On June 17/2022 ARFIE and its local partners MEDIANDER and MPC Sint Franziscus organised a European Workshop on “Employment and Disability in Europe: Diversified Solutions – Real Opportunities”. The occasion was the end of the ValorEmpl Project (Valorising Employment for People with Disability), which for 3 years gave the opportunity to a group of persons wit disability and educators to explore the employment systems for persons with disability of Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. A great and positive experience that allowed participants to get a wider perspective on employment.
The starting point of ValorEmpl where three concrete questions: “What contribution a person with an intellectual disability can bring to the community? What social role he/she is likely to take over? What is the role of service provider and professionals in this context? Answering is what moved a very committed partnership led by MPC Sint Franciscus and involving organisations from Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and Greece: HUBBIE, ARFIE, Les Genêts d’Or, SEVEL, AMPANS, CADIAI, Margarita.
Through the ValorEmpl project, the Partnership wanted to look at new inclusion and employment practices, explore them, and identify key elements for success as well as obstacles to their implementation and transfer. The objective was to point out elements that facilitate the professional and social integration of people with intellectual disability. To do so, the partnership has organised five (inclusive/co-productive) training workshops in the Countries involved (Italy, France, Greece, Spain, and Belgium) with participation of beneficiaries and educators aimed at discovering the local system of employment for persons with disability. An amazing experience whose results were presented during the event in Brussels by the protagonists of these activities.
This event however was also an important occasion to comment on the results of the action together with all the stakeholders involved: organisations from the social sector, beneficiaries, representatives of the public sector, and policy makers.
The mindset is an important starting point, as in many countries the exclusion path is programmed from the beginning of the education system and it is difficult to change to an inclusive and participating approach afterwards. Education is therefore a key element in improving professional opportunities for persons with disabilities. If you have no professional certificate or certified competences it is very difficult to apply for a job. Nevertheless, what is still unclear, is if vocational training should occur inside or outside supporting organisations.
We also need more flexibility in the application of laws and directives … some new issues and changes are theoretically possible, but hindered by to heavy bureaucratic processes. A main problem however is often the impossibility to cumulate salary and supporting allowances as legislation only allows for one of them, and this push many persons to renounce to a paid job so not to lose the disability allowance, or find themselves without any resource in the case they lose their job later..
From the discussion it emerged that Service providers provide an essential support and are true actors for social inclusion. However, we need to strengthen cooperation between supporting services and companies to facilitate participation and inclusion of PwD into the labour market, but without quotas and compensations (by laws), which have showed their limits to an inclusive approach and they are a challenge for small enterprises.
The discussion focused as well on the role of sheltered workshops, which are one of the possible solutions. They help the transition to the open labour market, and offer a comeback alternative if the open market fails … they should propose real paid jobs, be open to inclusive approach. Job coaches are an important way to assure a transition and inclusion in open market, and their training must be orientated to this approach.
A good starting point to improve social and professional inclusion of person with disabilities is to develop projects and practices, foster exchanges and bring the results to policy and decision makers …… this will take time, but will make things change!
graphic of the training visit in Greece