Logo of ICEVI-Europe and link to the Home v

<h1>European Workshop <br>on <br>Vocational Training and Employment of Visually Impaired</h1>

[ Previous Topic ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Next Topic ]


Introductory lecture
Janne Hansen, IBS-BUSINESS, The Institute for the Blind and Partially Sighted, Denmark

To make a difference.

How is it possible

How is it possible to know when actions work

How to know when to do something different

A fundamental Danish principle is that of equal worth, community and freedom. The individual human being is valuable, free and anyone's equal, with the right to a good life. A good life has to do with the individual's opportunity to achieve something, to make a difference, in a life that is worth living, a life where one's efforts matter.

Person first, profession next, disability last.

Even so, the level of awareness among employers, which influences the degree of employment of people with disabilities, tends to vary both within one country and from one country to another.

The tendency is that the economic ownership of a company is more and more in the hands of large corporations, and often the actual control is far removed from the production, and often outside the borders of the individual country. Awareness raising can no longer be restricted to being a regional activity. There has to be an ongoing shared activity that goes beyond the national borders along with a number of ongoing national activities aiming at achieving equal worth. The time frame has to be several years.

We need to build a communication bridge between our individual realities in order to strengthen our knowledge, insight and basic understanding of the concept of equal worth.

The labour market today is paradoxical. Simultaneously, there is an emphasis on the company's need for "soft", human and on the cost-benefit aspect. We are in the middle of shift in paradigm. From the industrial society via the information society to? What many people agree on is that increasingly, the future is going to have to focus on the "soft" values, i.e. human resources.

Employers who want to hire people in spite of their disability put the person first, expect professional skills next, as a given, and put the disability last - if they are allowed to see it work in practice. Who is this person, and what can he or she bring to the company? This cannot be negotiated through a middleman - words no longer suffice.

The old ways no longer work. We are faced with a shift in paradigm, which requires flexibility and mental as well as emotional intelligence - and the ability to get by without a manual.

Our task is to find out what works, what provides good jobs that take into account the whole person, today as well as tomorrow. For the individual person with a disability, for the family, the company and for the entire system.

PRAKSIS illustrated from a concrete reality.

Telemarketing = person + professional skills + technology + demands for complete dedication and commitment + visual impairment = success.


How do you feel about the principle of person first, professionalism next and disability last?

What sort of pathfinder is required in this shift in paradigm that we are in the middle of?

What is characteristic of the situation that we are leaving behind us?

What strategies do we need to develop?

Where should our focus be?

How do you define your own role in this transition?

How far can legislation go in terms of awareness-raising?

How do you feel about the statement:
If visually impaired people are to be employed on equal terms, then it needs to be apparent that they can do what others can do, and, preferably, a little bit more.


Summary of the Discussions

The groups agreed the preferred order for any visually impaired person would be person first, professionalism second and disability last, but the reality can be quite different. One group discussed the system where the person's disability is looked at first so that the client can be fitted into set training programs. Instead the person should be asked what he prefers to do. Another group mentioned, that avisually impaired person must take responsibility for his own situation and disability. The point was also raised, that the labour market always sees disability and this should not be neglected. One way to counter this would be honesty and for a visually impaired person to declare his identity, of which disability is only a part. It was also felt, that it is not necessary to tell everything.

The question on the shift in paradigm divided the groups into two. Some considered in from a perspective of awareness of disability, whereas others discussed it from a labour market perspective. Awareness of disabled people appears better and disability is considered less from a medical perspective and more from a social and personal perspective. The labour market perspective focused on organisational structure and demands placed on employees in the future. Employer abilities included flexibility, lateral thinking and problem solving abilities. Some also felt more work experience (internship) in companies would be good. Several grouos discussed the problem this poses for visually impaired people with multiple disabilities, who will not be able to function at the levels demanded by employers in the future.

When it comes to offering support the groups felt a need for better understanding of the labour market and trends as well as new ways of thinking. A "can do" attitude should be supported. It was also stated, that a visually impaired person should be given all the support he needs without having matters decided for him.

