Best Practices within EQUAL
On the Empowerment of
People with Disabilities
Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.
Teach him how to fish, he’ll eat forever.
~ Author unknown
As a contribution to a European Commission Communication on the EQUAL initiatives to be published by the end of 2004, the EQUAL European Thematic Group 1 ‘Building on Diversity’ Working Group 3 on People with Disabilities has decided to produce three different sets of outline papers highlighting the three characteristics that define the EQUAL initiatives targeting people with disabilities. These three characteristics are: ‘the role of employers’, ‘the importance of integration services’, and ‘empowerment as a necessary approach’.
This paper deals more specifically with the third element, the issue of Empowerment as both a necessary approach and goal by itself for EQUAL projects dealing with people with disabilities. It first attempts in providing a definition of empowerment according to four Development Partnerships from Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and the Czech Republic., which together form one Trans-national Partnership entitled ‘Opportunities 4 EU’. These four Development Partnerships are:
-Worth for Work in Finland
-E-quality Career Time in Belgium
-Supported employment in Czech Republic
-Vrijbaan (or Freeway to a Job) in the Netherlands
Comments and additional remarks were made by two other members of the group: namely Maria Kolionika from the Panhellenic Assocation of the Blind, and Erik Salnner from the Swedish Disability Federation. The paper has been drafted by Philippe Tzou from the European Disability Forum.
This definition is the starting point of what the exercise conducted between 4 DP’s, an exercise which resulted to the so-called NEST model, which sets out the three essential components of the empowering process, namely ‘the Individual’, ‘the Process’, and ‘the Environment’. The second part of the paper will thus explain the NEST model and define these three components, which were then used as the three essential aspects that any projects on empowerment should focus on. This part will be illustrated by concrete examples of projects drawn from the 4 DP’s.
Finally the paper will conclude by looking at the relevance of empowerment in projects aiming at providing equal opportunities in employment for people with disabilities, and to a greater extent, for vulnerable minority groups targeted by the EQUAL programme. In other words, the subgroup would recommend the mainstreaming the concept of empowerment into any EQUAL initiatives.
I. DEFINITION OF EMPOWERMENT
The term of empowerment here is restricted to a person’s own human rights perspective, where the respect and recognition of someone’s values and rights come first, and the person’s disability comes second.
A) Empowerment defined by 6 equally important elements: 
This definition puts the individual at the central position of the entire empowering process, where these 6 elements define the individual. Here, as one of the DP’s project leader states, “Individual stands for an individual person with a level of self-respect, consciousness of his/her own values and competences, abilities to think and act autonomously, and with a self-steering capacity. “ (Jan de Koning, 2004)
B) Examples drawn from members of the Subgroup:
Here each of the DP gave certain emphasis to the 6 elements, some focusing more on developing competencies, others giving more attention to self-determination (or self-steering).
Particularly the Belgian DP and the Dutch DP were complementary in their projects, putting the individual as the central position.The Dutch DP performed research on personal assessment, where the individuals were given instruments to perform adequate assessment of their skills and competencies before and after each training process. The Belgian DP on the other hand provided job-coaching using empowering strategies, where the individual’s self-esteem and identity were developed.
In the case of the Czech project, emphasis was given to identity, impact and meaning, where centres and networks of supported employment provided concrete job positions to the individuals, developing their self-confidence (or identity), and giving them a real meaning as to their role in the society (impact) and their purpose in life.
Particularly, the Dutch DP comprised a self-advocacy group (a rights-based organisation of disabled people advocating for the self-determination), which provided a significant dimension of the individual speaking for him/herself in any of the decision-making process.
II. THE NEST MODEL, or How Do You ‘Perform’ Empowerment ?
When trying to look at how the four different DP’s project can represent examples of good practices in the empowerment of disabled people, the subgroup introduced the so-called NEST model, which was used by the DP’s to identify the criteria’s for a successful empowerment project.
The Model, identified by the four DP’s, proposes the three essential aspects in empowerment: ‘the Individual’, ‘the Process’, and ‘the Environment’.
Based on the definition given to empowerment, the NEST Model puts the individual as the central element, and considers the Process of empowerment of the individual, and the Environment in which the process takes place.
