Pilot programmes designed to empower the disabled

Photo: European commission

2006 saw the launch of “Increasing Adaptability of Disabled Persons”, a new project in the Czech Republic aimed at helping the disabled to improve their position on the jobs market. Unemployment among the disabled remains a serious problem, far higher than among the rest of the population. The aim of the project was to stress re-education and empowerment: over fifteen organizations cooperated to create and test pilot programmes to help the disadvantaged “help themselves”.

Last week, organizers released the latest statistics and analysis; I spoke to Karel Vyhnal who has headed the three-year project:

“The goal was to develop tools to help people who are disabled to increase their learning capabilities and to change their attitudes towards learning so that they could accommodate their abilities and improve their position. It’s important for their future professional life. There is a large problem concerning unemployment among the disabled: it is about four times higher than among the average population. So that is why we developed these tools.”

Photo: European commission
Before putting together individual courses researchers conducted an anonymous survey, approaching some 1,000 disabled individuals to learn more about their abilities and needs: a total of 750 responded. An equally high number of companies was also approached, 250 answered. The aim was to get a better idea of what the market needed and to learn what kind of steps those suffering disabilities need to take to increase their overall chances of finding employment. Karel Vyhnal again:

“Employers asked for better qualities in their employees, especially computer literacy and so, you know, we were trying to meet these demands.”

Photo: European commission
Not surprisingly computer-proficiency is an area which can be especially beneficial for many regarding disabilities, but researchers confirmed it was an area that left much to be desired: only few, less than 30 percent of respondents among both sexes, said they used computers frequently; by contrast, more than 50 percent said they never used them at all. Internet use was even scarcer and second or third-language skills also ranked fairly low. Among the disabled, only 29 percent speak a foreign language, while more than 60 percent speak only their mother tongue. Understandably, courses in computer-literacy, languages, but also presentation and inter-personal skills were highly desired, aspects taken into consideration as teams planned the pilot classes.

But the very first tier focused on confidence building: a necessary step for many who feel all too often they have been overlooked in the past. Olga Karousová taught such a course in the hands-on stage of the project:

“The course basically revealed that a majority of clients needed basics in presentation and communication and above all to raise their level of self-confidence. Many of them had been unemployed for long periods of time and had stopped believing in themselves. So a part of the course was not just learning new material but about raising self-esteem. I think that really worked.”

“It’s an immensely strong element, it’s basically the key. That is why the first course was all about reviving people, giving them some kind of idea they weren’t done yet and that they could get back to life, that work integration is one of the aspects of normal life. This was a very strong aspect: to get them to leave the negatives behind and get back to business.”

Photo: European commission
In all, 141 clients took part in courses which were largely rated a success: addressed were the visually and hearing-impaired, those with mental or physical disabilities, as well clients suffering so-called civilizational illnesses. Some were patients who had recovered from life-threatening diseases, but had suffered long-term consequences making it more or less impossible to return to work.

56-year old Zbyšek Čelikovský learned about the programmes through an association for the disabled. The Pardubice native signed up, particularly to learn more about computers, with the aim of working from home if he could.

“Years ago I had cancer and had to undergo operations and eventually a liver transplant. I used too be a metalworker but basically, I have been disabled for twenty years. Why did I join the course? I wanted to learn about computers, to find out if I could work from home. Taking immunosuppressants makes working in a larger group impossible: in a group I’d be liable to catch something and fall sick. Now I’m talking to a local paper about doing part-time graphic design from home. This course was important: my previous experience was that not nearly enough was being done for the disabled. This is the best I’ve seen.”

Indeed, say organizers, most of the feedback they received from clients was overwhelmingly positive: most appreciated the attention and care with which courses were designed, and agreed that retraining had given them new incentive. Of the 141 the a good number have apparently begun planning to re-enter the job market. So far, organizers don’t have concrete numbers on how many job searches were successful, statistics which will be gathered when the final marketing and assessment stage of the programme wraps-up later this year. Olga Karousová again:

“The only complaint I really came across was that it was ‘too bad’ some of the courses weren’t longer, especially regarding languages and computers. But that’s all. As for clients’ success in finding work? We’ve been in touch with many through email and we know that many are looking and that some have already found jobs. Later this year we want to go back and find out exactly how many were successful, but right now it’s on an informal basis and we know just through communicating that some have already found work.”

It should be stressed that the courses were pilot projects aimed at a limited number of clients in just four of the country’s 14 regions. Following analysis and possible tweaks, the know-how will be available for application by the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and connected organizations on a broader basis. The project’s Karel Vyhnal once more:

“We will use the information to say further the project into commercial areas: and we want to see the tools developed in wider practice, so-called mainstreaming, and use them hopefully on a daily basis in government and so on, training classes for disabled people. I think that there will be more projects applying the methods. You have a lot of goals, a lot of targets, but when you meet them it’s very rewarding. It can be very satisfying work.”