Education and work: Inclusion still a foreign concept
Education and work: Inclusion still a foreign concept
A solid, average career in Germany includes a good education, an apprenticeship or university studies and ultimately, a job that might even be a vocation. Articles 24 and 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) enshrine access to an inclusive education and the right to work. So how come people with disabilities often have to fight for this right in Germany? And having said that, what are some encouraging aspects in this setting?
If you have overcome the hurdles of school and apprenticeship or university, as a disabled person in Germany you usually face the biggest barrier: finding a job.
The press in Germany had a field day in the early summer of this year. The principal of a high school in Bremen refused to set up an inclusive classroom at her school for the upcoming school year. She believes that a school’s hands are tied when it comes to inclusion because schools are unable to adequately address and meet the needs of students with learning or physical disabilities - at least not without ignoring the needs of non-disabled peers at the same time. She filed a suit against the decision of the supervisory school board. In doing so, she had the full support and backing of parent representatives.
Lack of accessibility to school buildings is one thing, but prejudice and discrimination against children with "special needs" seemingly throws a much bigger monkey wrench into school inclusion. Many children or parents have to fight for their child’s right to a mainstream general education and avoid special needs schools. Because from the latter, the road to a successful education is much longer and all too often ends up in a workshop versus a regular job training. "The right thing to do would be to abolish the expensive and redundant special education system and make all mainstream schools inclusive," Julia Probst demanded in an article last year. The former Federal Government Commissioner for Matters relating to Disabled Persons Verena Bentele believes that the lives and journeys of people with disabilities could be drastically simplified by tackling inclusive education. "When children with or without disabilities participate and learn together, prejudices on the part of employers and colleagues are less likely right from the start."
Luckily, there are some positive examples on the school front. Staying true to the motto: "Learning from and with each other", the Evangelical School Center Martinschule in Greifswald won the 2018 German School Award this year. Nearly half of the school’s students have special educational needs, which is well above the national average of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Benchmark test results – obtained from the so-called German Abitur exam, which grants access to higher education and the secondary school level I exam – are likewise above average, attesting to the school’s success. "While some declare inclusion a failure, the Martinschule proves them wrong with its exceptional model of inclusion," praised Michael Schratz, spokesman for the German School Award judging panel.
Beacons for Inclusion
Yet a great education alone is not enough to make your way into the primary labor market. In addition to the usual questions that all young people must ask themselves after graduating, students with disabilities also have to worry about whether they truly stand a chance to land their dream job. The REHADAT portal not only assists in choosing an educational path or career, but also informs about the legal rights of students, available resources and who provides funding for these options.
The !inKA project has shown that young people with disabilities deserve a chance. Over a span of five years, the project has supported nearly 40 adolescents during their vocational training and built a large network of supporters - with great success according to project coordinator Annetraud Grote: "Of the original 38 apprentices with severe disabilities, 34 have successfully completed their education and 27 were directly hired after training completion." But the project coordinator is also aware of the obstacles that still exist in vocational schools. Find out what those are and read her summary of the project, which was completed in September, in our interview.
The Philipps University in Marburg also has a lot of experience in this area. After all, it was founded in 1527. What makes the University stand out is its commitment to implementing inclusive education. "We have nearly 150 blind /severely visually impaired students. This makes us the university with the largest number of blind and visually impaired students in Germany," Franz-Josef Visse, Head of the Service Center for Students with Disabilities (SBS) and Commissioner for Students with Disabilities proudly points out. The SBS provides assistance for the young adults. It features a register of more than 50 university buildings, detailing their accessibility and settings in clearly arranged checklists. In addition to structural accessibility concerns, assistive resources like adapted computer workstations or screen readers are also provided. The students also have study helpers and the option of private study assistance at their disposal.
Schools like the Sophie-Scholl School in Berlin show how inclusion can succeed and universities are also geared towards students with disabilities in many places. If inclusion is not an issue right from the start, it would be no problem to find a job later.
Barriers to study and job search
The recently published assessment of the study titled "beeinträchtigt studieren – best 2" by the German Organizations for Student Affairs (Deutsches Studentenwerk, DSW) and the German Center for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) illustrates the existing disability-related study concerns. The representative nationwide survey encompassed 21,000 students with disabilities / chronic illness. Nine out of ten students attested to difficulties during their studies as a result of their disability. Says DSW President Professor Rolf-Dieter Postlep, MD, Ph.D.: "A variety of barriers are still limiting equal educational opportunities. Unfortunately, affirmative action measures don’t work everywhere and not equally well for everyone. I call on universities to further reduce barriers. This benefits all students." Many students have reservations about affirmative action aspects: either they don’t know their rights, refuse any "special treatment" or are worried about social stigma.
