How do we achieve meaningful workforce integration for people with intellectual disabilities?
Ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to join the labor market is often complicated by the perception we have of them, when the reality is that they can bring many other enriching capabilities to companies.
The job market is an obstacle course for everyone. From completing your training until you get a better job, the road is long and tough – although that doesn’t mean for a minute that it can’t be enjoyable and a pleasant experience too. So it’s not surprising that people with some type of disability find their journey much more complicated, with lots of hurldes along the way in the form of discrimination about their situation and condition.
Fortunately, both government authorities and numerous non-profit organizations are working to enact legislation that improve their chances of workforce inclusion. Even the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 8, in section 8.5, declares: “By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and people with disabilities, as well as equal pay for work of equal value.”
“An opportunity to shine”
Similarly, in the 2011 World Disability Report, scientist Stephen Hawking wrote: “We have a moral duty to remove barriers to participation and to invest sufficient funds and knowledge to unlock the immense potential of people with disabilities. The governments of the world cannot continue to ignore the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education and employment, and who are never given an opportunity to shine.”
One of the most specific problems facing a great many people with disabilities face is that they have lower academic attainments, come from families with fewer economic resources, have fewer health resources available to them and consequently tend to suffer reduced participation in the economic system.
If accessing the working world with any disability is difficult, the difficulties multiply when we are talking about an intellectual disability. The economically active rate is lower than for those with a physical or sensory disability. The main explanation is that stereotypes hold companies back in their commitment to this type of worker, when in reality, everyone needs some form of training in order to be able to do a job properly.
In an article published in Adecco’s Diversity and Inclusion magazine, Abelardo Rodríguez, psychologist and technical coordinator of the Social Care Network for people with mental illness of the Department of Social and Family Policies of the Community of Madrid, offers a very interesting view on this: “People have many facets, but we tend to reduce people with disabilities to only one and then interpret everything within the confines of their disability.”
In other words, if a person has some type of disability, it will condition everything that they do, even if it doesn’t directly affect a particular activity. Conversely, someone who is not disabled may suffer from numerous problems or conditions that can impact on their ability to work efficiently, and yet these obstacles don’t condition everything that they can undertake in life.
Thousands of stories of resilience and overcoming adversity
What is not usually valued are the thousands of anonymous stories in which people with some type of intellectual disability are able to find the necessary confidence to overcome their own limitations and those that society places on them to get ahead and secure a job that will help them in feeling more socially validated.
This will lead them to feel less isolated, to feel that they are part of a larger, broader group and consequently, enhance the depth of the relationships they maintain with those around them. As such, they transition away from feeling excluded and acquire a self-confidence that propels them to evolve, both internally and externally.
“Not having a job, in general, is something that drives social discrimination, in addition to being dependent on the state for assistance and benefits. That’s why we’re working on social inclusion through workforce inclusion.” explains Pedro Llaca, coordinator of the Don Orione Center in Posada de Llanes in Asturias in the northwest of Spain. “There are people with disabilities who don’t actually need the job that they’re looking for, thanks specifically to these benefits and allowances. But they’re looking for work because they want to be part of society. These people are aware of how society in general views them and puts limits on their abilities, and they know that one way of striking back against these prejudices is to lead as normal a life as possible, and in the world we live, that means having a job of some sort.”
In this center it is possible to find some of those stories of overcoming mentioned above. “Roberto, for example, has been working in a bakery at night for many years and lives alone in a flat in town. And then there’s Salva, a guy who worked in a gardening cooperative and later enrolled in employment workshops. For a long time now, through a provider, he’s worked in the maintenance department of two health centers, and he travels to each of them independently by bus. And I have to mention Lázaro too, who works in an occupational therapy workshop downtown. He wanted to study and, little by little, with determination and a lot of work, he completed training modules in the adult school that helped him to get a job”, explains Pedro Llaca, saying that the key thing is that “people with disabilities integrate into environments where there’s none”, since that is what is truly inclusive.
Another viewpoint inside companies
For their part, companies have to change their perception, since they can benefit in many ways. In a paper titled Employability of people with disabilities in Latin America, written by Eddy Paz-Maldonado and Ilich Silva-Peña, it states: “The labor insertion of people with disabilities allows both private companies and state agencies to develop a different view, valuing the administrative capacities of workers in such condition. In addition, they become organizations with greater social responsibility, developing positive attitudes towards disability and facilitating inclusion in the workplace.”
The authors also state that in order for people with disabilities to be able to integrate into the labor market, “the established regulations cannot be the only mechanisms used to promote equal opportunities for this group.” And they add: “It is also important to consider the responsibility of those who are in charge of the personnel selection processes, in that it is necessary to create positive attitudes toward individuals in such a situation, thereby facilitating socio-labor inclusion.”
Juntos Somos Capaces (Together We Can)
Fundación MAPFRE supports this inclusive vision of the workplace and has a specific program in place to promote workforce inclusion of people with disabilities called Juntos Somos Capaces (Together We Can). The objective of the program is to “promote the labor integration of people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness by fostering relationships between companies and non-profit organizations in an innovative way that facilitates these people in joining the working world.”
This program has been a resounding success and since 2021, 4,910 companies have joined the program and more than 3,504 people have found a meaningful job.
In addition to subsidies and public aid received, the benefits accruing to the participating companies are numerous, with perhaps the most significant being the feeling of pride in belonging to the company. “It has been shown that if a company adopts socially-oriented measures such as incorporating workers with disabilities, the internal climate is enhanced, staff turnover goes down, and motivation among employees rises.” A good example of this are all the success stories that have been brought to fruition and that show that real job integration is possible.