The groups also discussed the matter of employers not wanting to pay the extra costs for a disabled employee, it was considered easier if the state pays for the extra costs. This again is determined by law in many countries. One group felt rules and legislation can only be additional to attitudes of social responsibility. Another group saw that legislation can be a precondition, following which attitudes may change since laws require people to think. Quotas have both pros and cons. Wage subsidies can also work.


Legislation and the Employment of Visually Impaired Adults
Gordon Dryden, Assistant Director, RNIB

The European economy has been subjected to major pressures that have resulted in labour market restructing. The general impact of this has been:

  • A decrease in full-time employment.
  • An increase in part-time work.
  • An increase in self-employment.
  • A decrease in economic activity by older workers, especially men.
  • An increase in economic activity by women, predominantly working part-time.

It seems certain that this increasing flexibility within the labour market is going to continue in the immediate future and is going to place particular demands on visually impaired people.

Two particular aspects of the shift in the labour market have already had an impact on the employment opportunities for visually impaired people.

Manufacturing industry across Europe has decreased as developing economies have taken over the manufacturing role within a global market place. The loss of manufacturing has decreased the employment opportunities for people with low skills and low qualifications and has therefore had a massive impact on older workers who are generally less well qualified than younger workers. In some countries this is particularly the case for visually impaired people where educational opportunity in the past has been extremely restricted. This has removed employment opportunities in the mainstream labour market but it has had a similar impact on the market viability of designated workshops for disabled people and, increasingly, such workshops have relied upon direct intervention by government to protect them and where they have been exposed to market pressures, such workshops have closed. In the UK, for example, over a period of 15 years participation in workshops by visually impaired people has reduced from over 6,000 to fewer than 1,000.

A second aspect of globalisation which has had an enormous impact has been the development and application of new technologies. Over the past 10 years employment opportunities as telephonists or typists hav diminshed with the emergence of computer based multi-skilled work roles. This has been particularly marked in relation to work as telephonists and the continuation of work opportunities in that area has relied on national initiatives to protect the employment of visually impaired peoplebut this is becoming increasingly difficult in a global market place where economic arguments are being advanced that such protection restricts the market opportunities for non-accessible switchboard systems. It would appear, therefore, that visually impaired people have had a particularly difficult challenge in meeting the pace of change within the labour market.

There is evicence across Europe that visually impaired people are having improved access to education and training which is enabling young visually impaired people to acquire the qualifications they need to be competitive in the marketplace. The improved prospects for younger peopleis balanced however by the increased difficulty that older people with a visual impairment have in maintaining their place in the labour market and the overall impression of a stable employment situation is hiding a worsening situation for older visually impaired people.

In the past, legislation in a number of countries within Europe has concentrated on protecting the interests of disabled people through quotas, contract compliance and special programmes. These measures do not seem ro have succeeded in securing employment for disabled people in general and visually impaired people in particular and in more recent years there has been an increasing shift towards anti-discrimination legislation. This has been accompanied by an increasing shift towards encouraging individual disabled people to improve their employability and a recognition, through European programmes, of the need for trying more flexible approaches towards the labour market.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence of a coherent approach towards balancing legislative protection with a coherent framework of incentives to engage in the labour market and welfare reform recommended by the OECD in its 1997 report 'Making Work Pay'.

The anti-discrimination trend, placing obligations on employers, is being challenged by disabled people who argue strongly for civil rights legislation which will provide a basis for individuals to seek legal remedy where their civil rights were being denied.

These trends in the labour market and in the legislative frameword at the European and national levels present us with a number of choices. The options are not necessarily exclusive but we do need to clarify where we think the balance is on a range of issues in campaigning for future legislative changes.

  1. What should be our response to technological change? Should we seek to defend accessible technologies; e.g. accessible telephone swithboards by lobbying for the precedence of social over technical directives within the European Union? Would it be in the long-term interests of visually impaired people if, instead of seeking protection, we decided to grasp and take advantage of new technologies?
  2. Should we be seeking legislative protection for sheltered and supported models of working or should we be trying to establish an equal opportunities framework and be developing inter mediate routes into the mainstream labour market with protection being restricted for people for whom the open labour market is not a viable option?
  3. Should we be seeking to identify particular areas for protection through particular programmes, pursue anti-discrimiation legislation or seek to secure civil rights legislation?

[ Previous Topic ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Next Topic ]