Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 15:53 UK

A positive attitude to disability

BBC Scotland reporter Ian Hamilton has been travelling around Europe to investigate job opportunities for disabled people.

MADRID

Denmark and France were quite different when it came to helping disabled people into work.

As Preeti and I landed in Madrid after a two hour flight from Paris, we were soon to discover that Spain also had some common themes.

For example, like France, Spain also has a quota system.

Ian and Preeti at Servi media
Half of Servi Media's workers has disabilities

Also like France, the Spanish employers generally ignore the quota.

This is reflected in the statistics, as fewer than 30% of disabled people in Spain are in work.

The Spanish have two different sets of quota targets for disabled workers.

The first is aimed at the private sector, which states that 2% of the workforce, in any company which employs more than 50 people, must have a disability.

For public administrations, it is 5% of the workforce.

If they can't meet their quota targets, they do have other options.

Employers can buy services or goods from a disabled workshop or a disabled self-employed person.

If that doesn't suit, the company can make a financial contribution to a workshop for disabled people.

Finally, the company can give cash to a training group which helps disabled people to find work.

Powerful group

If an employer refuses to do any of these, they can be fined.

Although, it could be as little as 300 Euro - 240.

The fines are low and not readily enforced, which results in 80% of companies in Spain ignoring the quotas.

The disability employment market in Spain is dominated by the Blind organisation called "ONCE", which is pronounced Yonthy.

It is a blind organisation which runs the Spanish equivalent of the national lottery.

ONCE is a very wealthy and powerful group which gives employment opportunities to blind people.

In 1988 ONCE created a new organisation called the Foundation ONCE to help other disabled people into work.

It, in turn, has developed 20 trading companies providing further work for disabled people.

No amount of quotas and laws will force an employer to take on a disabled worker if they don't wish too

One of these is Servi Media.

It is a press agency which sells stories to the Spanish media, mainly focusing on social affairs.

Half of the 100 workforce has disability

I wonder how bad the Spanish unemployment statistics would be if it was not for ONCE and its various subsidiaries?

Under the 1997 treaty of Amsterdam, all countries in the EU had to have employment laws in place by 2003 to protect disabled workers.

But one thing was clear to me after my trip.

No amount of quotas and laws will force an employer to take on a disabled worker if it does not wish too.

It is more about a society and a culture which can make things happen, than it is about European legislation


PARIS

In my last entry, I suggested that France could be a very different place in how it regarded people with disabilities - and I wasn't wrong.

The French have some of the earliest legislation to protect the rights of disabled people dating back to the 1970's. However, this has appeared to have made little impact on the psyche of the French.

Ian Hamilton
Ian on the latest stop of his European tour

That's not my opinion; it's that of a small, but influential group of disabled people I talked to during my short visit to Paris.

They did concede that there had been some progress, but it was still a long way behind other member states in the EU, particularly when it came to their employment prospects.

Despite numerous laws and quota systems only 30% of people with disabilities are in employment. So clearly these various methods aren't working.

Compare them to the Danish who have few laws and no quotas but have 58% of people in work. So why should this be? There is no doubt it has to do with culture and attitude.

As it was described to me in a frank and very open way by social researcher in Paris, Dominique Velche.

"The French don't like disabled people." Shocking I know, but according to him that's what they think.

He believed it was because, as a culture, disabled people were hidden away and the general public were highly suspicious of people with disabilities.

As my guide Preeti and I, along with production support, moved around Paris on the Metro, Preeti commented that I was always being stared at.

Poor benefits system

I thought delusional as I am; it was because I was so fantastically good looking. Sadly, I expect it was because I'm blind and was carrying my white stick.

However, I couldn't say they were directly unfriendly; someone always gave me a seat in the Paris rush hour.

Disabled people don't have a high profile in Paris. Mainly because most, if not all, their transport isn't accessible to a range of people with disabilities.

One of the biggest criticisms that disabled people have in France is the poor benefits system. Individuals who are on disability benefits are on 628 Euro per month and according to the disability movement in France, it's 25% below the recommended breadline.

This is why just over a week ago 32,000 of them took to the streets of Paris to protest against the poor levels of living standards.

