Stable Jobs For Workers With Intellectual Disabilities A Global Challenge


There are almost 200 million persons with intellectual disabilities in the world. For many of them, finding a stable job represents a major challenge. In Li’s case, a little help has made a big difference.

Li Chao

ILO News– Li Chao is making marmite at the Wan Feng restaurant in Beijing’s Fengtai district. He is 27 years old but his intellectual disability has severely limited his development.

Li has now worked at the restaurant for three years, earning around 1600 Yuan (US$260) a month, enough to support himself. But this was not always the case. Before having this opportunity, Li experienced many of the same difficulties that persons with intellectual disabilities encounter when looking for a stable job.

Li’s parents both had intellectual disabilities and he was raised by his uncle, after his mother left home when he was a child.

No school or training institution would accept him after elementary school but his uncle’s connections found him a job when he was 16. He worked as an elevator operator for 500 Yuan (US$80) a month but quit after becoming tired of pushing buttons every day.

A long period of unemployment followed.

“The teachers give us techniques on how to be a useful person for society.”

The Beijing Fengtai District Lizhi Rehabilitation Centre (Lizhi Centre) – which works with the ILO – was to change things dramatically for Li, through its tailored training in social skills, literacy and math, handicrafts, cooking, domestic service and other job market friendly skills.

“I like to go there, as the teachers give us techniques on how to be a useful person for society,” says Li.

The job counselor at the Centre, Ms. Zou, remembers Li as very eager to learn. She recalls that on his first day he told her: “I need a job and I want to support my uncle.”

On The Job Training

The path to securing a job was not straightforward however and Li faced some difficulties when he started at the Wan Feng Restaurant. One of the challenges was how to talk and get along with other staff. Another was to understand the rules and regulations. For example, the restaurant received a fine from the Food Inspection Agency because Li did not understand that he could not continue to cook during an inspection.

But thanks to the Lizhi Centre’s pioneering “supported employment” model, Li was able to receive on-the-job training and acquire skills which have enabled him to become an established staff member at the Wan Feng Restaurant.

“Most students with intellectual disabilities are not able to adapt to the competitive work environment for the first few months,” says Feng Lu, head of the Lizhi Center.

“International experience shows that for people with intellectual disabilities, on-the-job training is much more effective.”

“Job coaches and psychological comfort help them overcome the challenge,” she adds.

One of the drawbacks of regular vocational training programs is that they don’t help deal with issues that arise post-training – once a person with intellectual disabilities is in the workplace.

“International experience shows that for people with intellectual disabilities, on-the-job training is much more effective – it is better to place and train, than train and place,” says Barbara Murray, Senior Disability Specialist at the ILO.

More Job Coaches

However, a shortage of professional on-the-job trainers has proved an obstacle. “Very few people are trained to do job coaching,” Feng said.

Through the Irish AID-supported PROPEL project (Promoting Rights and Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Employment through Legislation), the ILO is working with the Lizhi Centre, the Chinese Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) and the Special Education Institute of Beijing Union University (BUU) to improve employment opportunities for people like Li.

The Special Education Institute of the BUU is training job counselors to provide coaching for persons with intellectual disabilities. Prof. Xu Jiancheng, Dean of the Special Education Institute, says that each person with intellectual disability has different problems in open workplaces. Therefore, a specific plan is needed for each individual.

“They learn how to cooperate with non-disabled workers and train quite fast,” says Ms. Wang Huajie, one of 10 job counselors now working at the Jinan Intellectual Bright Center (Bright Center) in Shandong Province, Eastern China. She says that the training provided her with more knowledge and techniques on how to support people with intellectual disabilities.

During 2013, PROPEL-China will work with the China Association of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families of CDPF and BUU, to hold a seminar and share their approach with other vocational training centers. The seminar will be the first step in introducing the supported employment approach through the over 5,000 vocational training institutions for persons with disabilities in China.–en/index.htm

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