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young disabled trainers
Bronagh Sharpe of the Social Economy Network Northern Ireland reports on an enterprising way of tackling exclusion.

Making the transition into adulthood is a daunting journey for any young person growing up; when faced with the challenges of disability, this can seem all the more overwhelming. Recognising these difficulties among young people in disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland, Face Inclusion Matters was set up as a charity in 2005 to bring together young people with and without disability through educational and leisure activities.
Its unique strategy of advocating responsible social inclusion of young people in society, through a series of successful projects, has set a strong example in peer-to-peer support among a vulnerable age group. It is precisely this peer-led education that makes Face Inclusion Matters’ method of addressing disability among young people so distinctive and successful. In 2007 it set up a trading arm called Face Friendly in response to the identified need to bring disability awareness to customer-driven businesses.

  Parball league players Parball League for Northern Ireland is one of the inclusive sports programmes designed by Face Inclusion Matters.

Face Friendly is a disability awareness service, teaching customer-facing personnel how to deal with people with a disability in the proper manner. The training provides staff with the confidence to interact with disabled persons in an appropriate and professional manner, tackling the fear and apprehension that so often leads to barriers in effective communication between supplier and customer: one fifth of Northern Ireland’s population has a disability – a large number of consumers who are affected by poor customer service.
Drawing on the research conducted across Northern Ireland, as well as the organisation’s own experience in support services to the disability sector, there has never been a better time to launch a dynamic project which responds to the identified needs of both disabled people and commercial businesses. The added benefits of the training delivered by the Face Friendly programme to businesses means that they can meet their objectives in high quality customer service, methods of best practice and compliance with legislation.
Mark Prentice, general manager of Firmus Energy, said “At Firmus Energy we wanted to provide all staff with training designed to ensure those customers with a disability receive customer support which recognised their specific needs while treating them as an individual. While there are many training courses which offer instruction on the legalities of disability awareness, Face Friendly was the only training course which looked at maximising customer satisfaction by giving employees the confidence to treat those with a disability as simply having different individual needs.”
It is the method of delivering the training which gives Face Friendly such unique character: the trainers and mentors are recruited from within the peer network of disabled persons – giving an extra dimension to the quality and impact of the training programme. The commitment of the organisation to developing and administering a comprehensive training package is evident in the range of services which are available.
In addition to group training and refresher courses, the training can be specifically tailored to suit the needs of a specific industry through bespoke and off-the-shelf packages. With a clear focus on quality and continued support, the organisation has launched a consultancy service which offers coaching to key personnel.
Such a dynamic initiative begs an equally dynamic brand: Face Inclusion Matters unveiled its vibrant logo, giving the brand a personality which engages both businesses and disabled persons. The Face Friendly kite mark is awarded to businesses that successfully complete the disability awareness training and shows people with disabilities that they will be welcomed by trained staff.
The success of the social enterprise in developing a much needed resource which funds the youth work of Face Inclusion Matters has caught the attention of the local media. Increasing press coverage of the youth projects from renowned puppet shows to unique sporting games has highlighted the ability of young people to accept difference and promote equality and thereby reducing social exclusion in a disadvantaged area of Northern Ireland.

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