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You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2011 i People with disabilities held back by attitudes in working life i Focus on the working ability of people with disabilities
Focus on the working ability of people with disabilities
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Focus on the working ability of people with disabilities

| Text: Marie Preisler. Photo: Open

A new Danish campaign aims to get more people with disabilities into work by getting job centres, businesses and people with disabilities themselves to look for opportunities rather than obstacles.

When Anders Hostrup started his job as head of sales with Tagarno, his boss made a point of saying he had not been hired because he had serious visual impairment. He got the job because he had the right mix of qualifications though his education in pedagogics, his long experience as a leader and because his eyesight was weak. Anders Hostrup greatly appreciates this approach:

“There’s no reason for feeling sorry for me because I carry a white cane and need a special reading aid to read the paper. And I am very happy the company didn’t hire me because they wanted to be able to show they take social responsibility, but because my experience in pedagogic and as a leader and my reduced vision are all skills which are good for my job,” he says.

His workplace, Tagarno in Horsens, develops and sells cutting edge camera solutions for people with reduced vision and reading abilities, which includes the medical industry. As head of sales for Denmark, Sweden and Finland, Anders Hostrup entertains quite a few customers and uses advanced IT programs, some of which cannot be operated by people with reduced vision. That’s why the local job centre have allocated a personal assistant which will perform the tasks which 45 year old Anders Hostrup’s reduced vision stops him from doing himself.

Many prejudices

Tagarno routinely puts their employees’ skills centre stage - not their disability, if they have one. As a result the company perfectly fits the objectives of the present Danish campaign to get more people with disabilities into work, ‘Seek a job - focus on skills’. The campaign was initiated in May by the previous Danish government. It is being run by the Ministry of Labour, the Disabled Peoples Organisation Denmar and two business networks, VFSA and Vinsa.

When the campaign ends in May next year the aim is for it to have made both job centres, people with disabilities and businesses focus more on the skills rather than on the disability when it comes to a person’s chance of finding a job, says project leader Søren Kjær Nielsen.

“We still have prejudices or lack of knowledge when it comes to people with disabilities and work, and this is quite annoying because many businesses, job centres and people with disabilities are fighting for this to succeed. The campaign’s aim is therefore to create more awareness of the possibilities which exist, and there are actually quite a lot of them,” says Søren Kjær Nielsen.

Sowing a seed

The campaign has three focus areas:

- To get more people with disabilities to apply for jobs despite their disability. This happens through inspirational meetings about job seeking and with businesses organising open house events. 

- To improve awareness with job centre employees of the possibilities they have to help people with disabilities get jobs with the businesses. 

- To motivate businesses to focus more on skills and less on disabilities when they get job applications from people with disabilities. 

The campaign’s aim is to change perceptions - not to create a certain number of jobs. The effect is hard to measure at this stage, says project leader Søren Kjær Nielsen. But he is convinced the initiative will make a real difference in the long run:

“We are not so naive as to believe this will create 5,000 new jobs for people with disabilities. But there is no doubt we are sowing an important seed by improving the awareness of all parties when it comes to focussing on skills and potential rather than on disabilities, and that there are many kinds of support which can help the labour market to benefits from these resources.” 

There are equally optimistic noises from the job centre in Horsens, where Svend Erik Langberg and Dorrit Due play key roles when it comes to disabilities.

“We’ve become pretty busy treating and approving applications for compensatory measures for people with disabilities after all the job centre’s advisors and cooperating partners have become more aware of the support which is available for people with disabilities to help them find or keep jobs both on ordinary terms or in flexjobs or through other offers,” says Svend Erik Langberg. 

The job centre should explore all possibilities for ordinary employment with compensatory measures for disability before it considers rehabilitation or employment with extra support in the shape of a flexjob.

Many support opportunities

Svend Erik Langberg and Dorrit Due mostly help people with disabilities by making relevant aids available in their workplace, and by helping to adapt the workplace to meet their needs.

The job centre also supplies personal assistance to people with disabilities. Within two years of ending their education, newly educated people with disabilities can also apply for a special wage subsidy which lasts for one year. It is called the Ice Breaker. Danish law also secures all people with disabilities the chance to enjoy positive discrimination when applying for jobs in the public sector, e.g. taxi rides to make sure people with disabilities who have applied for certain jobs within the public sector arrive in time for their interview.  

The various compensatory measures for people with disabilities are not mutually exclusive. The same person can be awarded both workplace adaptation, aids, personal assistance and more.

“The measures will be tailored to the individual’s need so that he or she can get a job or keep a job,” says Svend Erik Langberg.

Both Svend Erik Langberg and Anders Hostrup were speakers during the conference ‘See skills, not disabilities’ on 6 December 2011 at Danish Crown in Horsens - a company which has benefited from hiring people with hearing loss. The conference was organised by the business network Vinsa, which aims to inspire and support businesses that want to work actively to further social responsibility and roominess in Danish workplaces.

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