Awarded Fund

The Disability Participation and Awareness Fund 2023

Pictured at the launch of Rethink Ireland’s Disability Participation and Awareness Fund are (l-r): Anne Rabbitte TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for Disability at the Department of Health and at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; Abbie Mannion, Supported Staff, Triest Press; Shane Tuohy, Manager, Café Link; Caolinn Bruen, Project Lead, Triest Press and Deirdre Mortell, CEO, Rethink Ireland. Pic: Marc O'Sullivan

The Disability Participation and Awareness Fund is a €3 million, 1-year Fund created by Rethink Ireland in partnership with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY). The goal of the Disability Participation and Awareness Fund is to support innovative projects or organisations across Ireland to:

  • build skills and remove barriers to help people with disabilities take part in their communities,
  • provide valuable employment experience to people with disabilities, and
  • support the overall participation of people with disabilities in local activities, in line with the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in communities.


This Fund has four strands. All four strands will support projects or organisations working directly with people with disabilities.

Strand 1 - Building skills and removing barriers to help people with Down Syndrome take part in their communities

AK Inspired

The Scotia Project was designed by Inspired’s Biodiversity Hub. Over a 12-month period the project aims to reconnect 30 people with intellectual disabilities to the land and environment through biodiversity driven training and skill development. We will empower each participant to explore learning and eco-friendly employment opportunities by taking a person-centred approach while actively engaging in 3 different biodiversity driven programmes. The Project is ambitious, but it spearheads a new and innovative pathway towards ensuring each participant has the opportunity to become an eco-learner, eco-preneurial business-owner, shareholder, and climate change maker, leveraged on individual and unique ability.

The Down Syndrome Centre

The Together Academy was founded in response to the unacceptable statistic that 90% of young adults with Down syndrome in Ireland are not in paid employment. Since 2021, the Together Academy has been providing specialised and certified training, on the job experience, work placements and a critical social and support network. Classroom-based training is complemented by practical, hands-on experience in the unique Together Cafe where students gain invaluable work experience in a safe, supported environment prior to placement into employment in the community. The Pathways to Employment programme creates a bridge between training and employment for each student, while supporting both employers and employees from initial placement right through to ongoing post-employment support.

The Down Syndrome Centre

The Down Syndrome Centre provides subsidised essential early intervention therapies from birth to 18 years, to over 350 families. The Teen Project is an innovative way to continue to support young people in reaching their full potential by accessing occupational and speech and language therapy, however, the model in which it is delivered is intrinsically motivating for the young person to want to attend, as it is set in a highly recreational manner with specific goals and objectives.

Down Syndrome Ireland

Down Syndrome Ireland offers support and services to people with Down syndrome and their families throughout Ireland, with specialists in the areas of health, speech and language, early development, education and adult training and education and employment that enhances the lives of thousands of children and adults with Down syndrome across the country. We also provide information, training and advice, influence policy, raise public awareness and work towards the improvement of services and supports. Learning to communicate, to understand language and express oneself is a fundamental building-block of self-advocacy. The early intervention and ongoing therapy that will be provided through this programme is essential for people with Down syndrome to develop these skills.

Fionnathan Productions

This project works to change the barriers faced by those with Down Syndrome to full citizenship. In empowering people with Down Syndrome through the entire codesign of the CAPCA project, they will be trainers, facilitators, and researchers and will be given a voice to share their stories and aspirations. This team of experts by experience will deliver CAPCA to future community leaders and their supporters. Each participant will formulate specific community action, sharing plans with peers and allies. Fionn will play a key part in this as Decision Support Service Champion and Heritage Council nature educator. He has lobbied over 100 MPs in Westminster for the UK’s Down Syndrome Act 2022, delivering multiple speeches.

No Barriers Foundation

The No Barriers Foundation has designed the DS Champions Health & Wellbeing Programme in Partnership with Donegal Down Syndrome. The Programme aims to build the necessary skills and remove barriers to participation in exercise and physical activity in the community for individuals with Down Syndrome. The Programme aims to equip participants with the tools to create freedom of choice in their lives regarding their health.

Strand 2 - Social enterprise initiatives to provide valuable employment experience to people with disabilities

Donegal Centre for Independent Living

DCIL’s mission is to support and empower people with disabilities in Donegal to achieve independent living and to actively participate as equal citizens in society by having choice and control over their own lives. DCIL is starting two new programmes (1) Leader Mentor and (2) Disabled Access Programme thanks to funding from Rethink Ireland. The Leader mentor programme will support new Leaders (disabled service users) on how to self-direct their own personal assistant service. This will enable people to have more choice and control over the service they are receiving and as such the lives they are living. The Disabled Access programme aims to highlight the accessibility issues facing disabled people in our community. The programme will involve access audits of local community services and business, with follow up engagement to try and improve accessibility of these facilities. Both the Leader Mentor and the Disabled Access Programme will be undertaken by disabled people within the community.

Link Galway

Link Galway CLG hopes to build on our expertise and deliver tailored accredited training in Culinary skills to learners in Co Galway while also building a second social enterprise to allow additional employment to people with intellectual disabilities.

Specialisterne Ireland

Specialisterne Ireland through this project will bring its 10 years of employment support services to rural-based neurodiverse candidates by working with local community stakeholders. This initiative will foster community participation and inclusion for neurodiverse people having so-called “invisible” disabilities. It will do this by working with local employers needing talent which neurodiverse people have, and with others including local employment agencies, education institutions and representative groups.

