Paula Rossi works in an organization called CILSA that works for inclusion and, more precisely, enabling possibilities of development for people with disabilities in the workplace. In this interview she discusses the construction of her own identity in the work market and the place that disability occupies – or doesn’t – as an identity trait of a person.
People with disabilities are challenged to build an identity as a way to break through and present themselves in the job market, beyond their disability; among many other challenges. The Center for Free Solidarity and Integration of Argentina – better known by its acronym CILSA – is an NGO that emerged 55 years ago in the province of Santa Fe (in the center of Argentina). It focuses on promoting people with disabilities and in situations of social vulnerability. Paula Rossi leads the area which gives guidance in labor inclusion. Together with Andrea Ruiz, Lorena González, Graziella Mascarello and Laura Bonsegnor, she promotes CILSA’s Training Opportunities for Inclusion Program, which encourages people with disabilities to not only enter the labor market but, mainly, develop in it. Society is going through a paradigm shift and this conversation with Rossi revolves around the ways in which disabilities are addressed.
—How does CILSA work in the construction of the identity of people with disabilities?
—The identity of a person with a disability is constructed in the same way as in all people: through their life experiences. We are experiencing a social paradigm shift in relation to disability. It is the context that defines whether or not disability is a limitation. If a person encounters obstacles generated by people, infrastructures or communications, it is worth asking ourselves if the limitation is within the person or in the context. If the environment is accessible, disability becomes just one more characteristic of a person. When someone has opportunities, they position themselves in the workplace, and thus can look at oneself and value oneself, they can also question themselves and direct their choices.
– How does this path turn out in relation to being part of a group?
—Basing your identity depending on whether you’re part of a group depends on the person. Some don’t perceive it as such; others prefer to make their condition invisible because they believe it will put them at a disadvantage; others, on the contrary, challenge themselves all the time, as do those who seek a secondary benefit from that condition. Whatever the position they decide to take, in all cases we intend to inform and achieve a true awareness of the perspective that the social model of disability brings. Limitations are in the barriers imposed by the different settings.
—What are the factors that most help people with disabilities to overcome their condition and empower themselves over it?
—Disabilities cannot be overcome, but they can be learnt to live with. The objective is to get rid of prejudices and ensure that people with disabilities can define themselves. The biggest trap we face is believing that disability is a problem: so support, an open mind and proactive attitudes are great stimuli in the emergence of a strengthened and constructive identity.
—What can be done to achieve greater inclusion in work environments?
—In our program, the objective is to promote labor inclusion and achieve a greater number of incorporations of people because they are suitable and meet the profile sought in terms of skills, and not to meet a specific quota. To reach this goal, we accompany organizations in the construction of selection and incorporation processes from a social model of disability. We encourage exchanging experiences to achieve an inclusive culture that recognizes the value of human diversity. We also work with the participants of our programs so that they are candidates with the psychosocial skills and knowledge requested, and with the greatest possible autonomy. People with disabilities who seek to be included in the open labor market should follow the same path as the rest of the candidates and, if applicable, have the necessary support to put them on equal conditions.
– What can be done from work environments to understand particular situations without stigmatizing or affecting work performance?
—If we are able to make decisions from a human rights perspective, attention to particular situations should not be stigmatizing. Working from this perspective implies a very important cultural change at a social level and a constant review of our way of thinking on an individual level. Information, reflection and empathy can also be the keys to achieving inclusive and fair work environments.
– Ultimately, what does inclusion of people with disabilities depend on, regardless of their condition?
—Managing diversity and talent in companies requires information, training, planning, networking, teamwork and, above all, flexibility and openness to adapt to changes and new opportunities that may emerge. Change can be gradual and progressive whenever there is a will. When we promote the transformation towards inclusive cultures, capable of valuing human diversity’s richness, we not only do it in the setting up of work teams but also as a business opportunity, designing products and services with universal accessibility criteria and expanding the profile of both customers and suppliers. This implies considering diversity all throughout the value chain.