The Northern Ireland Union of Supported Employment (NIUSE) organized a series of training workshops and associated practitioner observation study visits in Belfast, Northern Ireland in November – December 2016 related to Supported Employment for individuals at disadvantage in accessing employment due to disability.

NIUSE is a non-governmental organisation promoting employment and vocational training opportunities for people with disabilities and people from other disadvantaged situations through the Supported Employment model. The Supported Employment model assists people with significant disabilities to access and stay in employment in the open labour market by providing individualised and on-going support. NIUSE is a membership based organisation representing persons with diverse disabilities organisations (physical, learning, mental health, sensory and hidden disabilities) from across Northern Ireland.

Along with attending the training workshops and associated practitioner observation study visits, and also to organise meetings and visits to a range of Supported Employment organisations as well as meeting with relevant Government Departments and agencies (i.e. Department for Communities, Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety). NIUSE has also links with third level academic institutions, such as Queens University and the University of Ulster across a number of faculties if our organization would wish to form links.

In addition, NIUSE currently holds the Presidency of the European Union of Supported Employment ( through Margaret Haddock who is the Chair of NIUSE.

Manique Gunaratne of The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Network on Disability along with academics of University of Kelaniya, academics of University of Sri Jayawardanapura, Manager from Mas Holdings and Principal of the Naffeel School for the Deaf and Blind were trained in Supported Employment.

It was a great opportunity to meet with her and to further develop links with National Associations of Supported Employment across Europe for organisations and Sri Lanka.

Supported Employment will support the “See Inclusion see the gaps project.  SEE Inclusion SEE the Gaps is a ten-year project initiated by the Centre for Disability Studies, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya and the Coordinating Centre for Students with Disabilities at the University of Kelaniya to work towards bridging the gaps that give rise to barriers for individuals with disability to access education and employment. The gaps to inclusion often result from a lack of practical support frameworks and mechanisms for people with disabilities to gain active participation and equal opportunities for education and employment. The project SEE Inclusion SEE the Gaps will work to create partnerships to establish these frameworks and mechanisms and their practical application in Sri Lanka. It is a three-part project addressing the gaps in the constructs of self, education and employment at the levels of knowledge creation, dissemination, skill development and attitudinal ideologies.

The Supported Employment training was conducted at the NICVA.

The study tours on supported employment covered several enterprises. The Acceptable Enterprise had persons with intellectual and learning disabilities working in packing. It also caters to air craft parts which persons with disabilities included in the work force.

The “Lunch Box” is the company which provides catering online where majority of the work force are persons with disabilities. All vegetables are grown in poly tunnels in the same premises.

Supported Employment, Clear Water company bottles clear water and sparkling water. Each water bottle manufactured has a note on the value of employing persons with disabilities and a bar code. The bar code can be googled and a description of the person with the disability who manufactured will be available online.

Study visit to Social and Therapeutic Horticulture garden was interesting. People with learning difficulties and mental illnesses are rehabilitated through therapeutic horticulture. The therapeutic hortical garden had herbal plants, plants which gives more oxygen and bird watching.

Advanced Engineering provides support employment for socially disadvantages groups such as people who addicted to drugs, people with depression etc. It provides many services such as manufacturing seats to London bus and London Metro, digital printing and many more.

Play Trail / Liberty Consortium assist people with physical and learning disabilities to transition from school to adulthood, vocational training and community involvement. Learning is done through eye and mind stimulating activities in the sensory garden. It also has an open theatre, bird watching area, fairy garden. Vegetables are grown in poly tunnels. Fertiliser for the vegetable cultivation is made in an aqua ponic system.

Cedar provides services to physical disability and traumatic brain injury and ASD Spectrum. The focus areas are transition from school to adulthood, vocational training, supported employment, government programmes and research and development.

During the study visit to Disability Action learned how supported employment is utilised for persons with physical, learning, mental health, sensory and hidden disabilities.

