An EESC hearing held on 8 April, which brought together leading actors in disability policy, including social partners and civil society organisations, points to the need to increase the employment rate of persons with disabilities, especially young people. Despite legal efforts, data shows that many of them are still facing discrimination in the world of work due to stereotypes portraying them as unproductive.

The main takeaway of the hearing was that the new EU Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities acknowledged the problems faced by young people with disabilities when it comes to employment and education. However, social partners have yet to see how ambitious these efforts will be.

Young people with disabilities face obstacles when they try to enter the employment market and these obstacles exist both in the private and public sectors. Indeed, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is disproportionately high compared to the general population, especially for women and young people. According to the most recent data available at EU level, people with disabilities are 24.4% less likely to be hired. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have increased that inequality.

Daphne Nathalie Ahrendt, Senior Research Manager at Eurofound, presented the results of a Eurofound survey: 27% of respondents with disabilities were unemployed, compared to 12% of respondents without disabilities. 55% of them are considered financially fragile, compared to 38% of their peers without disabilities. A high majority of respondents with disabilities are more likely to face depression and loneliness.

According to Francesca Sbianchi from the European Disability Forum's Youth Committee, "many of us face a higher cost of living and therefore depend on support services and disability allowances to live with dignity". One of the main prerequisites for putting an end to some of this inequality is to allow people with disabilities to be able to keep their disability allowance when they start working, in order to give them time to become financially independent.

Stefan Tromel from the International Labour Organization pointed out that although the new forms of employment represent opportunities for including more people with disabilities, OECD data shows that there is also a digital skills gap between persons with and without disabilities, and remote working needs to remain a choice. In order to fill this gap and improve workplace accessibility, trade unions need to work together with social partners: the economic and social councils of every country could be a good platform to provide that space.

People with disabilities face greater discrimination if they are young. With 2022 being the European Year of Youth, it is essential to gain a better understanding of the reality faced by this particular group. (rl)