The Upside - Employment

“There are mutual gains when people with Down syndrome are included in the workplace. People with Down syndrome involved in such initiatives have a better quality of life and opportunities for development, while the companies that employ them often report significant improvements in their organisational health.” – McKinsey report, 2014

Access to meaningful paid employment helps to enable social inclusion for adults with Down syndrome. There is little recent data on the percentage of adults with Down syndrome in paid employment. Studies tend to measure employment figures for adults with intellectual disabilities, generally. However, it is clear that unemployment figures remain high. Jobs tend to be in a limited number of fields and long-term unpaid work is not unusual. (Kumin & Schoenbrodt, 2015).  


Only a small percentage of people with Down syndrome are in paid employment in Ireland – pre-pandemic, we estimate employment levels were at just 6%. There is a large untapped resource of people who would love to work if given the chance. Down Syndrome Ireland’s Ability Programme breaks down barriers and works to provide people with Down syndrome access to meaningful employment opportunities.


Did you know? On average, people think that 20% of people with Down syndrome are currently in paid employment. In reality it is far, far less, likely to be single digits.  Source: DSI-Commissioned Empathy Survey (2021)  


Just as in the general working population, each adult with Down syndrome is an individual with their own particular temperament, interests and skills. Some workers will thrive in a forward-facing role, dealing with the public in settings such as hospitality or retail. Others will be more suited to an administrative position, requiring strong organisational and IT skills. Some will flourish in creative fields, while others will find that physical labour is a good fit. As with all workers, the goal is enabling the individual to find a position that suits their particular interests and skillset while providing the supports necessary for them to find success in this role.  


Down Syndrome Ireland’s Work Skills Course and Pre-Employment Training – which form part of our Ability Programme – meet these challenges by exploring with students what it means to have a career, working with them to discover what sort of work would suit them, and equipping them with a range of skills that will serve them in the workplace.


Views of our  Ability Programme from employers in Ireland:

  • “Conor is an inspiration to both members and guests. He is a fulfilment of our philosophy at Swan Leisure of inclusion and breaking down barriers to participation.”

  • “Linda is a valued member of the Mailroom and Facilities team and she always has a positive outlook with no task being too great or too small. Linda’s energy and commitment is admirable.”

  • “Niamh is very much part of our HR team here at Glenveagh since joining us in July 2018. She has excellent initiative, is a strong team player and we look forward to the days that she’s in work. Niamh has educated us in a lot of ways and is a great ambassador for the Ability Programme.”


This is what some of our Ability Programme graduates have to say about being in employment: 

“I enjoyed my interview and appreciated the opportunity to work for a big company. I am learning a lot here. It’s different to the jobs I had before and I like learning new things like Excel and using the scanner. Sure I am part of the furniture now!” Niamh Flannery (Kildare)  

“I love the company and having work buddies to chat to. Everyone in the Swan Centre is nice and friendly and they look out for me. I think I do a very good job – I keep the pool deck cleaned and I clean the gym. I would advise someone with Down syndrome to get a job because you will learn new skills and responsibilities and you will achieve.” Conor Byrne (Dublin) 

“It’s my dream job, because of the way I’m treated. I’m a staff member, like everyone else. I have abilities, lots of them, which makes me live life to the fullest. This programme helped me with a lot of things, DSI has helped me so much, emotionally and personally. I got my job from working hard and achieving so much, and that’s how the Ability Programme helped me. I’m glad to have been a part of the Ability Programme and I would recommend it to anyone, all over Ireland.” Fintan Bray (Westmeath) 


Alongside the obvious advantages for the adults with Down syndrome accessing meaningful employment, their families also benefit directly. Below, some examples of what it has meant to the families of those who have found jobs through our Ability Programme: 

“From the very beginning of the programme, I could see a visible difference in Ciara’s confidence levels. She felt a sense of self-worth and independence that I hadn’t seen in her before. Interacting with the salon staff and customers was a massive boost to her self-confidence, and she just loved saying that she had a job, a proper one that actually paid money, she really felt like she could just do anything on the back of it. As a Mum to a young adult with Down syndrome all I really want to achieve is that Ciara has a full, happy and – importantly – independent life, and getting a job was just such a big step in that direction.” 


Meet Wayne

Meet Wayne Kenny, who works as an IT Assistant in the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) as a result of our Ability Programme.  Our programme, aimed at equipping adults with Down syndrome with the necessary skills to access meaningful employment, offers a range of adult education & training courses.


“Having a job makes me feel more confident and more independent. The best thing about working is being part of a team. I love learning new things.

“I want to inspire other people out there who can do the work to go for the jobs that you want – and your dream,” said Wayne. 

Wayne continues to work remotely for the NTMA, through the supportive partnership between DSI & the NTMA.


During the pandemic, Wayne also studied our Ability Online course. Describing the course, Wayne said: “I joined a new course called Ability. I study over a lot of new skills, like conversation, covid-19, boundaries, money, stress, relationships and writing skills.

Huge congrats to Wayne on all of his achievements and all of the participants on our Ability programme who continue to show the abilities and capabilities of people with Down syndrome