One of the organisers of the rally said he wasn't hopeful about getting more cash from the French Government, but they intend to fight on.

I'm now preparing to go to our last city - Madrid, the capital of Spain. Someone said here in Paris, "the further you go south into Europe the worse it gets for people with disabilities."

I'm not convinced that's true, but I'll find out soon enough and let you know.

DENMARK

Ian Hamilton
A 65m long wall divides the main square in Copenhagen

The Danes have a very casual attitude towards disability. I'm not suggesting they don't care or they are rude, if anything the opposite is true.

It has more to do with their history and culture, according to a Danish social researcher I was interviewing as part of my report for Good Morning Scotland on Radio Scotland.

As far back as 1872, the Danes have had organisations led by disabled people and since the 1930s they have had a major influence on Danish politics.

They also do not have the large disability charities that we have here in Scotland.

Consequently this has helped to mould the attitude throughout Danish culture that disabled people are as good as anyone else and should reach their personal and professional potential.

This doesn't mean that Denmark is some kind of disability utopia

The Danes have cultivated the principle of acceptance among the general public and government.

I expect this is probably why they have 58% of disabled people in employment, compared with Scotland and the UK's 49%.

The Danes have been able to achieve this without any stringent disability laws and quota systems adopted by their European neighbours.

However, this doesn't mean that Denmark is some kind of disability utopia.

The national disabled group in Denmark has constructed a 65m long wall dividing the main square in two, in front of the city hall.

The wall has only one opening for people to pass through. This is to symbolise the barriers that disabled people face and the lack of options they have.

In such a short visit it is hard to grasp how true the view is that the Danes are totally relaxed around all matters disability.

However, purely from a personal perspective, I get the impression: "You are blind, so what."

I must emphasise, they somehow do it from a positive perspective and not a negative one.

I am now off to Paris to find out what the French are doing to tackle the problem of high unemployment among their disabled community.

I anticipate it will be very different from Denmark, let's see if I am correct.

GLASGOW

Ian Hamilton
Ian is investigating job opportunities for people with disabilities

I am travelling to three countries in the European Union as part of an investigation into the employment prospects of people with disabilities in Denmark, France and Spain.

I will be comparing them with the opportunities for disabled people in Scotland.

As someone who is a blind reporter, one of my big challenges is getting from one country to the next, especially as I'm not taking my guide dog on this trip - nor do I speak Danish, French or Spanish.

On reflection I decided to take some sighted assistance, so I brought my production help along in the form of Preeti.

I never imagined for one minute that my biggest challenge would have been to get into Glasgow Airport.

Understandably, after the attack on the terminal building last summer they have significantly tightened the security on the approach roads to the airport.

Help essential

I will be generous and say perhaps I got them on a bad week as numerous flights to and from the new Heathrow Terminal 5 were drastically affected, which had a knock-on impact on flights to and from Glasgow.

However, I did try to call 48 hours in advance, as they advise, to book assistance to get me from the new drop-off point into the terminal building.

If I was to do it unassisted, I would require the tracking and path-finding skills of Ray Mears, so some help would be essential to navigate this trail.

I called and called the airport. I found that my calls were either cut off, or in a never-ending loop of messages and requests to press various options.

Drop-off point

Eventually, I got through to the airport helpline which gave a further number to call and advice about a special disability drop-off point, where I could call for help.

Fantastic! Now I am getting somewhere. Sadly, no. This number also rang out.

Fortunately for me, on the day of my departure I was collected by a taxi driver I knew. We tried to find the drop-off point they referred to with no success.

After a fruitless search the driver parked and deposited me safely inside the terminal building.

After I met up with Preeti, I'm pleased to say my journey so far to the Danish capital has been uneventful. Now it's time to do some reporting.

GLASGOW UPDATE

I thought you may be interested in a reply I received from the organisation which provides the airport support for disabled passengers.

Before I left for Denmark, I emailed them after my attempts to call them to ask for assistance failed miserably.

Well, I got a nice reply saying that they only provided disabled passengers with support Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 - so if you are planning to travel, I advise you only to have a disability during office hours.

To be fair, they also said that Glasgow Airport was responsible outside these hours. Well, not if my experience is anything to go by, as it wasn't for the want of trying.





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