DSI launch Ability Programme to provide people with Down syndrome access to meaningful employment

We are excited to announce the launch of our Ability Programme, which is designed to provide people with Down syndrome access to meaningful employment opportunities.

Aimed at all school leavers and adults with Down syndrome across the country, the approach of the programme is two pronged:

  • We offer a bespoke person-centred education and training programme which prepares adults with Down syndrome for employment.


  • We also develop direct links with employers around the country through a programme of partnership initiatives aimed at securing long-term employment for adults with Down syndrome across a broad range of sectors.


What does the course entail?

It will be a three year programme incorporating our existing adult literacy and technology course, called Latch On, and our active citizenship course, called MOTE, along with two new courses: An Interpersonal Skills course and a Work Skills course which we have developed with Accenture, which is a leading global professional services company.


  • The Work Skills course is designed to help adults with Down syndrome close the gap between education and employment in the world of work. An alternative work skills course is already underway in our excellent educational project in the Field of Dreams in Cork, and we will be carefully evaluating both pilot courses in order to move forward with the best aspects of both.


  • The Interpersonal Skills course will include modules on self-esteem, relationships and independent living. The first two years of the course will be rebranded but will incorporate all of the above.


The full programme will be held over four days for three years – though initially, it will be flexible to accommodate those that have already competed any individual part of existing courses, such as Latch On and MOTE.


After completion of the first two years of the programme, we will work with our members who would like to progress to the third year. This is focused on moving towards employment using a supported work experience, reflective learning and work placement model. The aim is to formally place students in meaningful employment. We have already got a number of employers who will work with us to make that happen.  

Where will the programme be available?

The Ability Programme will be delivered through our branch network around the country – similar to how our existing Latch On and MOTE courses are delivered.

How will the programme be funded?

Developing and rolling out the bespoke Ability Programme will cost circa €3 million over the next three years. We explored a number of different funding avenues and as part of this, we presented the full progamme to Pobal (Pobal administer and manage Government and EU funding to support social inclusion).

We are delighted to announce that Pobal have agreed to support the programme financially to deliver the programme to up to 200 members over the next three years. They will provide up to €260k per year over the next three years. The actual amount received from Pobal will depend on the number of people who go through our programme. The balance will be funded through direct payment by members, our own fundraising activities and any local events held by branches who want to support their members. Realistically, it will be a combination of all of the above.

It is important to understand the Pobal grant is solely there to support specific elements of this programme and will be monitored closely to ensure that this happens.

We will also apply to participate in the Government’s pilot of implementing Personalised Budgets –  which gives people with disabilities access to their own HSE disability funding – for those members who may want to use some of this funding to pay for the programme. We are not sure yet when this pilot will start and /or if we will be selected to participate in this programme.

The Pobal grant only applies to people between the ages of 18-30 although we will look to encourage our branches to continue to support people of all ages to access education.

It is important that we do not exclude any person willing to participate in our programme and we will seek to support anyone who sits outside of the criteria set by Pobal. This can be accommodated on an individual basis either through your branch or directly with us here in the National Support Office.  

We signed the agreement with Pobal this week and expect to receive further instructions shortly.

The next step for us is the consultation with branches interested in working with us to deliver the programme.

The criteria for inclusion is as follows:

  • 8 -12 participants who have Down syndrome and are between 18 and 30 at the start of the programme. Participants who sit outside of this criteria are also welcome to apply. We have to get the balance right to qualify for the Pobal grant.
  • Delivery of the three year programmme agreed with Pobal.
  • Financial agreement with the participants, individual branches and national support office on the part-funding of teachers to deliver the programme and support each member. We will communicate with you the projected cost at our planned upcoming information meetings.
  • Commitment to the governing and reporting requirements of Pobal


What happens next?

Our team will reach out shortly to establish the interest of branches and individual participants. We will do this through information meetings which we plan to host over the coming months or through your branch. You can also find out more by contacting us directly in the National Support Office on 01-5632450 or by email here.

The key people on our national team to implement the Ability Programme are our educational and employment team: Nicola Hart, Lisa Martin and Aoife Gaffney. Cork students should contact Karen O’Sullivan or Sharon Mulcahy in the Field of Dreams or our branch in Cork.

We are excited about implementing the next stage of our strategic plan which we believe will make a meaningful difference to our members.   

It is important to emphasise that this programme is only part of our overall strategy to improve services and experiences for our members.  We have already appointed Eimear Collins who is focused on Early Intervention and Helena Connors who is working with our older members and those with independent needs. They are also making progress in their respective areas.  

Our Ability Programme however will benefit all people with Down syndrome over the coming years as it will provide real training and employment opportunities around the country.

You can read more about the Ability Programme here.

Ability is co-financed by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.