Faster Way from the Classroom to Getting a Job – Our Perspective
Written by: Lazar Bulatović and Nikola B. Ilić, interns at the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia
Internships provide young people with the opportunity to apply the knowledge acquired during their education and to grow and mature at both professional and personal level, thus making the first step in starting their careers. Have you ever wondered about the difficulties persons with disabilities face during the process of finding opportunities for applying for internships?
In the first place, the buildings in which offices are located can be architecturally exceedingly inaccessible, especially for people who need wheelchairs to get around. The use of public transportation also represents an issue for persons with disabilities because of the small number of low-floor vehicles. An insufficient number of audible street signals and guiding tracks, which in some cases are inadequately placed, represent the biggest problem for blind and visually impaired persons who walk independently with the help of a white cane or other aids for orientation and movement.
Furthermore, we assume that institutions and companies offering internship opportunities do not always invite persons with disabilities to an interview for potential internships, even though their profile is well-suited to the employer’s needs. The reasons for this are multiple. However, they can be summarised into the fact that the internship providers might think that physical or mental disability would have a negative influence on productivity, or that they might somehow spoil the public image of the company or institution. It is true that sometimes internship providers have to adapt the workplace for a person with disabilities or acquire a particular working aid, for example, special voice software for persons with visual impairment, or they need to organise transportation to and from work for persons who have difficulty using the public transportation independently. Nevertheless, it is very important to understand that, in most cases, these adaptations are not as expensive as people sometimes think.
Another challenge is the number of persons with disabilities who actually apply for internships, which is extremely low. According to the statements of persons with disabilities who were consulted during the preparation of this text, and who successfully completed their internships, this challenge derives from the fear of being discriminated against during the selection process, or even during the actual internship.
Finally, we have noted the lack of open calls which would apply only to persons with disabilities.
In accordance with this brief review from the author’s point of view, we propose the following solutions for increasing the number of persons with disabilities who would have the opportunity to complete internships:
- In a systematic way enable persons with disabilities to have internships within institutions and public enterprises.
- In order to address the fear of being discriminated against felt by youth with disabilities, organise training courses on antidiscrimination for employees.
- Exchange examples of good practice between companies and institutions that employ persons with disabilities and those which plan to start employing them.
- Organise thematic meetings and training courses which aim to develop internships for persons with disabilities; this would include individual presentations during the interview with the internship provider, which would be customised exclusively for persons with disabilities.
Within this context, an important step was made with the publication of the Guidelines for developing the Antidiscrimination Policy for employers in Serbia, produced by the Commissioner for Protection of Equality.
Even though, it appears that persons with disabilities face more challenges in the process of finding internships than people without disabilities, examples of good practice do exist. The Centre for Students with Disabilities of the University of Belgrade provides internship opportunities for final year students and graduates. Persons with disabilities should apply for internships regardless of potentially unfavourable circumstances. This will undoubtedly increase their visibility among potential employers and enable them to become interested in what persons with disabilities have to offer. It also seems necessary to actively and continuously encourage internship providers and potential employers to include persons with disabilities in their staff.
We would like to conclude our review by inviting all institutions and public and private enterprises to do everything in their power to give young people with disabilities the opportunity to have internship and work experiences, as well as stimulating work environments, which will certainly contribute to long-term competitiveness and innovation of these organisations.