A question of attitude - people with and without disabilities on the road to an inclusive society?
Discussing the parameters of and obstacles to inclusion at the 8th Delphi Dialog in Berlin
Shared classrooms for children with and without disabilities have given the issue of inclusion high visibility but it's about more than just integrated classes at school. Gainful employment, participation, mobility and living are equally crucial to creating an inclusive society.
Bettina Eistel, who hosted a German television program called Menschen - das Magazin ("People - The magazine") for nine years, moderated the event.
At the Delphi Dialog in Berlin, Germany, a panel of experts discussed the parameters of and obstacles to inclusion, under the heading "A question of attitude - people with and without disabilities on the road to an inclusive society?"
Deutsche Post DHL Group, together with German social organization "Aktion Mensch" invited participants to the latest Delphi Dialog to discuss the opportunities and challenges of an inclusive society. The occasion was the publication of the Deutsche Post Happiness Atlas, which this year focused on the degree of satisfaction people with disabilities have with their lives. Bettina Eistel, who hosted a German television program called Menschen - das Magazin ("People - The magazine") for nine years, moderated the event.
Four theses on inclusion
Armin v.Buttlar, Management Board Member at "Aktion Mensch", introducing the evening's theme in a keynote speech.
Armin v. Buttlar, Management Board Member at Aktion Mensch, introduced the evening's theme in a keynote speech. Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, Aktion Mensch is a social lottery that uses lottery proceeds to support such concerns as the inclusion of the disabled in society. Mr. von Buttlar broke down the issue of inclusion into four theses:
- Encounters are the basis of an inclusive life. Fears and reservations that stand in the way of inclusion can be overcome only when encounters between people with and without disabilities become a common feature of everyday life, starting early in life.
- The gap is currently greatest in the area of work. Gainful employment is one of the most important prerequisites for inclusion - at the same time the backlog here is enormous.
- People with and without disabilities can work together profitably.
- Preconceived notions, i.e., "mental barriers", pose more of an obstacle to the gainful employment of people with disabilities than actual conditions on the job or the disability. An inclusive society requires its members to make the mental transition from "problem to potential".
Sound bites from the event in Berlin (in German)
From impairment to special talent
Discussion participants (from left): Moderator Bettina Eistel, Dr. Bert Rürup (President of the 'Handelsblatt Research Institute'), Dirk Müller-Remus (Founder and Managing Director of the IT consulting company 'Auticon'), Jürgen Gerdes (Board member Post - eCommerce - Parcel at DPDHL), Armin v. Buttlar ('Aktion Mensch' Management Board member).
The subsequent podium discussion included Armin von Buttlar, Jürgen Gerdes, Board of Management Member for Post - eCommerce - Parcel at Deutsche Post DHL Group, Dirk Müller-Remus, Founder and Managing Director of the IT consulting company Auticon, Dr. Bert Rürup, President of the Handelsblatt Research Institute, and moderator Bettina Eistel. Dr. Rürup challenged the common view of disability by saying that "80% of all people with disabilities are over the age of 55 and acquired their disability on the job." This fact must be taken into consideration in the issue of inclusion. Jürgen Gerdes, who is responsible for the division at Deutsche Post DHL Group with the most employees, agreed that the focus of attention cannot simply be on those with congenital disabilities. "As a company, we assume socially responsible for employees who have incurred a disability during their employment," he said. "That is why we are developing solutions that will allow us to fully integrate our colleagues with disabilities into the workforce. That's part of a company's duty to care for its employers and also due to demographic change."
Deutsche Post DHL Group has taken a leading role in the professional integration of people with disabilities. The proportion of employees with disabilities at Deutsche Post DHL Group is more than double the nationwide average in Germany. The company has adjusted its way of thinking and is prepared for this type of diversity. During annual general meetings, for example, which include people who are hearing impaired, the company always employs sign-language interpreters. Moreover, Gerdes himself emphasized that he had had very positive experiences with inclusion at the company.
As the father of an autistic son, Dirk Müller-Remus is founder and managing director of Auticon. This IT consulting company exclusively employs people with Asperger syndrome who have special abilities such as a talent for recognizing patterns.
Dirk Müller-Remus has had similar experiences but from a different perspective. He is the father of an autistic son as well as founder and managing director of Auticon, an IT consulting company. Auticon exclusively employs people with Asperger syndrome who have special abilities such as a talent for recognizing patterns. Müller-Remus criticized the value judgment associated with the label of "disability". "For me, my employees are not disabled," he said. "They simply have a different way perceiving of things than I do." Dr. Rürup interjected that the critical question still remains: how to include all people with disabilities in society, not just those with special talents. Rürup's institute, together with Aktion Mensch, publishes the "inclusion barometer", a tool that measures the degree of inclusion on the job market.
"In the long-run we will have to have the courage to consider such things as mandatory anonymized applications," Dr. Bert Rürup said during the discussion with Bettina Eistel.
The results from regularly conducted surveys show that a majority of the disabled remain excluded from professional life. To change that, according to Dr. Rürup, it is necessary to remove obstacles to entering the job market. "In the long-run we will have to have the courage to consider such things as mandatory anonymized applications," he said. Jürgen Gerdes argued that the inclusion of people with disabilities in professional life should also be viewed from the perspective of diversity. "Every company benefits from the diversity of its workforce," he said, "because diversity allows companies to better understand social and cultural developments."
Inclusion starting in playschool and primary school
Discussion participants also agreed that interactions with the disabled must become a normal part of everyday life starting in playschool and primary school at the latest.
Discussion participants also agreed that more was needed than just a package of regulatory measures. To advance the cause of inclusion, society must undergo a change in awareness and the foundation of that change has to be laid early on in the lives of its members. Interactions with the disabled must become a normal part of everyday life starting in playschool and primary school at the latest. Inclusive education must be structured differently to do justice to both children with and without disabilities.
There is still far to go
The subsequent discussion with audience members starkly showed yet again that the journey towards a fully inclusive society will be long and arduous but it also revealed a wealth of different ideas on how to make progress. Many companies, it was said, still had reservations about employing people with disabilities in customer service positions. Indeed, any employee a company has to "hide" from its customers will find themselves on the fast track to a dead-end career. One participant summed up her work-related experiences with people from both groups in a statement that audience and discussion participants could agree on: the mindset is often the real disability.