In the Netherlands, one in ten people has a moderate or severe physical disability. Although they are just as qualified as anyone without a disability, it often proves difficult for them to get a job at the right level. What should be changed to make the job search easier?
“You always have the feeling you have to prove yourself extra. You’re 1-0 down up front,” says Cynthia van der Wenden (28) right away. She has cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen at birth. As a result, she has trouble with her fine motor skills, speaking is slower, and she tires quickly.
Despite her impressive work at Rijkswaterstaat, Van der Winden knows better than anyone how difficult it can be to find work if you have a disability. This is mainly due to bias. “People are often surprised by my work, but it shouldn’t be anything special.”
Van der Winden is in transition between two jobs at Rijkswaterstaat and is also active as an employer consultant. She wants to use her experience and knowledge to make Rijkswaterstaat, as well as other organizations, more inclusive. “I get a lot of satisfaction from my work. I feel like a full member of the team and I get full recognition from my colleagues.”
About 1.2 million people
Cynthia is by no means the only person with a disability in the Netherlands. There are no exact numbers, but they are for about 1.2 million people between the ages of 12 and 75. Of those, 225,000 to 250,000 people are in wheelchairs. In addition, at least 59% of the Dutch population suffers from a chronic condition.
The majority of people with disabilities are at home, while it is also important that they participate in the community. But finding a suitable job can be difficult. For example, people with disabilities may need additional guidance or an adapted workplace. And when do you indicate during your presentation that you have a disability?
“Then you immediately begin to doubt yourself when applying for a job: were you hired because of your knowledge and skills or because they needed the numbers?”
“I know the prejudices, but I don’t want to hide them either,” says Jiska Ogier (27) of this doubt. She also has cerebral palsy. She’s in a wheelchair, and she’s chronically tired and in chronic pain. “I don’t want to stress that either. I advance because of my knowledge, not because of my disability.” Jiska eventually started working as an independent employee, so she has more freedom and doesn’t have to prove herself further to the employer.
Since 2015, the Labor Agreement and the Quota Law for Persons with Disabilities have come into force. This forces companies to give a certain percentage of jobs to people with a disability or disease. That’s fine, but according to Auger, there are drawbacks, too. “Then you immediately begin to doubt yourself when you apply for a job: were you hired because of your knowledge and skills or because they needed the numbers? I know these companies mean well and the will is there, but it doesn’t feel comprehensive.”
‘Do not talk about but with the disabled’
And that’s exactly what Ogier wants: an inclusive Netherlands. “What drives me is to create fair opportunities for everyone.” As an experienced professional and attorney, you want to improve inclusivity in the workplace.
According to her, raising awareness is the first step, because many Dutch people don’t realize how restrictive society is. “We assume pretty quickly that everything is so well organized in this big rich country, but that’s disappointing. Ask yourself what your daily life would be like if you had a physical disability. It’s hard to be aware of this when you don’t play in your area.”
The following applies to both employers and future employees: Be well prepared. For example, there are many allowances and schemes that make it easier and cheaper to hire a person with an occupational disability. The Central Government Financial Resume Organizing Assistant helps with this. Ogier: “Not talking about, but with disabled people. You can’t learn to be inclusive by reading a book. You really know how high a 10-centimeter threshold is if you have to cross it in a wheelchair.”
Van der Winden also has advice for employers who want to make their company more inclusive: “Look at qualities and possibilities rather than limitations. This way people with disabilities can also find a job through regular job vacancies. Everyone is equal and different.”
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