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Supporting the employment of people with disabilities in various forms is a key component of ensuring they are effectively integrated in society. This was the key focus of a recent conference organised by the Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in the context of its rotating presidency of the EU Council, which ESN Chief Executive Officer Alfonso Lara Montero was invited to moderate. At present, just half of the 43 million persons with disabilities of working age in the EU are employed. The conference took place as the Commission launched its disability employment package with the aim to increase the numbers of people with disabilities in employment.

During the various panels, ESN tried to establish the reasons as to why fewer than half of Europeans with disabilities had a job compared with 73% of Europeans without a disability. Not having the appropriate accommodation, the right type of support or modifications seems to be one of the key reasons as to why low numbers of people with disabilities are employed. But most panellists highlighted the problems with misconceptions or lack of awareness of employers and society at large.

A key concern was how mainstream public employment services can support people with disabilities in finding a job, particularly in times when they are constraint by the number of people they see and the lack of specialist expertise. To address these issues, the European Network of Public Employment Services is producing a toolkit with specific recommendations. Reasonable accommodation in the workplace was highlighted as a barrier to ensure the participation of people with disabilities in the labour market. The regional Brussels employment office -Actiris, supports employers with plans to make their workforce more diverse, including employing people with disabilities.

Many people with disabilities are employed at social enterprises, so the specific features of these businesses and their employees was a theme at one of the panels as the European Commission recently launched a social economy plan to support them scale up and create jobs. Directors of Czech social enterprises at the event highlighted how their small businesses faced the same red tape as larger ones, which hindered them in many ways. Health and safety measures, which should be designed as protective factors, could be a significant burden in efforts to support the empowerment of people with disabilities. At the same time, they emphasised the need to apply legislation more thoroughly to ensure people with disabilities are better supported to access employment. Therefore, it is not easy to strike the right balance. 

Improving services coordination also came up strongly to ensure the right support for people who are dealing with circumstances that prevent them from working, and move them towards education, training, volunteering or work. Partnerships with the private, voluntary and community sectors involving local businesses and entrepreneurs are key to make this happen. This involves public authorities working with a network of partners across all sectors to ensure that people get the right support when they need it. It also ensures that all organisations, whether they are commissioned or delivered by public services, are fully aware of their part in a person’s journey to work, inclusion and autonomy.

All in all, in chairing this conference it became clear to ESN that although policies, legislation and plans exist to break down existing barriers, there are a number of difficulties in getting people with disabilities into employment. Putting in place the appropriate measures to implement these plans through strong partnerships involving the public, community and business sectors will break down the misconceptions that exist and step up to the challenge of employing more people with disabilities.