Disabled people still face big challenges in Latgale workforce

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In the eastern Latgale region, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the country, there is also the largest number of registered unemployed people with disabilities – nearly half the total number of registered unemployed people with disabilites in the whole country, reports Latvian Radio.

Aldis Laganovskis is the head of the "Impulss" association for disabled people. The non-governmental organization operates in Rēzekne and unites people with mobility impairments. In response to the question whether it is more difficult for people with disabilities to find work, Laganovskis stated that there are different situations, and that it also depends on the person's own desire and confidence in their abilities.

"In the past, you heard little about people with disabilities, they mostly sat at home and were not socially integrated, but now a person with a disability is no longer separated from society, and therefore there are a lot of people who work in our association, who are self-employed. In the association, there is someone who has been working in a bank for many years. This means that he is able to compete in the relevant labor market, he is a necessary employee, therefore he continues his work," said Laganovskis.

However, there are also still cases when employers do not want to see employees with disabilities in their teams. 

"Sometimes, yes, we come across cases where the employer, if he hears that a person is disabled, and if he has, how to say, prejudices, he tries to avoid such people," admitted Laganovskis.

There is also a lack of understanding of what people with disabilities need, and not all employers are ready to adapt.

"If I sit in a wheelchair, I need to stretch my spine for at least half an hour or an hour each day, so that I can continue to work. Will every employer understand that somewhere in the office they need a couch for me to be able to stretch out and then continue my work?" Laganovskis reasoned.

More than 50,000 unemployed people are currently registered in the State Employment Agency (NVA), of which close to 7,000 are persons with disabilities, which is 13.9% of the total number of unemployed, said Vineta Leončika, head of the Employment Measures Department of the NVA.

"In general, in the Latgale region, there are the most persons with disabilities among the registered unemployed. And according to the current data, there are 3,211 persons with disabilities, and in total they are 46% of all unemployed persons with disabilities [in the country]," said Leončika.

Most of NVA's clients with disabilities are of pre-retirement age, with vocational or general secondary education. About a fifth have been out of work for more than three years. And after being out of work for a long time, it is increasingly difficult to re-enter the labor market.

"In the Latgale region, a very large proportion of persons with disabilities engage in paid temporary public works, which are simply temporary jobs in the municipality. And then there are subsidized jobs for persons with disabilities, working with entrepreneurs. This year, 283 persons with disabilities have started work in this way in the Latgale region," said the representative of the NVA.

Director of the Secretariat of the Social Integration Fund, Zaiga Puce, admitted that the reasons for the problems that people with disabilities cannot find work are related to stereotypes both on the part of employers, avoiding such employees, and sometimes also on the part of the employees themselves, who are very self-critical and often lack confidence in their abilities.

"Many employers still believe that if they hire a person with a disability, it is very difficult to fire them. But the Labor Law has been amended for a couple of years now, and this positive discrimination, which was previously included in the Labor Law, no longer exists.

More than 3,000 NVA clients with disabilities have found work in Latvia in the first nine months of the year. In Latgale, where the unemployment rate is higher, employers have more opportunities to choose from the labor force, therefore it is more difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, compared to regions where unemployment is lower, the NVA acknowledged. But in general, employers' understanding of people with disabilities is increasing, it emphasized.

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