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SUSTAINABILITY | 02.28.2024

Enrique Galván: “Bias impedes the full social inclusion of people with disabilities”

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He believes that society is progressively becoming more welcoming and inclusive, striving to foster community and assist vulnerable individuals who teach us to perceive the world from a more humane, less individualistic standpoint. We spoke with Enrique Galván (Madrid, 1966), director of Plena Inclusión España, a confederation of 950 associations supporting over 150,000 people with disabilities and their families. Our discussion stemmed from the recent approval of Article 49, which significantly impacts the rights of these people, numbering 4.3 million in Spain.

ENRIQUE GALVANHis social commitment began in his youth. At the age of 17, he took a volunteering opportunity that changed his worldview, leading him to devote himself entirely to the welfare of others ever since. He has been a teacher, human resources manager, caregiver, and psychologist both at residential facilities and educational institutions. Since 2010, he has led Plena Inclusión, where he defends the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and contributes to promoting their social inclusion—a key factor in building a better society.

The amendment to the article has enabled the terms “physically, sensorily and mentally impaired” to be replaced with “people with disabilities” in the Spanish Constitution.

It’s an important step that entails a truly significant shift, as it goes beyond merely altering the terminology. It also incorporates a gender perspective, acknowledging the challenges faced by many people, particularly women and children with disabilities. The understanding of this term has evolved over time. Once carrying a derogatory undertone, it has thankfully evolved to receive the respect it deserves. We are all equal and should have the same rights regardless of any qualifying adjective. 

What stigmas surround these people still?

People with disabilities are a group subject to clear discrimination. One of the primary hurdles they face today is unconscious bias—the prejudices held by many who view them as limiting and impeding their full integration into both the workforce and society. That’s why it is so important to dismantle that dynamic. These biases are particularly noticeable in certain areas, such as access to gynecological services. There’s a widespread misconception that these people don’t need the same screenings as others because of the assumption that women with disabilities are not sexually active, which is a serious mistake leading to significant health issues.

What do you consider to be the primary challenges in terms of inclusion?

I would emphasize the implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a tool that could further limit the integration for people with disabilities, particularly in processes like candidate screening during hiring. These automated systems may harbor biases in their configuration, leading to the exclusion of individuals with disabilities, as they may overlook their talents and other qualities necessary for them to enjoy equal opportunity. As we make strides in fields like technology, we need to analyze the implications of these advancements on people’s rights. 

What sets Plena Inclusión apart in supporting this community?

I believe our strength lies in fostering social opportunities and solutions while also addressing the digital gap, especially in a time when technology can be both a tremendous asset and a significant barrier. One of our major achievements came about several years ago, in 2012, when we collaborated with the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities (CERMI) to advocate for the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in public sector employment. Over a thousand candidates applied for the 2% reserved quota. By adapting the list of topics and evaluation methods, we succeeded in opening previously closed doors, enabling people with intellectual disabilities to access civil service positions. 

How have the lives of people with disabilities changed in recent years?

I believe we have evolved on issues that were viewed differently 30 years ago, and this progress should be seen as a positive development. Currently, I feel that we are witnessing a more inclusive and welcoming society that aims to foster community and improve relations with people requiring significant support. These people offer us a different worldview, shifting away from a competitive and individualistic mindset. However, there is still much work to be done in terms of rights and their implementation, particularly in sectors like education, healthcare, and culture. The recent amendment to Article 49 of the Spanish Constitution reflects this shift, acknowledging the changing perceptions of Spanish society towards the disabled community and the need to rethink our approach to understanding people. 

You began by volunteering, then you worked at Fundación Gil Gayarre, followed by a position at CERMI, and now you lead Plena Inclusión. What is your primary challenge?

Our main challenge is to continue advocating for the equality, freedom, and well-being of these people. Despite facing numerous obstacles, the objective remains to ensure the complete realization of human rights. It’s a question of social justice. Any significant progress in humanity has been intertwined with advancements in human rights, and this is the path we want to follow. 

In the business sector, how do you believe companies can contribute to promoting inclusion and diversity? What challenges lie ahead?

Large companies like MAPFRE have a great capacity for mobilization and a unique opportunity to become role models in all the countries where they operate. They have effectively integrated people with disabilities into their workforce and value chain, with very positive results. Their values also enable them to engage their employees in supporting the development of these people and to champion socio-labor inclusion policies. They also strive to develop accessible and affordable products and services for them and their families. Considerable progress can also be made through social action initiatives. In this regard, Plena Inclusión and Fundación MAPFRE have worked together to provide support in addressing loneliness, promoting new employment and leisure opportunities.

Plena Inclusión commemorates its 60th anniversary with the slogan ‘The impossible will be achieved’. What projects do you have underway for the coming years to enhance the lives of people with disabilities?

‘The impossible will be achieved’ pays tribute to the pioneering families of people with disabilities who clandestinely gathered in homes during the 1960s to improve their quality of life and ensure their full inclusion. If these families achieved the impossible over 50 years ago, the question for us now is what is our own impossible? We are committed not only to the present but also to the future. In line with this, we have launched a project titled ‘The Power of People’, aiming to actively involve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in society’s decision-making processes and to have them serve as representatives on the Boards of Directors of the organizations they belong to.

 

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