Employment service), Tallaght Hospital’s business partners (suppliers, contractors, etc.) as well as the Tallaght Chamber of commerce were contacted. A Business Support Network Terms of Reference was drafted and made available to all interested members outlining their responsibilities and an initial breakfast meeting was held in Tallaght hospital for the employers who had agreed to take part.

She said the benefits of the project were:
It developed trainees’ employability skills and experiences ensuring progression to the open labour market.
It increased diversity within Tallaght Hospital, to support Tallaght Hospital to meet statutory obligations with regard to the employment of people with disabilities (as per the 2005 Disability Act and the emerging Comprehensive Employment Strategy).
It aimed to gradually change the mindsets of WALKways Tallaght Hospital project participants and that of their support network so that they started to consider ‘careers’ and the development of same rather than just jobs.
It created stronger partnerships with Business Support Network and the local education training board.
Ms. Kelly said the programme evaluation included:
Evaluating staff in the departments where the trainees were placed to establish if an increase in diversity awareness had taken place at the end of the first rotation of trainees. A pre- and post-staff survey will be used.
Evaluating trainees’ employability skills, knowledge, skill attitude and confidence pre- and post the first rotation.

On transferability, she said the HR section of the HSE had asked WALK and Tallaght Hospital to support them to develop similar initiatives in ten other hospitals nationwide. The HSE lead on this sat on the Steering committee of the WALKways Tallaght Hospital project.
“The strategies used in developing this project (project management planning, communication strategies, stakeholder engagement, marketing, task analyses, etc.) could easily be adapted in other environments. This would support other hospitals across Ireland to achieve one of the HSE 2015-2018 strategic goals which was to prioritise and recognise the positive aspects of culturally diverse teams.

“WALK also believes that the project can be replicated in other campus based employer settings (for example, third level colleges, statutory bodies, financial institutions, Tech firms, etc.). This would serve to greatly enhance the employment and career development prospects of People with Intellectual Disabilities in line with the Irish Government’s 2015 Comprehensive Employment Strategy.”