My education is a basic human right… so why is the Government taking away an allowance that helps me access mine? By Conor Dillon
This month around 400 students are sitting in classrooms up and down the country beside people who are financially better off than they are. Why is this? Because the HSE decided at the eleventh hour, just weeks before students were due to start Rehabilitative Training courses, to axe a weekly allowance of €31.80 for new trainees. I am one of those students.
Rehabilitative Training programmes support people who may have suffered a setback in life through injury or long-term illness. They help people with mental health difficulties and people who have learning difficulties. They support those who may have left school early, along with people with physical or intellectual disabilities and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The training is intended to help people to progress to greater levels of independence and integration in their communities. Some move on to mainstream post-school education and training or to specialist vocational training.
I was shocked when I found out just weeks before I was due to take up my course that this vital allowance was being axed. I felt utterly discriminated against and that is not a word I use very often, in fact it is one I try not to use it at all. I feel angry. I am trying my hardest not to get too angry but it is difficult. Since the news of this broke I have spoken to the media, I have written to both Health Minister, Simon Harris, and Disability Minster, Finian McGrath, asking for an explanation for this cruel cut.
I want a meeting with Ministers Harris and McGrath so I can tell them directly how this adversely affects people with disabilities. It just doesn’t affect me, it affects people up and down the country and I’m very proud that I’m standing up for myself and other people in my position. I think it’s totally wrong and it should be reinstated immediately.
My Disability Allowance is for day-to-day stuff like food and travel and clothing. This small Rehabilitative Training Allowance was to ensure that I could participate in all aspects of my course, such as the outings that teach us independent living skills, buying lunch every day and getting to and from the centre. I feel I shouldn’t have to dip into my already limited day-to-day fund to pay for the RT course outings, or to be able to afford to go out in the community and do classes as part of this course. That’s why I’m standing up for this. This training is extremely valuable to people with disabilities to give them skills, independence, and the ability to contribute to Irish society like everyone else.
I joined the RT programme this month, before that I was on a Transition programme for two years. I learned a lot there but I needed more of a challenge, to move my education on. The RT course puts you in different scenarios so you can learn practical skills out in the community, and in the classroom. Without the RT programme I would probably be sitting at home, alone, not knowing what to do. My parents and I are in agreement that sitting at home is not the right thing for me. The RT programme gives me mental stimulation and a social outlet, which I think is very important for people with disabilities. The course offers practical skills like money management in the community, for example buying a lunch and getting the right change back – skills many people take for granted in their day-to-day lives.
It builds independence. You are learning so much you don’t even realise that you’re getting all of these skills, you have to take a step back and say, ‘Oh my god I actually achieved that, that’s amazing.’
There’s a huge difference now in the classroom as half of us are sitting next to people who get the allowance and we don’t, that is discrimination. We should all be treated the same. Whether we’re in a wheelchair or we are able to walk, it’s our basic human right to educate ourselves. In order to educate ourselves we need this allowance.
I see this as a massive barrier for me and people with disabilities up and down the country. We just want to do the same things that our friends do. We don’t want to be worrying that if there is a class outing, which is all part of our training, that we may not be able to afford to go.
The courses that lead to a recognised QQI qualification can help us to go on to employment. The work we’re putting in now in college will stand to us. My ambition is to become an actor, if I can’t I would like to work in the public service – maybe in Fingal County Council. I am calling on Health Minister, Simon Harris to reverse this decision now and meet with me so I can explain the kinds of barriers people like me already had to get over to even get to one of these courses.
I would like to use this platform to reiterate that I am not going away. I won’t go away until they either reinstate the allowance or meet me to explain why it has been taken away.
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