Triest Press

Triest Press is a print and design social enterprise based in Roscommon. Our main objective is to provide meaningful employment and training opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, to raise awareness on the lack of available meaningful employment routes and supports for people with ID in Ireland and to mentor our staff and trainees to allow them to seek employment with other organisations. At Triest Press we believe that providing greater access to employment for people with an I.D. can have multiple benefits not only for the job holder in terms of increased income, feelings of self-worth and belonging, but also for their family and local community. We realise that having a job is not the answer to all of society’s inequalities, but it is a major starting point for change.

Strand 3 - Arts and cultural activities, particularly those that promote awareness of the lived experiences of people with disabilities and that support the participation of people with disabilities in artistic, cultural, and community life

Dance Cork Firkin Crane

Inclusive Dance Cork was created by Dance Cork Firkin Crane in collaboration with Suisha Arts: Cope Foundation, Cork ETB, and University College Cork. This inclusive dance training programme is the only accredited professional development opportunity of its kind in the Republic of Ireland. The programme is open to all individuals with and without disabilities and supports dancers and dance facilitators who believe in dance for all abilities.

The Hunt Museum

Inclusive Museums places the person with the disability in the driving seat for improvement and access to museum artefacts and buildings. The Hunt Museum will make use of strong community participation and an inclusive ethos, to research, co-create, and deliver with a cohort of neuro-divergent and visually impaired stakeholders innovative access to its collection of objects and paintings from the ancient to the modern, housed in Limerick’s Georgian Custom House and a multitude of virtual platforms.

Music & Health Ireland

Created by Music & Health Ireland, the Notes & Signs project was seeded over the last two years with the intention to be developed for, with, and by d/Deaf and Disabled people, alongside non-disabled people, all passionate about creating greater equity to access live music performances and learning opportunities. The Project Leadership team is unique and includes Deaf and Hearing Musicians, a Deaf person and a qualified ISL interpreter, and aims to grow the reach of live music performance and create resources and tools to support music education and capacity in music interpretation for deaf audiences.

The National League of the Blind Ireland Trust

Sightless Cinema empowers people with sight loss through collaborative arts projects in audio theatre, leading to professional production for public presentation in cinemas and theatres. The project promotes artistic participation, personal development and social inclusion, while raising awareness of sight loss in the broader community. The Sightless Cinema expansion, in partnership with The National League for the Blind of Ireland, will train facilitators to increase participation opportunities for people with sight loss; and promote public awareness with a tour of the successful live audio production ‘In the Dark’ which tells the true stories of those involved.

Spinal Injuries Ireland

Spinal Injuries Ireland (SII) provides services to support people and their families to adapt to life after a Spinal Cord Injury. Susan Farrelly of Abbey Art Studios is an artist and educator with a strong interest in collaborative interactions and place, identity, embodiment and the senses. SII and Abbey Art Studios are expanding their existing partnership to roll out a nationwide art programme where people living with spinal cord injury get a chance for creative development through a hybrid programme of online and in-person art workshops.

Strand 4 - Initiatives aimed at encouraging community participation and inclusion for people with disabilities, including sports and outdoor recreation, promotion of accessibility and accessible shared spaces

Active Connections

Active Connections CLG is Ireland’s leading outdoor intervention service. We transform lives through adventure. Each year we support hundreds of people to engage in outdoor therapeutic interventions that are positive for whole person wellbeing. In 2023 we will carry out over 24,000 contact hours with people experiencing emotional and/or behavioural difficulties. We do this in both a 1:1 and group based approach.

Connections Arts Centre

Connections Arts Centre (CAC) was founded to address barriers members of the disability community face, that lead them to being devalued and excluded from the community. CAC provides accessible Arts, Lifestyle, Training, and Mentoring programmes that are inclusive of everyone. Original programmes include Connecting Artists; supporting artists with intellectual disabilities to develop their creative practice and Creative TY Connections; connecting people with disabilities and Transitional Year students to develop IT, interpersonal, and life skills. CAC works under 3 core pillars, Creativity, Community, and Change. To date we have reached thousands of people within the community.

The Crann Centre

At the Crann Centre we provide a range of unique services and supports for children, adults and families living with neuro-physical disabilities through our 2Gen approach. The 2Gen approach recognises that children and adults with disabilities live in families and for them to enjoy improved health & wellbeing and increased opportunities for participation in society the whole family needs to be supported. Through this project we will increase opportunities for children, adults and families to access outdoor play and recreation in a uniquely accessible playground and leisure space and an accessible working conservation area.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland

The Move Smart MS programme from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland will increase availability of and access to specialist, tailored physiotherapy programmes. Exercise participation is important for both mental and physical health, additionally group exercise options provide a sense of community and opportunities for peer learning and social support. Disability due to MS arises from limited mobility and other hidden symptoms like fatigue, low mood, pain and cognitive issues. Exercise can help alleviate all of these symptoms, and people with MS tell us that they value the input from appropriately qualified trainers to take part.

Neurodiversity Ireland

Neurodiversity Ireland, is a holistic, child-centred and community-based support for neurodivergent children involving neuroaffirmative play through preferred activities in an interactive playgroup and an environment designed to their needs, guided by psychologists, Occupational and Speech therapists. Expert support is provided via collaboration with UCD and TCD. Those therapists will share with schools the knowledge and advice to enhance the children’s school experience. By connecting parents/carers with those experts, they will be empowered to support their children, giving families the confidence needed to thrive.