At Sola’s gathering of activists, academics and private sector actors, disability activists made sure their voices were heard loud and clear.

In December (2016), Sola held a national symposium at University of Limerick. It brought together voices from communities, organisations and business to discuss services for disabled people.

The symposium asked how organisations and individuals could move from providing a service to being of service. It was geared towards disability organisation managers, volunteers and frontline staff, funders of disability services, and professionals with expertise in the field of quality.

Opening the event, former education minister Jan O’Sullivan, TD, emphasised “the importance of the voice of those for whom a service is being provided, and ensuring the service is of use”.

“The late Martin Naughton fought for so long to change that culture of expecting people to take whatever is provided, rather than to have control over their own lives and being able to decide what is right for them,” she said.

She congratulated Sola’s partners for their collaboration and co-operation, and hoped she was “correct in interpreting what this symposium is about: that it’s about ensuring the person is at the centre of the service”.

At the event, activists, academics and industrialists discussed what ‘quality’ meant to them. This coming together reflected Sola’s triple-backing from a national community organisation, a third-level institution and a private company.

In looking at how ‘lean principles’ – widely used in business and manufacturing – can be adopted by the community and voluntary sector, Billy Stack of Disability Federation of Ireland reviewed research on “using lean principals to enhance transport services for persons with a disability”.

Examining how quality systems can help protect people’s rights, Deirdre Nally gave a presentation on the potential of quality systems to protect a persons’ rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability.

Meanwhile, Stuart Lawlor of the National Council for the Blind talked about the practical steps needed to implement a quality management system in a community-based organisation.

The symposium also heard about a new system called PQASSO (pronounced ‘Picasso’) which promotes 11 core competencies, the majority of which put the person using an organisation’s services at the centre of those services.

While the event was focused on improving services, attendees were wary of ‘service- orientated’ language. Regarding service-delivery in particular, there was some concern expressed about ‘language-creep’, whereby the lingo from the ‘top’ is adopted by those on the frontlines.

Disclosure: Claire Gallery, an administrator at Sola, is chairperson of Changing Ireland Community Media CLG.

Main photo: William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)