Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Changing perceptions from within | the beneficiaries are your best promotion campaign

Changing perceptions of disabled people in relation to the labor market in society is not an easy task. From the NGO perspective, it requires an integrated approach that targets simultaneously employers, the government, and people with disabilities themselves. The Foundation Supporting Physically Disabled Mathematicians and IT specialists does this in a very innovative way, promoting the "professionalism" of disabled people in different fronts.

On the employers front, the Foundation actively engages in awareness campaigns to educate companies about the benefits from hiring qualified employees pointing out that their disability is not an impediment to perform in stressful environments and to have professional responsibilities. As I discussed in my previous post, a there is a misconception among business circles about the type of jobs that people with disabilities can do; the Foundation is active in changing these misconceptions. For employability programs that target this group, it is not enough to recruit employers as possible sources of jobs for disabled people (which by the way, the Foundation also does), it is necessary to change the perception of the types of jobs they can do. As of the trainees explained, "I don't want any job, I want a challenging and rewarding one"

On the disabled people front, the Foundation promotes among the beneficiaries a culture of professionalism and "active minds" as one of the counselors described it. For them, the best promotion campaign is getting people employed in positions that were outside their boundaries because of the misconception explained above. For many disabled people, specially older generations, it is not uncommon to think that they don't have the right to work. The Foundation needs to constantly remind people about this right! The training programs they have are challenging and thorough (the ECDL training is 140 hours long) and embedded within them is the value of professionalism and the latent option of having a "normal" job. I believe this is very innovative and a good lesson for other NGOs working with disabled groups.

As one of the trainees clearly stated, "I don't want special training or special treatment, I want specialized training. One that allows me to constantly challenge myself. One that incentives me to want to get to the next level. I don't want to feel "special" I want to feel specialized".

The Foundation is taking this to the next level. Once the new network of e-Centrum (distance learning community technology centers) and the regional offices open, the Foundation will open their doors to the general population. Among its most experienced trainers, the Foundation will have people with disabilities training people without... what a best way to fight the misperceptions of what disabled people can achieve.

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