In February 2021, the Zero Project hosted the Zero Conference, an annual conference to recognize good practice models for including people with disabilities.
This year, the Zero Conference recognized good practice in employment and ICTs, and 5 Inclusion International members were recognized for their employment work. Congratulations to Plena Inclusion (Spain), Lev (Denmark), Keystone Human Services (United States), Instituto Jô Clemente (Brazil), and Inclusion Mauritius (Mauritius) on your Zero Project awards!
During the Zero Conference, Inclusion International hosted a side session called “HOW TO: CRPD-Compliance in Employment Programming” to start a conversation about what inclusion in employment projects looks like.
This session discussed current gaps in CRPD-compliance for employment programmes and presented a summary of the key ingredients for a genuinely inclusive and CRPD-compliant employment project or programme.
The session also shared 3 examples of CRPD-compliant public and private sector employment programming for people with intellectual disabilities in Denmark, Spain, and Mauritius.
CRPD-Compliant employment programming….
- Aims to transforming the labour market to one that is open, inclusive, and accessible
- Supports people to access inclusive workplaces, not segregated environments
- Respects the right of people to choose their own job, workplace, or area of vocational training
- Takes a holistic approach to employment – this means that it does not just fit people into jobs, it makes recruitment, jobs, and workplaces more accessible
- Ensures accessibility and reasonable accommodation for all people with disabilities, not only those with the fewest support needs
- Does not limit the idea of “accommodation” to technology and physical adaptations, but also thinks about communications, recruitment, management styles, and other forms of accommodation
- Links inclusion in employment to other aspects of inclusion in communities
- Does not limit CRPD compliance to Article 27 on the Right to Work, but also complies with the CRPD’s cross-cutting principles, such as Article 4.3’s DPO engagement.
During the session, the participants had more questions than we had time to answer – we have collected the remaining questions from participants and shared the answers below:
How can we bridge the gap for people with intellectual disabilities who do not have certificates or higher education but want to work?
For people with intellectual disabilities who have not had access to education, the lack of certificates or the lack of higher education are a major barrier to employment. Access to employment is linked closely with access to education, and policy and programming should aim to address these issues holistically.
In many cases, degrees and certificates are set as a requirement for jobs that in practice do not actually require a particular educational background. In many industries, holding a degree has become a baseline educational requirement for roles that could be performed by people without that educational background or people who have relevant life experience instead. Advocacy work with employers needs to push back against the idea that certificates and degrees are always necessary for employment to create a more open labour market where anyone with the skills and interest to perform a job can pursue the opportunity without a strict educational background.
To bridge the gap for people without certificates or other educational qualifications, pursuing inclusive vocational training is one strategy at the individual level that may enable a person to access work. Segregated vocational training for people with intellectual disabilities typically does not lead to a certificate (and often are linked to sheltered workshops), but inclusive (“mainstream”) vocational training often provides opportunities for certification recognized by employers. Vocational training may be a good option if an individual has the right support to participate, provided that the area of vocational training has a clear pathway to formal sector employment. Directing people with intellectual disabilities into self-employment as an alternative income source when they do not have certificates is not a employment model that is sustainable in the long term due to the lack of support.
How do we support people with significant disabilities in work?
An inclusive employment environment is one that allows every person the opportunity to work, which includes people who face more significant barriers to inclusion. In workplaces where employers are committed to accessibility, flexibility, and support, people with higher support needs can work and be valued as colleagues alongside all other employees at the company.
Inclusive recruitment systems, flexible working environments, and reasonable accommodation are all strategies that can support someone with more significant barriers to inclusion to work. However, the most important way to support someone in work is to ask them what they support they need – support needs and reasonable accommodation vary from person to person and must be based on the individual’s needs.
Some models exist specifically for the employment of people with more significant barriers, including the Customized Employment Methodology, which designs personalized roles for people with more significant disabilities based on the needs of the individual and the employer. If using these models is important to ensure that any job created is meaningful employment – job carving practices may result in jobs that are unfulfilling for people with disabilities or unsustainable within the business.
What legislative approaches are being used to include people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace? Should employment programming advocate for strengthening these measures?
There are a variety of legislative measures being used to support hiring people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace – quotas, wage subsidies, and tax incentives are among the most common. A key challenge of these legislative measures is that they are not typically responsive to the needs of all people with intellectual disabilities – in many cases, they only encourage hiring of people with the fewest barriers or those who require the fewest accommodations. People who face more significant barriers to inclusion tend to be left behind by these measures.
These legislative measures also do not focus on workplace transformation – the process of making sure that the labour market and workplaces are accessible and inclusive spaces. The result is that these measures may encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities into roles where they do not have access to support, or into workplaces where they will not be meaningfully included. Similarly, these measures may encourage tokenistic hiring, where someone is being hired based on their disability rather than their contributions to the company.
If employment programming is advocating for the use of these measures, this cannot be done in isolation – using these legislative measures without working towards transforming workplaces will not lead to workplace inclusion. Programming that advocates for these measures must be paired with efforts to ensure that businesses have the tools to implement inclusive workplaces, work to reimagine recruitment systems to be more accessible, and messaging that emphasizes the need to include people who face the most significant barriers in employment.
Engaging people with disabilities in program design is a key recommendation for CRPD compliance – where do we find people with intellectual disabilities to participate?
Including self-advocates in the development of projects and ensuring that they have the appropriate support to engage and meaningfully participate is essential for making your employment programming inclusive and responsive.
Reaching out to your local organization of persons with disabilities (OPD) representing people with intellectual disabilities and their families is the best way to connect with self-advocates. Inclusion International’s network spans over 200 organizations across 115 countries – these organizations are led by families and self-advocates, and are the experts on inclusion in their own communities.
OPDs representing people with intellectual disabilities are important technical advisors to ensure that programming is accessible and inclusive – programmes designed and implemented in partnership with OPDs are more likely to be inclusive, more likely to address the real barriers that people face, and