Inclusive Community Forum

Education

The Process

After choosing the second central theme, the ICF team made an objective diagnosis to identify the main obstacles that impact people with disabilities' transition to working life. The diagnosis was made based on interviews and focus group sessions in order to get a broad and correct insight into reality.

Thus, from May to July 2019, the ICF contacted more than 60 people to grasp the current education context for people with disabilities in Portugal. 36 interviews were conducted with a very diverse audience – people with disabilities, family members, members of government, members of social institutions in the area of disability and members of school institutions – and four focus groups (schools, higher education, social institutions, and companies) were created involving a total of 28 people.

Through this diagnosis, it was possible to outline the context of people with disabilities' empowerment for working life and put it in the picture – the Systemic Map. It is composed of several variables that relate to each other, in a logic of interdependence, revealing the complexity of the context and the need to work on it collectively. The diagnosis allowed to conclude which of the variables in the context would most directly contribute to strengthening the skills of people with disabilities for working life. The main variables were classified, numbered, and highlighted in green on the system map below.

The participants of the Inclusion LABs began their work based on the analysis of this systemic map, starting by choosing the key variable that each one wanted to work on (taking into account their power of influence and contribution) and ending by co-creating and testing initiatives and solutions for each one of the variables in question.

System Map

Main goal: to strengthen the empowerment of people with disabilities to an active life.

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Systemic Map Graph exhibiting the seven key variables of the Systemic Map, the secondary variables, and the extent to which they influence each other.

Systemic map reading:

This systemic map reflects the context of education for people with disabilities in the transition to working life –  the second theme that the ICF chose to work on – taking into account the ultimate goal set: to strengthen the skills of people with disabilities for their working life. This map, therefore, tells the story of how we can achieve this goal.

For the diagnosis on this topic, the ICF team interviewed many different types of actors who helped to understand the context of education for people with disabilities (namely what already exists and works accordingly, what exists and does not, and what is needed to improve) aiming at strengthening their empowerment for working life. However, this is not a map of the problem but a map of the context. And so, we don’t call it problems but variables. In that sense, this map reflects the variables that we can and should influence to strengthen the skills of people with disabilities for working life.

There are seven variables in green. For example, we were told that fundamental in strengthening the empowerment of people with disabilities for working life - which was missing - was to equip people with disabilities with social skills such as communication and autonomy. Thus, the development of social skills has a relevant and direct impact on these people's empowerment. The same happens with the impact of academics teaching people with disabilities, the alignment between what education and training account for and what working life demands, and so on.

The remaining variables, which we call secondary variables, help us understand the context at the origin of the main variables and make it evident where the action is needed to influence the main variables and, consequently, the final objective.

As we go through the map, we understand how this system behaves, and we realize that all the variables end up being correlated with each other. Changing one leads to the change of the others. This happens because they are part of a system, i. e., the system of training people with disabilities for working life. It is important to understand how it works so that we know how to navigate the map and understand each variable.

Let's start reading the map by variable number one – the school's ability to prepare for working life. The greater the school's capacity to empower people with disabilities for working life, the better will be their development of skills (including social skills such as autonomy). Of course, it is not only the school that plays a key role in developing social skills. The IPSS and their ability to prepare people with disabilities for working life, their own and their families’ motivation, and the level of isolation and segregation also play a major role. For example, the less isolated and segregated people with disabilities are, the greater the stimuli and, hence, the greater the development of social skills.

This is the second main variable of this map - the development of social skills. Working life demands social skills from everyone, and people with disabilities are no exception. Thus, further development of social skills by people with disabilities leads to a greater alignment between what education and training provide and what working life requires.

In turn, an education aligned with what working life requires facilitates, on the one hand, the responsiveness of companies to include people with disabilities and, on the other, allows for a greater ability of people with disabilities to adapt to different and demanding environments, as in the job market.

Let us first look at companies' effect, as greater alignment strengthens their responsiveness to include people with disabilities. The more able companies feel to include people with disabilities, the more willing they will be to open their doors to vocational experiences according to the Individual Transition Plan (PIT) - this is a very important tool used in the last three years of regular school education for people with disabilities. In turn, gaining experience in the job market during the training period helps to align both, so there is a direct link in this sense between these two variables. A better alignment between education and working life leads, for this reason, to a greater ability to adapt to different and demanding environments, as mentioned above.

And the greater the ability to adapt to different and demanding environments, together with appropriate vocational guidance resulting from the ambition and demand from people with disabilities, the more demanding education pathways will be considered for and by the people with disabilities (such as higher education). In fact, having a higher education leads to a better alignment between education and working life.

Closing the loop of the key variables and returning to the first main variable of this map, the greater the ability of people with disabilities to adapt, the greater the ability of institutions to adapt to them, particularly at school. Thus, increasing the school's ability to prepare people with disabilities for an active life. However, there is one very important variable that determines this ability: the teachers’ training in teaching people with disabilities. It is essential and very much targeted at the empowerment of people with disabilities for working life. That’s why it is also considered a key variable.