DESSA, the Disability Equality Specialist Support Agency, was established in 2001 to work with community development organisations promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities and their families at community level through their engagement in local community. A person with a disability has been defined by the Commission on the Status Of People With Disabilities as ‘a person with a physical, mental, intellectual, emotional or sensory impairment and who, due to the way society is organised, encounters obstacles to participation on equal and equally effective terms with all others in all aspects of the life of the community’. DESSA has adopted this definition as it is in line with the philosophy and approach of the organisation in acknowledging the responsibility of society to facilitate people with disabilities in overcoming barriers to full and equal participation in the social, economic, cultural and political life of their communities.
DESSA is funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to develop and deliver social inclusion initiatives to people with disabilities and their families. Within these Departments DESSA operates within two programmes: the Local and Community Development Programme and the Family & Community Services Resource Centre Programme. These programmes are funded by government departments to address poverty, social exclusion and equality issues in both rural and urban areas throughout Ireland and comprise a network of approximately 250 local development and family support organsiations community-based projects.
The main aim of these programmes is to empower and create opportunities for groups and individuals experiencing social exclusion to enhance their capacity to play a role in creating change in their communities and in society at large. Underpinning DESSA’s work is an inclusive equality framework, setting out key strategies – advocacy, capacity building, mainstreaming participation, networking, supporting families experiencing disability and policy development – within which support is given to individuals, families and community development organistions to facilitate inclusive actions, thus enabling people with disabilities live fuller and active lives and participate on an equal basis in Irish society .