Breaking barriers: Advancing disability inclusion in labour markets

The employment rate for people with disabilities in the EU neighbouring region is often up to 20 points below those without disabilities, underscoring a pressing issue in labour market participation. However, there is untapped potential waiting to be harnessed, offering an opportunity not only for social progress but also economic activation.

In a shared commitment for action, the second day of the 'Gender and Inclusion in Active Labour Market Policies' conference brought a renewed focus on disability inclusion in labour markets. “At the European Training Foundation, we have not developed this topic extensively up do now, but we intend to do so,” said Xavier Matheu, Senior Advisor to the Director “and we want to hear from you about your expectations and needs on what we could be doing in this field in the coming years.

Amidst the varied perspectives from Catalonia, Serbia, Sweden, and the wider Euro-Mediterranean region, the conference shed light on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, highlighting the need for transformative policies.

The spotlight on disability inclusion was evident in the remarks of Oriol Amoròs, Secretary General of Social Rights in Catalonia, who emphasised the necessity for sustainable economic work and the des-institutionalization of employment for people with disabilities. Amoros remarked, "The truth, after years, is that workers with disabilities do not transition to other businesses," he said “Yet, incorporating technology can be a tool for independence and envisioning a future where disabilities don't hinder autonomy.

Monika Chaba from the European Commission unveiled the 'Union of Equality: Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030,' offering a comprehensive framework for fostering inclusivity. "The Disability Employment Package focuses on all stages of employment," she highlighted, showcasing a commitment to lifelong guidance and reasonable accommodation—a positive stride toward a more inclusive labour market in the European Union.

"We would like to support countries in achieving the development of relevant and efficient public policies in the area of employment and skills development," said ETF’s expert Piotr Stronkowski, looking at a wider geographical level. “Addressing challenges in activating people with disabilities, through knowledge sharing and peer learning is essential,” he stressed.

In Catalonia, Àngels Garcia from the Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities of Barcelona urged the need to develop joint work strategies, making disabled hiring more visible: "It is key to set up alliances with the agents involved in labour inclusion and access to quality hiring."

By putting the spotlight on the need to focus on “social impairment” rather than “disability”, Karin Johansson from the Swedish Public Employment Service emphasized the importance to shift the focus to skills and competence, and do so together with a thorough work analysis, "a tool to assess the gap between requirements and ability," she added.

Serbia’s Ministry of Labour Senior Adviser Jelena Vasic informed about the strategies and action plans for people with disabilities in the job market. “Serbia imposes an obligation on employers to enter into labour relations with persons with disabilities based on the number of employees,” she said. Similar measures were echoed by Anna Dorangricchia from the Union for the Mediterranean, who stressed that in the region “if companies are not forced to hire people with disabilities, they do not do so.

Dorangricchia also stressed the need to develop intersectional approaches that address the complex and interconnected challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. “As the crises are not gender-neutral, the crises are not disability-neutral", she said.  “In tackling that, we need standardized practices since data about issues like access to employment by people with disabilities present significant variations reflective of different collection methods. This is essential to inform policies effectively,” she added.

Following regional discussions, the conference shared a resounding message: the focus on disability inclusion must become even more prominent, to develop a more equitable and inclusive labour market. Representatives of all regions echoed a shared commitment to turning challenges into opportunities, harnessing the potential of every individual, and paving the way for a future where the focus goes on what people can do, rather than on what people cannot do.

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