Imagine working your dream job. Imagine how wonderful it would feel getting up in the morning to do the work you most enjoy; the work you hoped since childhood that you would one day do. Lisa Waterman (23) is well on her way to doing just that.
The delighted Cork woman was selected to train as a hairdressing assistant under a new national employment programme for adults with Down syndrome.
She’s one of six trainees participating in Beauty in All its Forms, a joint initiative between Down Syndrome Ireland and haircare brand, ALFAPARF Milano. The hope is that the training and subsequent in-salon work-experience will provide participants with the necessary skillset for long-term employment.
In conversation, Lisa is sweet and lovely in her own inimitable way. This career boost has enhanced her natural exuberance: “It gave me confidence in my own ability as a person,” she says, “And it makes me feel very, very special.”
As a little girl, what did she want to be when she grew up? “A hairdresser.” Does that mean this is … “Yes. It does. It means I’m doing my dream job, that this is my dream job, that this is my dream come true.”
She’s learning loads: “I’m able to fold towels, wash hair, brush floors and tidy up,” she says and it’s clear that she loves what she’s doing.
Given his apparent partiality for those who rise early for work, our Taoiseach would be well pleased to hear that not only does Ms Waterman do just that, but she keep bakers’ hours to ensure she catches the early Cork to Dublin train each week for her training.
“I love getting up early because I feel excited for the day ahead,” she says and when she puts it like that, her excitement is contagious.
Given that she’s so fond of hair- styling, I enquire which celebrities have lovely hair, in her opinion. She doesn’t pause to think. In a flash she’s straight out with: “Kim Kardashian and Cheryl Tweedy.” We agree about that.
What about celebs whose hair-style or colour she might like to change? She’s thoughtful now. “None,” she replies, having carefully considered the matter.
She is of course much too nice to be critical of anyone, let alone suggest their tresses, locks, mops or manes need improving. Full marks for Lisa. I make a mental note to try to be more like her, as in less critical and judgmental, more accepting, and imagine she has that impact on most people.
The fact that she will shortly be gaining in-salon work experience gives her mother, Noreen, much hope for her youngest child’s future: “We were thrilled when she was selected.
It’s getting her out of her shell. She’s making friends. She loves all the girls she’s working with and the trainers, and there’s a chance she might get something out of it eventually.
“Her dad Gordon and I, the whole family, we’re over the moon and delighted she’s been given this opportunity.”
Many would love to have the opportunity Lisa has particularly given the fact that Down Syndrome Ireland CEO Gary Owens estimates that only 5% of those who have the condition and who are of working age, ability and availability, are in paid employment in this country.
This is an upsetting, frustrating and soul-destroying situation, one that’s indicative of an inherent wrong, one that deprives many of maximising their true potential, broadening their horizons and obtaining financial and social independence.
Emphasising the simple truth that people with Down syndrome want to work, Owens says: “They represent a substantial source of untapped commitment and talent. Yet, the 2010 Employers’ Disability Forum found them to be one of the most under- represented groups in the labour market.”
He applauds companies like Alfaparf Milano who offer adults with Down syndrome the opportunity to gain meaningful paid employment and urges other employers to do so too.
In March of this year the ESRI published figureswhich showed the disproportionate representation in the Irish workplace of individuals with disability. Only 31% had jobs, compared with 71% of those without a disability.
The figures highlight a shameful truth that’s being battled daily by Gary Owens and others such as Emily Logan (above right), chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
“The rights of persons with disabilities to seek and secure employment without discrimination is enshrined in Irish law under the Employment Equality Acts,” says Logan.
“In 2016, a quarter of all public concerns raised with us under this legislation focused directly on issues of disability-related discrimination, either in employment or during recruitment. We’ve been consistent in our calls for the State to make rights real for persons with disabilities through final ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
“Article 27 explicitly recognises the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others, alongside the right to a work environment that’s open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. Today, Ireland is the only EU Member State not to have ratified the Convention; a fact that people with disabilities continue to highlight as a source of immense frustration.”