Stories from the field

Place and train: Hunan Province pioneers new approach to inclusive employment for people with intellectual disabilities in China

Hunan maps out China’s first provincial plan on supported employment to promote employment for persons with intellectual disabilities in the open labour market.

Article | 19 September 2014

Supported employment, Hunan China
ILO News – “Selling cakes is more pleasant than eating them”, says Shi Chang, a person with an intellectual disability, recalling his first job in a bakery in Changsha. With on-the-job training by his job coach, Shi Chang learned to work with other colleagues, and his employers recognized his contributions. Over the next two years, 20 persons with intellectual disabilities in Hunan province will enter inclusive workplaces, making Hunan the first province in China to formulate supported employment plans for individuals for whom work in a competitive and open labour market has not traditionally been viewed as an option.

Hunan is pioneering an innovative model called “supported employment” through a ‘place and train’ approach that reverses the traditional practice in rehabilitation of ‘train and then place’. In other words, place and train means identifying a job at the beginning of the training, rather than at the end. Supported Employment (SE) has been in use in different countries since the 1970s, and was introduced in China in 1999.

In early 2013, ILO, through the Irish Aid PROPEL project (Promoting Rights and Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Employment through Legislation) began working with the China Association of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families of the Chinese Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) and the Special Education Institute of Beijing Union University (BUU) to improve employment opportunities for people like Shi Chang in the open labour market. Then in August 2013, the ILO together with CDPF and BUU organized a seminar on SE in Dalian at which Hong Kong’s good practices in implementing the approach were presented, drawing SE to the attention of a wider group of stakeholders.

Jing Ru’s story: receiving on-the-job training after job placement

In the provincial SE plan, 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and vocational training centres are chosen by the Hunan Disabled Persons' Federation (HDPF) as pilot organizations to promote SE, and their job coaches receive an $850 subsidy for each person with an intellectual disability trained on the job.

Facts: Disability in China
  • Nearly 85 million women and men, or 6.3 per cent of the population, have a disability. Men account for 42.77 million or 51.55 per cent of persons with disability, and women 40.19 million or 48.45 per cent.
  • People with disabilities make up some 21 million, or almost 25 per cent of those living in urban areas, and 62 million, or 75 per cent in rural areas.
  • Among the 30 million people living in poverty in the country, 80 per cent are disabled persons.
  • An estimated 5.54 million have some form of intellectual disability.

Sources: The Second National Sampling Survey on Disability¸ 2) the CDPF Facts and Progress on Disability in China, 2008.
After completing vocational rehabilitation training, Jing Ru, a young woman with an intellectual disability, began working as a cleaner in the HDPF employment centre. With the support of one of the job coaches from the Changsha Huiling Organization, an NGO included in the recently published SE plan by HDPF, she gradually learned how to meet work requirements and to get along with colleagues and in the process, earned her first –month’s salary. Now, she is able to commute to work by bus and manages her assignments independently.

The place, train and support model for SE considers the interests and skills of the potential employee while also factoring in the difficulties they often encounter in learning, communicating, and socializing with others. Overcoming poor interpersonal skills, a small challenge for a non-disabled person in the workplace, could pose a big obstacle for them. Working while receiving on-the-job training with the support of job coaches is the key to the successful employment of persons with intellectual disabilities in an integrated job environment in a real community.

More than for any other group, including people with other forms of disability, people with intellectual disabilities face high unemployment rates and experience greater exclusion from education, employment, health care and other services, as well as greater barriers to participating in their communities. According to the latest data of the CDPF, of the 5.54 million persons with intellectual disabilities in the country, 2.66 million, or 64 .4 per cent have moderate or mild disability and are of working age (15 to 59 years). While there are no official statistics available, their employment rate is estimated at 7.5 per cent.

Hunan:The first province to pilot the supported employment model

In implementing its plan, the Hunan Disabled Persons' Federation (HDPF) will conduct a survey to collect information on the living and employment situation and needs of persons with intellectual disabilities in Tianxin District of Changsha. Subsequently, pilot institutions will be selected to identify inclusive job opportunities, such as in supermarkets, bakery shops, hotels, among other services. Next, job coaches from the pilot institutions will gather employment information by conducting an evaluation of job responsibilities at the business site in order match an interested person with an intellectual disability to the job. Over the following three to six months, the job coaches will support individuals with intellectual disabilities through job training, as well as in sensitizing their colleagues or department leaders to know how to support persons with intellectual disabilities, when the job coaches eventually withdraw. This allows for colleagues to become part of the ‘natural’ support for the person, within the workplace.

