Social economy enterprises ‘are driving social and labour inclusion for disabled people’

A new best practice guide highlights how the sector is making a difference

A new publication highlights how social economy enterprises can work towards implementing the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and further contribute to the labour integration of disabled people.

The best practice guide is one of the initiatives undertaken by the Social Economy and Disability Working Group (SE&D) of Social Economy Europe (SEE). It is looking to raise awareness of the way social economy enterprises and organisations can generate quality employment for disabled people and to promote their social and labour inclusion.

Social Economy Europe – which represents 2.8 million organisations – also wants to use the report to share good practices in terms of employment, training and education, services and accessibility.

According to the guide, participation in the labour market is a significant factor for social inclusion. Data from the European Disability Forum (EDF) shows that only 50.8% of disabled people in the EU are in employment, a stark contrast with the 74.8% of non-disabled people who are in employment.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate of disabled people aged between 20 and 64 is 7% higher than that of non-disabled people in the same age group.

The report says social economy enterprises employ up to three times more disabled people than traditional enterprises. It adds that the social economy provides accessibility solutions often made for and by disabled people; community spaces for recreational activities and socialising; access to sport and culture as a means for inclusion; and information on rights and citizenship.

The guide features a number of case studies such as the Association des Parents d’Enfants Mentalement Handicapés (APEMH) in Luxembourg, a foundation working to improve the quality of life of intellectually disabled people. In 1987 the foundation set up APEMH Société Coopérative, a co-operative providing paid employment to mentally disabled people and offering support measures and follow-up through the ORFO service (Orientation and Training). The co-op runs activities in 18 different fields including agriculture, farming, breeding, gardening, cooking, butchering, carpentry, tailoring, facility management, and cleaning. In 2018, these structures employed 409 disabled people (183 women and 226 men).

Another case study featured is Adelante Dolmen, an Italian social co-operative affiliated to Consorzio SIS, and through it to CGM, the largest network of social co-operatives in Italy. Set up in 1997 in Milan, Adelante provides long-term jobs for disabled people, particularly in the IT sector. It currently employs around 90 people in several functions, such as IT help-desk, IT planning and provision, software development, and front and back office duties.

Likewise, in Portugal, the 52 associated members of the National Federation of Cooperatives and Social Solidarity (Fenacerci) provide support and services to about 25,000 intellectually disabled people and their families, employing close to 6,000 professionals. The federation has also worked on 39 European projects in areas such as violence and abuse of disabled people, accessibility of written information, rights and citizenship, the use of ICT to promote social inclusion and assistive devices, alternative curricula, sport as tool for inclusion, Web2.0 and inclusion, poverty and social inclusion.

In Croatia, social co-operative Humana Nova Čakovec, which has been present on the national market in Croatia for last eight years, produces and sells quality and innovative textile products made from ecological and recycled fabrics. The co-op encourages the employment of disabled people and socially excluded persons through the production and selling of quality and innovative textile products made from ecological and recycled fabrics. Today the co-op boasts 30 employees, 19 of whom are disabled people. Some of the other employees come from ethnic minorities or disadvantaged social backgrounds.

In Bulgaria, TPK Mara Dencheva, a worker co-operative of disabled people founded in 1963, specialises in ready-made women’s clothing. It is the only enterprise in the region of Pleven to provide employment to disabled people. As many as 28 out of 46 employees have a 50 to 92% reduced work capacity due to musculoskeletal or cardiovascular diseases and light mental disabilities.

The guide also includes a series of recommendations, calling on the European Union and its member states to foster the full inclusion of disabled people by promoting social economy business models. It argues the new EU’s Disability Strategy 2020-2030 should be linked to the European Pillar of Social Rights and aligned with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In terms of the social economy, the guide suggests the new Disability Strategy should take a comprehensive approach to the social economy and generate awareness of the current contribution and the future potential of the sector for the achievement of the SDGs. It adds that the Action Plan for the Social Economy should specifically promote the role that social economy can play to accelerate the integration of disabled people, through employment and provision of basic services, at all levels of society and of the economy.

“We should keep in mind that this guide is not an end in itself, but just one more step forward on the long road to full integration of disabled people into society. Through our collaboration with SEE, we are committed to continuing to explore the active contribution of Social Economy enterprises to this integration,” said Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum, in the guide’s foreword.

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