Workplace inclusion of people with disabilities: an exploratory study in a public research Agency

The reform of mandatory employment in Italy, performed by the national Law 68/99, represented a crucial step not only for the assertion of the right to work for disabled people, but also a cultural innovation in the matter of workplace inclusion. Is this law sufficient to ensure this process? What are the aspects that, in the point of view of people with disabilities, are able to promote or hinder their inclusion?
The literature on working inclusion of people with disabilities has focused mainly on accommodation as "technical measures" to be implemented in organizations, but few studies have instead evidenced the importance of social factors in the inclusion process.
The research presented was performed in the National Research Council (CNR), the major public research Agency in Italy. 7966 employees work within the CNR, 371 of whom are people with disabilities. The aim of the study was to investigate how, in an Agency in which the management of disability would seem to be mostly left to the individual initiative, the employees with disabilities perceive their working wellbeing, identifying those factors that could promote or hinder the workplace inclusion. The study involved 21 employees with different types of disabilities, 9 of whom were male and 12 were female. As research tool, we used the semi-structured interview. The interview-guide was focused on the areas of the organizational wellbeing in the CNR, that is: balance between work and personal life; work environment; diversity management and equity; knowledge, communication and innovation; individual and group; responsibility, value and professional development; sense of belonging and professional identity; mission and social usefulness. The study was performed using the Grounded Theory method. Interviews were taped, transcribed, categorized and coded using qualitative data analysis software NVivo9.
The more critical factors highlighted from employees concern areas related to work environment, individual/group, value, professional development and social usefulness. In particular, people expressed a feeling of worthlessness of their work, reporting stress conditions related to the impossibility of career advancement and to the "lightweight workload". Another source of stress is related to the non-allocation of tasks or to an allocation of tasks judged below their capabilities. Therefore they perceive a sense of injustice and discrimination, feeling not valued for their skills and abilities. Some of them also refer the lack of involvement in working group and in decision making. These difficulties sometimes got worse because of the physical location of their offices, such as the work room of the blind telephone operators, labeled by colleagues as "office of the living dead".
The workplace inclusion seems to be a rather complex process, in which organizational/managerial factors seem to have an important role, as well as social and environmental ones. Organizations capable of supporting the inclusion of people with disabilities are probably more attentive to the management of diversity in general, more able to recognize and enhance the skills of all employees and to promote positive interpersonal relationships. These factors are also important for the welfare and productivity of the entire organization.

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Contributo in atti di convegno
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EAWOP Small Group Meeting 2014 - Disability and Employment, Maastricht, 23/10/2014
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Elisa Colì's picture
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