Antwerp Management School’s scientific ID@Work project has developed a free test that employers can use to determine whether their company is ready to employ people with an intellectual disability. You can find it at inclusieophetwerk.be. Project Manager Anouk Van Hoofstadt gives us an update.
“At the start of the research our motto was: ‘walk the talk’. In other words, if we want to facilitate inclusive work, we should start with ourselves. We put together an inclusive research team, with researchers with and without intellectual disabilities. We became our own case study.
It has consequently become a trail-blazing project: in the past, there has been research about employees with disabilities, but never one which actively involved them. This does represent a genuine challenge, and one that should not be undertaken lightly. We made mistakes. Hence why we developed the test. The test helps companies ensure they are properly prepared to recruit employees with an intellectual disability, and can point them to appropriate sources of financial and other kinds of support.”
"Inclusive work does represent a genuine challenge, and one that should not be undertaken lightly. We made mistakes. Hence why we developed the test."
Benefits for companies
“People with an intellectual disability can make loyal employees and can be real ‘ambassadors’ for your company. Moreover, inclusive work can enhance your company image, which will make clients look at you in a different way. You show that you think highly of social entrepreneurship. It also changes relationships inside the company: employees will treat each other differently, they will be confronted with their own prejudices and received ideas and get a chance to throw them off.”
“A good match is important, but by default every employee brings a different set of qualities to the company. In that respect, someone with a (mild) intellectual disability is no different. We really have to look beyond the disability, because everyone has competences and talents.”
As researcher and expert Evy Ploegaerts says, inclusive work ensures that people with an intellectual disability feel fully appreciated as a person. “Showing what you can do and being valued should start in school.” By being in special education, the road to the regular job market is more difficult than it is for people with a diploma from a regular high school.
Van Hoofstadt says: “Ms Ploegaerts asked different questions than we might during interviews, because we might find them socially awkward, for example. Still, she managed to put her finger on the economic reasons for hiring an [intellectually] disabled person. Instead of looking at bonuses as the crucial factor, it would be better to see the economic aspect as a tool or a boost. Recruiting employees with an intellectual disability also brings many vital human abilities.”
"It would be better to see the economic aspect as a tool or a boost. Recruiting employees with an intellectual disability also brings many vital human abilities."
Tools for employers
Van Hoofstadt emphasized the fact that employers can ask for help when they want to hire someone with an intellectual disability. VZW De Ploeg, for example, is an organization that helps to integrate people who are separated from the job market.
“As a company, you really shouldn’t go into this process on your own. It often happens that companies hire someone with an intellectual disability because they are focused solely on helping that person, without the company really preparing for it. Then it can go wrong: inclusion at work shouldn’t be underestimated and there needs to be thorough prior preparation both for the company and for the employee with an intellectual disability. An attitude that is focused solely on helping often tends to be patronizing; empowerment is the building block of inclusive work. As a company, you shouldn’t further exploit ‘acquired helplessness’, but should be working to strengthen an individual’s ability to do things independently.”
Looking for Guinea Pigs!
Along with partners such as VDAB, Fegob, Asap, Werkplekarchitecen, and others, AMS wants to work on a general strategy for coaching employers who want to recruit (an) employee(s) with an intellectual disability. For the final research phase, it is important that as many test results as possible are gathered. Participating companies are not necessarily obliged to proceed to recruitment. After all, the test may also expose the reasons why you might not be ready and you can indicate yourself why you might not want to hire employees with an intellectual disability.