Including people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace

The Special Olympics was also an opportunity to discuss issues such as workplace inclusion for those with disabilities. [Special Olympics Belgium/Facebook]

This article is part of our special report Special Olympics 2014.

SPECIAL REPORT: About 300 scholars, athletes and policymakers gathered on Monday (15 September) at the Special Olympics scientific symposium to discuss new and better ways to include people with intellectual disabilities in the labour market.

As experts at the event in Antwerp, Belgium, discussed innovative ways to better integrate workers with disabilities, some stressed the need to view them as assets rather than liabilities.

Innovative social inclusion

In a study conducted by Bart Cambré, research director at the Antwerp management school, and two Special Olympics athletes, Evy Ploegaerts and Andre Schepers, the “job design” is the best way organisations can improve inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

This means that once the company assesses the basic skills of the employee, the final job description is adapted to the employee’s skills and expectations.

“Employees are not viewed as ‘persons with a disability’ or as part of a group of people that are different,” said Cambré.

“On the contrary, the focus lies on what the employee can do, with his/her talents,” he added in the study.

According to Cambré, companies should treat people with disabilities equally,  as “they are not ‘special’ or ‘different’ but ‘specialists’ in a job”.

For instance, many intellectual disabled employees enjoy doing manual repetitive tasks in a job, something other employees avoid doing. This bring benefits to the company and to the disabled employees. 

The research was based on eight organisations that employ people with intellectual disabilities.

The symposium was called “In search of innovative collaboration for better integration” and organised by the management school of university of Antwerp and of Liege together with the special Olympics team. At it, a number of other scholars and policymakers made the case for a more inclusive Europe.

EU policy perspective

László Andor, EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said that disabilities affect the education and the labour status of a person. They also increase the risk of poverty and social exclusion.

“The employment rate of disabled people is around 70% of those who do not have limitation in work,” Andor said.

The EU offers tools such as the European social fund and “Progress Programme” to support projects and companies that help make a difference to people with disabilities by either employing or training them.

Commissioner Andor said that in the past four years the EU allocated about €20 million to 45 projects to research innovative methods of inclusion for disadvantaged groups, including for people with disabilities.

The scientific symposium is one of the many programmes the Special Olympics organised during the games. Other initiatives include an art exhibit where athletes with disabilities exhibit and sell their art work or the health screening initiative where the contestants get a full medical check-up for free.

The host town programme is another opportunity for the athletes to meet and interact with locals from a Belgian town.   


The European Special Olympics Summer Games are organised by Special Olympics (SO) every four years in a major European city.

SO is one of the biggest sports organisations for people with intellectual disabilities. It provides year-round training and competitions for more than four million athletes from all around the world.

These activities are meant to get people with and without intellectual disabilities ogethe and to give them the opportunity to be involved in physical activities and competitions. 

The European Commission has been supporting sports events as a way to promote social inclusion through projects like Youth Unified Sports or Sport Preparatory Actions.

  • 2-19 Sept.: Sports competitions
  • 20 Sept.: Closing ceremony

Special Olympics:

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