A Systemic Approach towards Creating an Inclusive Working Environment
“We all have certain limitations. What matters most is to have an open and unhindered working environment, rather than limiting people’s abilities.”
People living with disabilities in Georgia struggle to lead a normal life due to inaccessibility of public infrastructure, as well as a lack of education opportunities in this area. There is a long way to go, but with the hard work and dedication of people and companies, there is hope.
Zura Oragvelidze is an expert on the employment of people with disabilities. The Civil Development Agency (CiDA), together with Zura, became involved in a EWMI ACCESS-funded project that helped three businesses (Carrefour, Dio, and Hotel Mercure) to make their working environment more open and accessible to people with disabilities. Comprehensive assistance included assessment of the needs and capacities of each organization in terms of hiring people with disabilities (assessment of the infrastructure, workplace policies, company’s prior experience, and employee’s awareness). The main tool for the assessment was a unique questionnaire that was created specifically for this purpose. After that Zura started a consultation process to help the companies improve their practices and overcome flaws and weaknesses as identified through the needs assessment. “There has never been such a systemic approach towards employment of people with disabilities before… The similar projects that I was engaged in the past were targeting at employing high number of people with disabilities within a limited timeframe. When targets are high, one is focused on reaching them and has little time to try and introduce a more sustainable approach. The main advantage of the ACCESS-funded project is that it mainly focuses on capacity building of companies to prepare them to work with people with disabilities. After this project, these three companies will be able to pursue a long-term practice of employment of people with disabilities.” – says Zura Oragvelidze.
With Zura’s assistance, all three companies have made their office infrastructure more inclusive and accessible, trained their staff members on the particularities and sensitivity needed when working together with people with disabilities; their policies and internal regulations were revised and now highlight support to employment of the people with disabilities; their vacancy announcements now include the following statement: “People with disabilities who meet the requirements are encouraged to apply”. This motivates people with disabilities to participate in the competition, who would otherwise not apply due to widespread discriminatory attitudes. As a result of these changes, the companies have employed 4 people with disabilities.
One of the newly recruited persons is a 21-year old Aleksi Mchedlishvili, who began working at the company “Dio” in September 2017. Alexi had his leg amputated at a young age and has since had to use a leg prosthesis. Several months ago Alexi participated in an Employment Forum for People with Disabilities, where he got acquainted with Zura Oragvelidze. With Zura’s recommendation, Alexi was invited to a job interview at the company “Dio”. The interview went well and Aleksi started working at the company the very next day. “This is the first job that I have ever had. I am responsible for assembling horizontal window-shutters. I am very happy working here. My colleagues help me to constantly improve and to perform my task effectively. Without Zura’s help, it would have been very hard for me to have found a job.” – Alexi Mchedlishvili.
The company “Dio” has attempted to hire people with disabilities several times, however, due to the lack of systemic approach, the company was unable to hire anyone. They got interested in CiDA’s project as it offered a complex approach. Natia Kutidze, Human Resources Manager at “Dio” comments: “At the initial stage, CiDA identified main gaps in our internal regulations and work practices. Based on that we made certain changes to workplace policies (to be more open and ready for employing people with disabilities), and also redesigned the building evacuation plan to consider their needs. We usually receive hundreds of applications for each position that we announce, however, none of them have been from people with disabilities. It had never crossed my mind that people from this group do not take part in the recruitment process, as there is no stated readiness from the hiring company. Therefore, our vacancy announcement now includes the sentence that encourages people with disabilities to apply for the position… The employment of people with disabilities has become part of our day-to-day working life. We all have certain limitations. What matters most is to have an open and unhindered working environment, rather than limiting people’s abilities.”
To overcome existing challenges and ensure a more conducive environment for employment of people with disabilities in Georgia, CiDA decided to focus on more sustainable approaches. ACCESS has been supporting CiDA for more than three years in its work with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Club and the UN Global Compact Network Georgia to engage businesses in social initiatives and support their cooperation within civil society organizations. The needs assessment questionnaire developed within this project is available online. CiDA will be happy to share its experience with other interested companies and support both potential employers and people with disabilities to have more access to employment opportunities.