In a symbolic way, the Model looks like a nest made of three circle, at the centre of which stands the Individual (first circle), around which the Process actually provides the empowering process to the individual (second circle), and the Environment represents where physical, social and psychological location where both the Individual and the Process (third circle)
The model actually has two interpretations:
From an individual’s perspective, ‘New Empowerment Strengthening by Training’.
From a trainer/professional’s perspective, ‘New Empowering Strategies in Teaching’.
A) The Three Aspects
As defined in Part I, the individual is defined by the 6 components of empowerment, that is competencies, self-determination, impact, meaning, identity and group orientation
The ‘Process’ is the actual progression the individual goes through, in other words the ‘Empowering Process’. The elements that are essential to the process are
The environment is the physical, social and psychological environment in which the individual undergoes the empowering process. This means
-family, friends, coaches, trainers
-organisations of disabled people, self-advocacy groups
-social security agencies, health care system, service providers
-rehabilitation and training institutes, social firms
B) Examples drawn from members of the Subgroup:
As stated above, the Belgian DP and the Dutch DP have developed projects with certain emphasis on the individual’s needs and self-assertion, and provides the required instruments for it.
Additionally the Czech DP uses supported employment services to provide individuals with a concrete assessment and progress timeline.
The Finnish DP mainly trains teachers and trainers to include empowering strategies in their methodologies used when performing training to people with disabilities. Therefore the DP mainly focuses on the Process by implementing training methods.
The Belgian DP put an emphasis in creating a favourable environment in which the individual’s empowerment can be realised. The DP developed networks and close contacts with employers and social security systems in order to proved adequate environments in positive conditions for individual’s empowerment to take place.
In terms of the involvement of self-advocacy organisations of people with disabilities, in the Dutch case the Dutch Council of People with Disabilities and Chronic Illness have played an essential role in defining the rights-based approach where the individual should design his/her own empowering process with the counselling and coaching of the professional. This role by the advocacy group has been widely influential both to the professionals and to the individuals over the empowering process.
Before setting out to identify the good practices in empowerment, the subgroup considered important to first define empowerment, and because of the limited resources and time allocated, it decided to use the DP’s involved (either directly or indirectly) in this subgroup as examples of good practices. However, during the course of this exercise, the members of the subgroup gradually considered that the methodology and the ultimate goal of empowerment also needed to be given adequate attention.
This was due to the complexity of the term itself, being a term attached with different meanings and interpreted in different ways.
The subgroup actually came up with the definition, methodology and ultimate goal of empowerment based on the mission statement of the trans-national partnership ‘Opportunity 4 EU’ states:
“We support job seekers and employees,
In an empowering environment,
Towards self-managed careers,
As basis for life-long inclusion.”
Moreover,the subgroup actually stressed on one important notion, where employment (ie finding a job) merely represents a means to reach the final aim of empowerment, when the individual attains a self-managed sustainable career and acquires the competencies, identity and self-determination that enables him/her to live in autonomy. Both the initial 6-points definition of empowerment and the NEST model very much stress on this notion, which the subgroup believe makes empowerment an essential transversal element that should be take into account in all projects aiming at integrating disadvantaged individuals into the society through active labour.
Particularly, the NEST model puts forward the three essential aspects of the individual, the process of training and empowering the individual, and the environment in which the individual receives the ‘empowering process’. The four DP’s considered that all three aspects must be given equal attention in order to reach concrete results in the empowerment project.
Conclusively, as a result of this exercise the subgroup considered that in order to achieve concrete sustainable results, a project that aims at empowering the target groups need to take into consideration the 3-dimensional NEST model, where the Individual, the Process and the Environment each plays an equal role. Moreover, the subgroup would recommend that, instead of restricting itself to the field of re-integration of people with disabilities through active employment and work placement, the notion of empowerment should be mainstreamed within all the EQUAL initiatives, given the aims of the EQUAL programme in promoting Employability, Entrepreneurship, Adaptability and Equal Opportunities.
This definition was developed by the Institute for Rehabilitation Issues in the Netherlands (one of the partners within the Dutch DP), and recognised by the European Platform for Rehabilitation.