The most historical event was the launch of the “Supported Employment, SEE Inclusion see the gaps” project at the Stormont, the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Parliamentarian Mr. Robin Swann together with Northern Ireland Union of Supported Employment, European Union of Supported Employment and the Sri Lankan Supported Employment team launched “SEE inclusion see the gaps” project at the Stormont, Northern Ireland Parliament. Ms. Ianthee Perera from University of Kelaniya, Ms. Shyamini Hettiarachchi of University of Kelaniya, Ms. Thilanka Wijesinghe from University of Kelaniya, Ms. Imalka De Silva of MAS Holdings, Ms. Vasuki from Naffeel School for the Deaf and Blind and Ms. Manique Gunaratne from The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Network on Disability spoke at the Parliament. Sri Lankan delegates were taken on tour around the Parliament. Sri Lankan delegates got the opportunity to celebrate the first lighting of the Christmas tree and Christmas carols with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament.

The study visit to Royal National Institute for the Blind focused on vocational training and employment for vision impaired persons. Assistive devices specially designed for vision impaired persons were on display.

Expresso East Café is runned by Orchardville Society where persons with Learning disabilities and ASD Spectrum (Autism) are at work. The study visit with lunch was an excellent opportunity to change mind-set.

The study visit to Action for Hearing Loss gave the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience on vocational training and employment for deaf and hard of hearing persons.

Model in action with local employers were the significant feature of the study visit to Triangle Organisation.

The “Can Can” organization assists persons with learning disabilities in supported employment on social enterprise, recycling, up cycling, vocational training, social integration, interactions, best buddies and community engagement.

The study visit to Giants Causeway was an accessible tour especially for vision impaired persons. Persons with learning disabilities are at work on supported employment.


Picture descriptions for vision impaired persons:

1 Day 1 of the training at NiCVA.


2 Day 2 of the training at NICVA Manique.


3 Day 2 of the training participants.


4 A E L Enterprise cabins.



5 A E L Enterprise CEO explaining the process.


6 A E L Enterprise employee of the year.


7 A E L Enterprise persons with disabilities at work.



8 Lunch Box group photo.



9 The CEO explaining the poly tunnel concept.


10 Poly tunnel lettuce leaves.


11 At the poly tunnel.


12 Water bottle manufacturing.


13 Manique drinking water.


14 Explaning the horticulture garden.


15 Kitchen of the therapeutic horticulture garden.


16 Theraputic horticulture garden.


17 Green car of the garden.


18 Digital printing.



19 Group photograph.


20 Picture of a deer.


21 Manufacturing bus seats.



22 Play Trail aqua ponic system.


23 Play Trail bird watching.


24 Play Trail fairy tree.


25 Play Trail group photograph.


26 Play Trail out door theatre.


27 Play Trail poly tunnel aqua ponic system.


28 Play Trail sensory garden eye stimulating object.


29 Play Trail sensory garden eye stimulating object.


30 Play Trail sensory garden mind stimulating object.


31 Play Trail walk.




32 Manique using a smart pen.


33 Technology at Cendar.


34 Meeting at Disability Action.


35 Stormont, Northern Ireland Parliament day view.



36 Manique with the President of European Union of Supported Employment.


37 Group photograph of the team inside the Parliament.


38 Group photograph of the team outside the Parliament.


39 Manique outside the Parliament.


40 Manique outside the Parliament after Christmas celebrations.



41 Manique near the Christmas tree.


42 Manique speaking at the Parliament.


43 Manique near Speaker’s desk.


44 Stormont, Parliament at night.



45 Carpet leading to the Sennet.


46 Sennet House.


47 Manique sitting at the Sennet.


48 Supported Employment team inside the Parliament.


49 Group photograph with the Speaker of the Parliament.


50 Participants on day 3 at NICVA.



51 Manique at the training on day 3 at NICVA.


52 Participants on day 3 at NICVA.


53 Group photograph on day 4 at NICVA.



54 Group photograph at RNIB.


55 Manique with devices at RNIB.


56 Group photograph at Orchardville Society.



57 Lunched prepared and served by persons with disabilities.


58 Group photograph at Action for Hearing Loss


59 At Triangle organization.


60 Can Can board.


61 Can Can up cycling furniture.


62 Manique at Giants Causeway.



63 Giants Causeway mountains.


64 Giants Causeway walking path.


65 Giants Causeway rock.


66 Giants Causeway sea.


67 Giants Causeway road.



Manique Gunaratne

Vice Chair Person – South Asian Disability Forum

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