Job-seeker in a wheelchair - "I want to do what others do"
When digital communications specialist Venla Räty finds an interesting job advertisement, she will first see where the job is located. Helsinki city center has many old and valuable buildings and all jobs there get rejected quickly. The offices there are often impossible for Räty due to her wheelchair. Nearly half of the interesting advertisement get rejected this way.
"Old buildings in the city center aren't suitable for anyone with difficulties moving about. I find it impossible to even attempt to work in the office with a flight of stairs. "
32-year-old Räty has a nearly finished M.Sc. degree in Economics, and she's a social media specialist. For two years she was responsible for IBM Finland's social media channels and content generation under the title of communications trainee. This year she has been looking for a new job.
"Physically, I am weak and some things are done slowly, but the brain works just perfectly. Sometimes it needs to be explained in very simple terms. In front of a computer the handicap is not visible at all. "
Finland is estimated to have over a thousand highly trained people with disabilities like Räty who do not have work. They have official training and degrees, but still they are looking for work in different class than the non-disabled.
The Ministry's Chief Inspector Patrik Tötterman says that the employment of disabled people hasn't been affected in the last few decades by economic turns or help offered to the employers, finding a job has always been difficult.
"When unemployment fell by half after the 1990s recession, unemployment for people with disabilities and the chronically ill, it had no effect."
A significant barrier to employment according to Tötterman are what employers think might be risks with disabled people: the fear of too many sick days, reduced productivity, and disability retirement.
Tötterman believes that society should "buy" the risk of employing the disabled from the employers - despite the fact that he suspects the risks to be largely imagined.
"True equality is generated by placing the disabled person in a slightly better position, for example, certain social security benefits or the possibility to pay the wage subsidy for longer."
Räty's university education and work has been a no-brainer, even as severely disabled she will still get a modest basic income from Kela. Many of her acquaintances with disabilities has chosen the easier path, and are without degrees.
"I do not want to sit at home doing nothing," she says.
Räty suspects that working at a disability organization might be easier for hher than the competition of the private sector work: the attitudes are already positive and possible special arrangements aren't a deal breaker.
"It would be easy to go to that side, but I'm always the difficult one - I want to do what everybody else is doing."
This year, she has sent a couple of dozen job applications, but they have not turned into interview invitations. She doesn't tell directly about her disability, she just hints at it by telling she employs many personal assistants and has activities at the local Neuromuscular Disorders Association.
"It may be that reading the application it's easier to see all the downsides and not the actual knowhow. In the past, when I have been able to get to an interview, the potential employer has got over the fact I'm in a wheelchair. "
Räty's dream job is similar to other people near graduation: interesting, challenging, permanent - and one where she gets inside. For employers facing people with disabilities her message is simple.
"Treat the applicant like any other. Hiring might lead to some special arrangements, but most likely you will get a highly motivated worker. Applying for a job is so difficult that when you get it, you want to show you really earn it. "
Encounter with a disabled job applicant
The more companies have experienced workers with disabilities, the more positive they are being treated. Even a job interview can change your attitude.
Disabled person can be offered work for example as work-experience for his studies, or as a work trial through employment office, Kela or pension companies.
For the reasonable costs of workspaces and tools, adjustments, it is possible to obtain support from Employment and Economic Development Office. A maximum of EUR 4 000 financial support is not enough to build a lift or disabled toilets, but it may be enough for grab rails and a simple ramp.
If the employee's productivity is reduced, the employer is possible to get a wage subsidy.