OmaPolku - My Path

NEO-OmaPolku is an innovative Finnish organisation helping people with intellectual disabilities to start their adult life with a mixture of peer and professional support.

A Platform for Personal Development

It was a great pleasure to spend time with the team at OmaPolku in Tampere, Finland. They offer a vision of what great support for people with intellectual disabilities can look like, where expectations are high and where people can use a mixture of professional and peer support to help inspire themselves with a positive vision for their future.

OmaPolku was founded in 2002 by parents of people with intellectual disabilities. It is a powerful and dynamic model of support, determined to demonstrate that everyone can build a life of citizenship, but offering people a strong platform where peer support and friendship is just as important as professional assistance.

OmaPolku is based at the centre of Tampere where there is a shared kitchen and art and media rooms. Here friends can meet, cook, eat and work on arts projects together. 

For instance, I met many of the young people who use Omapolku when I started by 3 month work with KVPS (also based in Tampere). The young people had been commissioned to provide a range of different art pieces for KVPS and the quality of their art work was stunning.

This reflects one of the interesting features of OmaPolku. Training is provided by real experts, real artists or musicians, and if a young person wants to develop their own interest in the arts then they will also get the chance to work in mainstream classes in the community. However they can also start work on projects with their friends in the OmaPolku studio.

OmaPolku took some of its inspiration from another great Finnish organisation, Lythy, and this is reflected in the same commitment to do everything at the highest possible standards, using the best equipment. Artists also work to adapt approaches to the production of art and music to make them more accessible, but without any drop in standards.

Not only does OmaPolku combine a support base with use of the community’s full resources they also combine peer and professional support. Broadly the three main strategies used by Omapolku can be divided between:

  1. Group work - focused activities done with friends in small groups
  2. Individual counselling - coaching and support to establish yourself as a young adult
  3. Family network cooperation - peer support for people and families

The path that the young person takes is agreed by the person, with support from members of their planning circle and with the assistance of a life coach - who helps people stretch their ambitions. The person develops a Big Plan for their life, but they are also helped to break this down into small bite-sized chunks so that they are always moving forward.

Work is also important. Finland, like many other countries, does not yet have a system of income security that provides the best possible incentives for work. However people are encouraged to find mainstream work, while also doing joint work projects where they earn money alongside their colleagues.

For me what was most inspiring was the lively atmosphere and self-confidence of all those using OmaPolku. Full citizenship is the goal, but people also get the chance to have fun, make friends and get expert assistance in finding their path.

NEO - OmaPolku is part of the Setlementti Tampere association. 

To find out more about them, visit their website:

The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

OmaPolku - My Path © Simon Duffy 2017.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

Inspiration | 15.02.17

intellectual disabilities, Finland, Inspiration

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