“OpenMinds” in partnership with “QUEST” education, academic and cultural center, called for a workshop entitled “Hire Me” which examined the main aspects of the integration of people with special needs in Lebanon into the labor market.
The workshop, which was launched at Citea Apart Hotel Achrafieh was completed at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Saint Joseph University (USJ) over two consecutive days. The workshop hosted the renowned Randy Lewis, expert in the integration of people with special needs in the labor market, along with a group of academics and human resources managers from over 50 private companies, as well as researchers, heads of specialized NGOs and advertising agencies. The papers presented focused on models of professional integration around the world and the legal, social and cultural frameworks governing this integration.
Vice President of “OpenMinds” Suha Beyhum, said that we should not wait to do courageous acts and it is time to sow the seeds of change both in our spirit and in the institutions. She added that giving opportunities to people with special needs creates a healthy economy, a productive society and that this workshop is a cornerstone that can be added to this noble mission in collaboration with the “QUEST Education” center.
For his part, Kouyoumjian stressed that Lebanese society is constantly evolving towards the culture of integration. The time of hiding the people with special needs out of shame is now over. The time has come to recognize these needs and deal with them with proper means.
He added: The current quota for the integration of disabled people in the labor code is far from being satisfying and we should exceed the percentage that is required by the law when it comes to employment.
We should also provide the proper social structure that would promote the integration of this group of people especially in universities, several which began to cope with these needs.
He stressed that the concept of special needs is now changing, because, one way or another, we all suffer from a certain need . Not to mention that studies have shown that one out of five people suffers from a chronic mental and physical illness due to the accumulation of worries over decades. He concluded that awareness is still a key factor in the process of integration and that the rejuvenation of laws should be achieved in order to keep pace with the movement of society in all its components.
Randy Lewis, expert on the integration of people with special needs shared his experience with the participants.
Lewis, having an autistic son, declared that the US company “Walgreens” he worked for, has 17 distribution centers and 10 000 employees of which 20% have special needs.
“The most effective way to integrate this segment into the workplace is by providing them with proper training and giving them clear and specific instructions,” Lewis said.
They have shown that they are skilled in adhering to regulations and in making a minimum number of mistakes in the task assigned to them. Lewis pointed out that companies should evaluate job seekers based on their capacities to ensure that their skills fit the job requirements. He also said that their employment should not be seen from a charitable and humanitarian point of view but from a professional one. This preserves the dignity of the job seeker and gives him a sense of equality and social justice. All what these people are asking for is a chance to get a job and to be part of society. Lewis concluded that there is no disability that cannot be employed and that all professional achievements begin first and foremost by accepting the others and believing in their abilities.
For his part, Ali Hamza, coordinator of LEAP Center (Learning Improvement and Assistance Program) explained that the specializations offered by the AUST University aim to teach people with special needs the necessary basic skills. These will meet the demands of the world of employment. He emphasized that the center begins by assessing the strengths and needs of students, adding that in the center there are moderate cases of autism, slow learning and dyslexia. He concluded that the main challenge is to find a typical work environment and overcome the social and legislative obstacles that prevent the adaptation of this specific group of people.
Dr. Reem Mouawad, Special Education Consultant, explained that the “Step Together” specialized school, stems from the trust in the rights and capacities of adults with special needs. This institution seeks to find real opportunities for professional training and to develop workplaces that take into account the needs of special needs individuals. These workplaces are non-discriminatory, reinforcing the values of diversity and social justice where all have the same rights and duties.
“The “Step Together” institution preserves the dignity of people with disabilities, provides them with opportunities and experiences. It also gives them the feeling of belonging and allows them to enjoy their achievements like others. All this will lead to the formation of an inclusive society based on social solidarity.” she concluded.
Al Wazzan Jabri
Sawsan Al Wazzan Jabri, director of “Diet Center”, shared with the participants her experience with Zeina, who works at the company. Zeina is a person with special needs, who is passionate about the culinary arts. After one year of training, she got hired as a fixed employee. She now receives a fixed salary and benefits from social security services. This later allowed “Aya” and “Lamis”, who have Down syndrome to join the company as well.
Jabri added that this initiative is constantly evolving towards continuing education, qualification and employment. She also announced the development of cooperation with the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Center for Sustainable Education.
Dr. Hector Hajjar, founder of “ Message de Paix” “Message of Peace”, shared his experience with the participants in hiring people with special needs, noting that there are many medical and social care centers, but that “Message de Paix” is characterized by its focus on people with specific abilities that are productive forces in the human personality.
Dr. Hajjar added that the productive work of these people kept them from being a burden to their family and society, and that the age groups in this association ranges from 18 to 55 years old. These people produce crafts such as candles, decorative items, cooking utensils, plexi pots, etc. This allows them to become independent.
Hajjar stressed the important role of the government in helping these people through incentives that need to be given to recruiters and special needs employees including tax reduction, access to social security, and customs exemptions.
“The reception center created within the association was quickly transformed into a work-based help center to provide adults with special needs with professional training. This replaces group or educational programs with work, thus accelerating the process of integration and community interaction Hajjar “ concluded