Staff and facilities in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area could shortly be signing up to the JAM Card initiative to help people with autism and learning difficulties.
The council is set to debate a notice of motion at its monthly meeting tonight (Monday).
And, if approved, it will see training given to staff and facilities being used to promote the JAM Card initiative.
The council would follow in the footsteps of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council which in January agreed to become a JAM Card-friendly organisation.
The JAM Card – which stands for ‘Just A Minute’ – is a social innovation from NOW Group, an organisation that supports people with learning difficulties and autism into employment.
It was their service users who said they would like a discreet way of telling people that sometimes they need a little extra time and patience.
The JAM Card was created first as a credit card sized card and has recently been developed into an app for smartphones.
A notice of motion will be brought to Monday’s meeting by Sinn Fein Councillor Barra Ó Muíri, and will be seconded by Councillor Terry Hearty.
The motion urges that, “this council recognises the high levels of people living with autism, learning difficulties and communication barriers in the district and commends those groups who work to support them”.
It also proposed that “the council sets an example by having staff and facilities become JAM Card friendly and encourages local businesses and towns and villages to do the same”.
Newry and Armagh Sinn Féin has said it has demonstrated commitment to constituents by taking part in training that will ensure their elected representatives and activists are equipped to provide excellent service and support to people with learning difficulties and communication barriers.
The party says it has “provided them with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure that users of the JAM Card feel welcome and understood in their offices an in their personal dealings with staff or representatives”.
Newry and Armagh MLA Megan Fearon MLA said: “It is so encouraging to see so many people who are passionate about making things better for people who are living in extremely challenging circumstances every day.
“We want to see schools, shops, libraries, sports clubs and leisure facilities becoming JAM Card Friendly so that a communication difficulty does not prevent someone accessing services and going about their daily tasks like shopping or going to school, things most of us take for granted.
“The JAM card is a very useful tool for people with any sort of communication difficulty and we are very lucky that now, following JAM Card training, we hold these cards in our offices for families and individuals wishing to avail of them.
“People living with autism, Down Syndrome, brain injury, dementia or a learning disability will find them particularly useful.
“Working closely with Crossmaglen Community association, we are also hoping to facilitate further training opportunities in the wider business and voluntary sectors in the area in the months ahead with many community activists due to commence ‘Train the Trainer’ workshops by the NOW Group.
“The Community Association will endeavour to make Crossmaglen the first ever JAM Card Friendly town in Ireland and we are extremely excited at this prospect. We firmly believe it will make a transformative difference to families right across South Armagh.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Terry Hearty – speaking ahead of the council motion – is hopeful of cross-party support.
He said: “This would be a massive step forward in providing supportive and fully trained staff to support people with communication difficulties at all Council facilities.
“Places like libraries, theatres, leisure centres, and swimming pools in the district would become more attractive to people and families to visit, as those places would be able to create a more welcoming environment and understanding staff to provide appropriate support for those who need it.
“When organisations become JAM Card friendly they are effectively opening their doors to more people and remove the barriers which prevent people living with communication difficulties accessing all the services that the rest of us take for granted.”
You can find out more about the JAM Card at www.jamcard.org and NOW Group at www.nowgroup.org or you can contact Sinn Féin on 028 3086 1948 to get a JAM Card from your local Sinn Féin office.