More than 100 people from across the world living with Down Syndrome gathered in Dublin today to discuss issues affecting their daily lives, with independent living and employment among the topics up for discussion.
About 120 adults got together for a parliamentary style debate at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham to share their experiences on rights. One of the main themes that emerged on the day was how people with Down Syndrome are perceived by society, the organisers said.
The event, which was run by Down Syndrome Ireland, came a day before the main World Down Syndrome Congress takes place at Dublin City University.
There are about 7,000 people in Ireland living with Down Syndrome, with adults facing challenges in areas such as employment and education opportunities, a spokeswoman for the group said this morning.
"The majority of people with Down Syndrome now go through mainstream schools," DSI's independence officer Gráinne Murphy said. "At that point education comes to an abrupt end."
The synod, which was the first of its kind, was recorded and the various issues raised by speakers will be analysed according to country before a paper is prepared.
The group is hoping the event will raise awareness in Ireland, and said the event would give adults their voice.
"So many adults with Down Syndrome are not in meaningful employment or not in further education," Ms Murphy said. "We need to create awareness."
Ms Murphy called for the colleges to adapt courses for those with particular needs.
Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness told the synod there was a danger that that progress towards greater equality for people with disabilities made in recent years would unravel.
Ms McGuinness, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Disability, said that the recommendation of the McCarthy report that disability policy should be moved to the Department of Health and Children would be a "retrograde step".
“It would regress years of progress back to the days when disability was seen as a medical problem rather than a social issue. Under the ‘equality’ remit the focus is on encouraging independence and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the mainstream of Irish life, something that was hard fought for over the last decade,” she said.
“The ‘equality’ focus was challenging Government Departments to look afresh as disability, be it access to services, access to transport, access to training, access to a job, as well as to health services. Many people with disabilities are otherwise very healthy."
She also called on the Government to restate its commitment to the National Disability Strategy's objectives.
The World Down Syndrome Congress begins tomorrow, with health, educational and research practitioners meeting at DCU to discuss the theme "lifelong learning".