It was World Down Syndrome Day 2020 last month. A day to celebrate the lives and achievements of people with Down syndrome. A day to strive to create a global voice, continue to advocate for the rights, inclusion and wellbeing of people with Down syndrome.
Trailblazing charity e.motion21 partnered with Torrens University Australia last year to pilot their unique work-ready program Impact21 at our Flinders Street campus in Melbourne. As part of the program, Impact21 students were regularly immersed in uni-life, working alongside students and were part of campus culture. Our education, health and research teams supported the initiative and recorded progress.
The world-first initiative, involved 12 students who have Down syndrome undertaking an intensive 12-month work-readiness program to help them secure customised, paid employment with companies including Dulux Group, PwC Australia, JB Hi-Fi, Sodexo and Deakin University in collaboration with CVGT Australia.
Torrens University Vice-Chancellor Professor Alwyn Louw says Impact21 is a unique opportunity to reconceive notions of access and inclusion in education and in the workplace.
“We believe in opening the doors of higher education and ensuring genuine innovation in engagement by connecting the young adults from Impact21 with our students, who are traditionally seen to be learners in the context of a university,” says Professor Louw.
Our Impact21 pioneer students were set to graduate from this program in a ceremony planned just as we transitioned into a new mode of operation due to COVID-19. The ceremony will be rescheduled, and will still be a night of celebration and showcase of the students.
A key outcome of Impact21 will be that all 12 graduates will move into paid jobs with the Impact21 employer partners, following their graduation. “We’re in uncertain times with workforces but hopefully when this virus settles down, they’ll be out there as ready as ever and will serve as role models for future students,” said learning facilitator Alison Cosker.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Alwyn Louw says our approach says a lot about the commitment Torrens University has made to society.
“By having students living with Down syndrome as part of our campus life, we are also reimagining our responsibility as an Australian university to engage with communities meaningfully.
“This program positions Torrens University to audaciously consider how to make more universities more accessible, participatory and open,” Professor Louw adds.
During the pilot program, Torrens University researchers identified ways to create opportunities more inclusive for people with Down syndrome – employers creating more inclusive workplaces, more effective ways to teach people, what inclusion means for organisations, and how to empower through education. An additional outcome of this pilot program is our current work towards an accreditation for a workplace ready qualification.
Cate Sayers, founder and director of e.motion21 and the Impact21 program says she always knew it was possible to bring the young participants in the program to this point of confidence and aspiration.
“Our partnership with Torrens University highlights the benefits of empowering people with Down syndrome through education,” Cate says.
“The program has proven how adults, families, employers, educators and support services can work together to enable people of all abilities to make a valued contribution in the workplace and community.”
Our Impact21 graduand Shea Macdonough completed her placement at JB Hi-Fi during the program and says the internship has been important.
“It makes me feel happy to be part of the JB team. It is an opportunity for me to have paid employment,” she said.
She explained the importance of ensuring genuine representation and opportunities for people with Down syndrome.
“We are all human all we want is to have a fair go. The one thing I want is to be accepted and just be me,” Shea said.
The program achieved more than just up-skilling participants, this is a chance to reflect how much they’ve grown as individuals through the program.
“At the start, it made me feel like I had a disability. Now I’m much more capable, talented, experienced, skilled person. It makes me feel like I’m a more mainstream person,” said Jacqui Wischer, another Impact21 graduand.
“I am so proud of them and the endurance, tenacity, and willingness to learn that they have all continued to bring to uni each day,” said learning facilitator Alison Cosker.
There are plans to expand the program and to roll out Impact21 nationally.
Enjoy meeting our Impact21 graduands in this video.