All the costs of the piloted SE services will be paid by the government funding, which comes from levies accumulated for non-compliance under the quota system requiring all public and private employers to reserve a minimum number of jobs for persons with disabilities. Similar pilot projects will also be carried out in Beijing, Guangxi, Guangdong, Shandong, Dalian and Changchun.

Guangzhou: planning to use quota money to back supported employment

The Management Interim Provisions of Disabled Employment Security Fund issued by Ministry of Finance in Guangzhou City in 1995, makes no mention of supported employment, which leads to the legal void in terms of government financial support to job coaches. “Special articles of supported employment will be integrated into the forthcoming document on the usage of quota money,” said Shi Hongming, inspector of the Education and Employment Office under the Guangzhou Disabled Persons' Federation. According to Zhou Haibin, Project Officer of the PROPEL/China, the Guangzhou’s initiative will serve as an example for other cities.

“The mayor of Guangzhou held a meeting with twelve municipal departments related to employment for persons with disabilities to discuss supported employment, which would greatly improve the employment situation of persons with intellectual disabilities,” announced Dai Rong, the director of Guangzhou YangAi Special Children Parent Club earlier this year. This meeting was in response to the letter sent to the Mayor by the parents of “YangAi” requesting the Guangzhou Municipal Government to start a supported employment programme as soon as possible. “YangAi” is an NGO organized by parents of people with intellectual disabilities and autism in 1997 to provide social work services and rehabilitation training. On 23April, 2014, Chen Jianhua, mayor of Guangzhou, gave instructions in response to YangAi’s letter: “The Human Resource and Social Security Bureau will take the lead in cooperating with the Municipal Disabled Person’s Federation and Education Bureau to develop the implementation plan of supported employment”.

In 2013, YangAi worked with the Guangzhou Huiling Service Institution for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, Southern China University of Agriculture, Yuexiu School for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Guangzhou INNO Community Service Institution, as well as the Municipal Disabled Persons' Federation, to draft a feasibility study for supported employment, which was also attached in the letter to the Mayor. In August 2013, the report was disseminated to stakeholders at the Supported Employment Seminar organized by the ILO in Dalian, which attracted the attention of a wider group of stakeholders – researchers in vocational training, many provincial disabled persons federation, among others – to SE. Subsequently, in November 2013, the ILO and YangAi jointly held a workshop, at which experts from Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia presented good practices in supported employment and on training job coaches in their countries. Based on these collaborative efforts, a Supported Employment proposal was delivered to the Guangzhou People’s Congress for legislation, which drew the attention of the local government and the public. Despite the momentum for SE in Guangzhou in 2013, however, no further actions were taken in the Congress. This led to the parents of YangAi letter to the Mayor in April 2014, which finally received a positive response and commitment.

Inclusive employment of persons with intellectual disabilities: Everyone stands to gain

Evidence shows that employees with intellectual disabilities are often loyal, punctual, responsible and reliable.
Twenty-eight year old Tang Naixin, a young woman with an intellectual disability, has worked at the Jin Feng Cheng Xiang Bakery in Beijing for one year, with the support of a job coach from the Rongairongle Family Group. According to the shop manager, “Ms. Tang is the most senior employee in this shop and everyone likes her”. Hiring persons with intellectual disabilities can reduce costs related to recruitment and help enhance corporate image. Moreover, evidence shows that employees with intellectual disabilities are often loyal, punctual, responsible and reliable.

Everyone stands to gain from supported employment for people with intellectual disabilities:

  • For employers, employing persons with intellectual disabilities makes good business sense as experience shows that they are often loyal and dedicated to the company, productive and have lower rates of turnover than others In addition, hiring disabled persons can result in preferential tax treatment;
  • For persons with intellectual disabilities and their families, fulfilment of their right to decent work enhances self-awareness and helps promote a sense of identity and personal worth. Moreover, work and vocational rehabilitation for persons with intellectual disabilities improves their ability to interact with other members of society and become part of a community. Work will also increase family income, promote economic independence, a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, and finally, improve their quality of life;
  • For service providers, job-coach training can build the capacity of their staff and improve institutional efficiency; and,
  • For countries, supported employment can optimize human resources through placing persons with intellectual disabilities in the workplace, enabling them to earn a living and contribute to the economy and resulting in reduced disability subsidies and improved channelling of investments on disability rehabilitation.