Down syndrome work program launched in Vic

Rick Goodman

A world-first training program to educate young people with Down syndrome and help them to find meaningful employment has been launched by a Melbourne charity.

Thirteen students, aged 22 to 35, will take part in the work-readiness pilot Impact21, which guarantees paid employment at one of five partner companies including JB Hi-Fi and DuluxGroup.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met with students at the launch of the 12-month program on Sunday, lauding its vision of respect and equal opportunity.

"Our community's health is not necessarily about equality of outcomes. It's about equality of opportunities," he said at Torrens University.

"Every person with Down syndrome deserves to have an opportunity to have employment, and meaningful employment.

Impact21 is an initiative of not-for-profit e.motion21, which provides dance and fitness programs for children and young adults with Down syndrome.

The organisation was founded by Cate Sayers after she was unable to find a dance class to meet the learning needs of her daughter Alexandra, who has Down syndrome.

"I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to learn and the opportunity to reach their potential," Ms Sayers said.

She said the program will not only help the lives of the 13 students but also their colleagues at the partner companies.

"This will be transformational for every person in those workplaces," Ms Sayers said.

"And just think of what these wonderful students will be able to do for Australia in the future."

Ms Sayers said many children with Down syndrome "thrive" at school but very few are able to continue with education beyond it.

"Most disappointingly less than five per cent of young adults with Down syndrome are in meaningful employment," she said.

She said this contributes to Australia being in the bottom third of OECD countries in terms of employment for people with disabilities.

If the 12-month pilot is successful, Impact21 will be rolled out to 2020 and expanded to include people with intellectual disabilities more broadly.

Classes will be held in specialised work spaces at Torrens University in Melbourne's CBD.