On 4th-5th May the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) and LADAPT co-hosted their online Conference: “Road to Employment for Persons with Disabilities” to discuss the way forward for the employment of persons with disabilities. As the negative economic impact of COVID-19 begins to be felt across the world, EASPD and its partners stressed the importance of ensuring that the right to employment for persons with disabilities is upheld and called on the European Union and Member States for greater support, to help those furthest away from the labour market find meaningful work.
Attended by over 500 participants worldwide, the conference “Road to Employment for Persons with Disabilities” brought together support service providers, persons with disabilities, the European Commission, the International Labour Organisation, businesses as well as other stakeholders, to identify how we can together foster more inclusive labour markets as well as share the latest promising practices in the sector. The conference also provided an opportunity to identify the key recommendations, that must be considered for the next European Disability Strategy, for the effective implementation of Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Speaking during the conference, Emmanuel Constans, Président of LADAPT, stressed the importance of ensuring the continued employment of persons with disabilities during the expected economic downturn that is a result of COVID-19: “We cannot eradicate past progress made to promote the employment of persons with disabilities on the open labour market.” He later added: “I urge the European Union to consider rights of persons with disabilities in their response to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Current statistics in the EU show that prior to COVID-19, only 47% of persons with disabilities are estimated to be employed, compared to 72% of persons without disabilities. This statistic is likely to widen further as the impact of COVID-19 takes its toll on Europe’s economies. Emmanuelle Grange, Head of Disability & Inclusion Unit, European Commission, Employment, asserted that employment will remain a core topic of the European Disability Strategy post 2020 and recognized the importance of promoting more inclusive labour markets for the European Union. This commitment must be also reflected at a national level however, if effective strategies for the employment of persons with disabilities are to be implemented.
Looking to how stakeholders can better support persons with disabilities to find long-term, meaningful employment, Caroline Mancel, Board member of the European Network of Public Employment Services, highlighted that partnerships are key to the creation of quality individualized services that meet the needs of all stakeholders. “There is no one size fits all, we all have different, talents, skills and assets. It is essential that we work together, as employers, jobseekers, service providers and policy makers to together to identify and match the skills and needs of job speakers and their employers” Ms Mancel affirmed, continuing: “For this to be successful we need a coordinated approach.”
Changing the attitudes of employers is crucial to enabling more persons with disabilities to enjoy employment in the open labor market. While working with employers, to help them better understand the benefits hiring persons with disabilities can have, Haydn Hammersley, Social Policy Officer at the European Disability Forum, stressed that raising awareness, to enable employers to more conscious of the role they play in fostering more inclusive employment practices, is also vital. This awareness raising must be joined by increased information sharing, to help employers understand the simple and easy changes they can make to become more inclusive.
While concluding the two-day conference James Crowe, President of EASPD, reiterated the importance of the right to work saying that: “Being employed is not only about having economic independence. Our job often forms a key part of our identities, enabling us to contribute to our communities and participate fully in society. In the current circumstances, it is more important than ever that we ensure that everyone, including persons with disabilities, have full and equal access to their rights and are provided with the appropriate support to empower them to do this. While progress has been made, to create more inclusive labour markets, the wide gap in employment rates of persons with and without disabilities has shown that we have a long way to go. We must be ambitious and this needs to be reflected in a future European Disability Strategy that sets clear, meaningful targets for the increased employment of Persons with Disabilities on the open labour market.”
EASPD will continue to work with its partners to promote equal opportunities and the increased access of persons with disabilities to the open labour market. This cooperation and the conclusions of this conference will form the foundation of a joint ‘Employment Manifesto,’ which will provide key recommendations for the future European Disability Strategy and will be released later this year