Many young people with disabilities don’t just face prejudices and barriers during their studies or vocational training. For many, the transition into professional life proves to be the most difficult aspect. "Barriers that stem from knowledge gaps usually pop up after the application process and prior to hiring. I hear about problems that arise when it comes to the type of employment, workspace, accessibility, assistive technology funding etc. This is where a more transparent system with the relevant information is needed. Answers to these problems can typically be found in legislation or tax law," Felix Hüning, founder and managing director of the Capjob portal attests to bureaucratic hurdles. In our article "Inclusion in Practice: On the Right Career Path", David Völzmann and Felizitas Böcher report how they made the jump into professional life.
Portals like Capjob or the renamed myAbility.jobs portal in Austria help people with disabilities find a job. And they have been very successful. "We have actually doubled the number of companies and quadrupled the number of job postings compared to last year," adds Hüning.
Capjob lets companies preselect types of disabilities for their job ads, allowing job seekers to get better search results thanks to the filter. Find out more about the portal in our "We asked…interview".
Bureaucratic barriers make access to the labour market difficult for people with disabilities and discourage potential employers.
More flexibility and less bureaucracy are the magic words
That being said, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is well above the national average. As a result, 12.4 percent are without employment. The culprit is the so-called equalization levy companies with more than 20 employees can opt to pay if they don’t meet the obligatory quota for hiring people with severe disabilities. At a mere 320 euros per month, it is far too low to truly create an incentive to meet the five percent quota in companies.
And yet, there are more people with disabilities who are well-qualified for the job. Among the more than 170,000 employable people who have a severe disability, there are proportionally more skilled workers than among the unemployed without disabilities (as of November 2017). Still, the former are less successful in finding employment in the primary labor market. All in all, they need about 100 additional days to find employment compared to their peers without disabilities.
In addition to preconceptions when it comes to handling workload, another reason for companies and businesses to avoid people with disabilities - although obligated to employ them – is the lack of knowledge by potential employers in terms of available assistance and services. "We have a comprehensive and differentiated assistance program pertaining to inclusion and rehabilitation. Rehabilitation authorities and integration offices are able to support employers with a wide range of services that facilitate work participation. However, small and medium-sized companies often deem the assistance system confusing, fragmented and non-transparent: the different jurisdictions and responsibilities, application modalities and procedural processes are often seen as bureaucratic hurdles. The system does not adequately address the needs, possibilities, and limitations of these companies," Manfred Otto-Albrecht summarizes the problems companies face. In his work with the corporate network INKLUSION, the project manager sees the barriers companies face when it comes to employing and supporting people with disabilities. The network offers businesses and companies the information, guidance, and support they need to improve the collaboration with the assistance programs and make them more effective. What’s more, "roundtables" are held on a regular basis to facilitate an experience exchange, as well as enable companies and different representatives from integration offices, Federal Employment Agencies or Compulsory Health Insurance to get to know each other.
"We have learned that small and medium-sized companies, in particular, need reliable support that cannot be provided by always changing, regional or temporary projects. Assistance must be structural and adapted to companies in terms of mindset and expertise. It requires a flexible organization to address the changing needs of day-to-day business operations and reflect the fundamental changes in the workplace and the resulting new needs and requirements."
Yet even if you meet a potential employer with no preconceptions, if you know your rights and have overcome all the bureaucratic hurdles, you still need one more thing in Germany in the year 2018: patience. And some flexibility: "It’s not just the employer that must be accommodating, you also have to be willing to cooperate," the budding carpenter Völzmann explains.
Being flexible and making compromises, not only expecting the employer to accommodate you - then it also works with an employment, according to David Völzmann.
Germany and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The fact is, Germany lags far behind in its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force back in 2009. The German Federal Government has repeatedly been reprimanded during official inspections of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Yet this has not resulted in many changes. The subject of disability is one that can affect everyone in Germany. After all, employees are getting older and are tasked with working longer as well. Plus, most disabilities are not inherited but acquired over the course of one’s life. But apart from all that, why should people with disabilities not be able to have the same types of jobs as people without disabilities?
Looking at the job opportunities on Capjob, Felix Hüning notes that there is no dominating industry in this setting. Needless to say, big cities are looking to hire more employees with disabilities than smaller towns or communities. That being said, all industries are represented in the job mix, "ranging from hotel room service, software developers, inclusion manager at the Olympic Sports Federation, work-from-home customer service representatives, cashiers, orthopedic technicians, social workers, gardeners etc."
And although countries like Spain or Italy have passed by Germany when it comes to the implementation of the CRPD, there is no reason to be discouraged. To quote deaf pastor Felizitas Böcher: "Don’t be discouraged! Things may work out if you only try. But if you don’t try, you will definitely not succeed!"
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com
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