I have the skills!


This activity uses role-play to explore issues about the right to employment for people with disabilities.

Related rights

• Right to work
• Right not to be discriminated against
• Right to adequate living standard


• To understand disability-related needs in the workplace and in   society
• To practise skills of self-advocacy
• To develop a sense of responsibility and an awareness of human   dignity


• Copies of the role cards
• Pens and paper for the observers
• A small table and 2 chairs for the role-players; chairs for the observers


• Make copies of the role cards

Key Date
  • 7 OctoberWorld Day for Decent Work


1. Ask participants what they understand by the "right to work". Use the information at the end of the activity to explain what is covered under human rights law, without yet discussing the disability aspect.
2. Now ask participants to think about the kind of barriers that people with disabilities may face when applying for a job. Explain briefly the concept of "reasonable accommodation".
3. Explain to the participants that they will be role playing a series of interviews for a job of office assistant in the customer service department of a small company. Each of the applicants has a disability. Ask for five volunteers to play the employers who are going to do the interviewing and for another five to be the applicants.
4. Hand out the role cards. Let each role player choose one or two friends to help them develop their role. Give them 10-15 minutes to prepare.
5. Arrange the table and 2 chairs in the middle of the room and ask the rest of the group to take their places as observers. Ask one observer to be a time keeper.
6. Start the role play. Ask the first employer to call in the first applicant. The interview should be brief, and not more than 5 minutes.
7. Invite the second employer to take their place behind the table and to interview the second applicant.
8. When all the interviews are finished, ask participants to come out of role and to join the observers for the debriefing and evaluation.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Begin by asking the interviewees:

  • How did you feel during the simulation? What did you like or not like?
  • How well do you think you coped with your role? What was the most difficult thing?

Next, ask the interviewers:

  • How did you feel during the simulation? What did you like or not like?
  • How well do you think you coped with your role? What was the most difficult thing?

Next, ask the observers to comment:

  • Could these situations happen in real life?
  • Did the interviewers show respect and consideration for the people they were interviewing?

Then open up the discussion to everybody:

  • What can you say about disabled peoples' right to work?  Do you think their right to work is guaranteed in practice?
  • What do you think are the main reasons for high unemployment rates among people with disabilities? Is this fair?
  • Who do you think should be responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities receive fair treatment? What do you think about the idea of "reasonable accommodation"?
  • Do you know anyone who has experienced discrimination – of any kind – in applying for a job? Have you ever experienced anything like this yourself?
  • How can we work to change discriminatory attitudes in society?
  • Which human rights are relevant when considering employment possibilities for people with disabilities?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

Try to ensure that participants do not exaggerate their roles, but behave as closely as possible to how someone would really behave in the given situation. This may be particularly important for the employers, who may be inclined to overplay the role of an "evil" employer.

During the interviews, participants who are not involved in the role-play should observe silently, taking note of the way the roles are represented and any particular difficulties that they perceive from either the side of the employer or the applicant.

Inform participants playing the role of interviewees that the role cards include examples of "reasonable adjustments" that employers might have to make to ensure fair treatment for people with disabilities.

You may wish to discuss possible courses of action that people with disabilities and youth workers can take in trying to change the attitudes of employers. You could also discuss the extent to which the "employers" in the role play expressed typical attitudes towards disability or disabled people. 
When you discuss the possible reasons for high rates of unemployment of people with disabilities, you could give some of the following examples: 

  • a lack of knowledge about disability needs in the workplace
  • a lack of knowledge about what people with disabilities are able to do
  • low quality jobs for many people with disabilities
  • hiring for the "wrong" reasons (e.g. following the law / quotas, but then failing to provide accommodation)
  • a fear of new technologies and adaptive technologies
  • a tendency for many people with disabilities to try to hide this fact.

Try to highlight both the responsibility of employers, and that of people with disabilities to act as their own self-advocate.  You may wish to discuss why people with disabilities often feel they have to hide their disability in an employment process? Do participants know of any examples? How can this be prevented?

VariationsGoto top

You could propose that participants write the job advertisement for the role play beforehand, giving the job description and person profile.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Depending on the time available and the level of awareness of group members concerning disability and disability employment issues, you could ask the group to develop recommendations on:

  • How to change employers' attitudes
  • Running a campaign to address attitudes to employment rights and raise awareness of the accompanying issues.

Give groups 30 minutes for the discussion and to draw up a flipchart, and then 5 minutes for each group to present the flipchart.

If the group enjoys role play and would like to explore issues around discrimination of working mothers, then they might like to do the activity "Work and babies".

Another activity that follows on with the theme of work is "Trades Union meeting". It is a simulation of a meeting between an employer and employees together with their trade union (TU) representatives to negotiate wages and conditions.
Working conditions for people with disabilities have been improved after hard lobbying of politicians. It does indeed matter which politicians you vote for! If you would like to carry out a survey to find out about people's attitudes to voting in elections and civic participation, then use the activity "To vote or not to vote".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Try to find out whether organisations or companies in the locality have a policy on disabled persons. The group could run a survey to see whether organisations are aware of the demands contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to find out their reaction to it.

Further informationGoto top

Facts and figures about disability from the European Disability Forum

- Disabled people represent 65 million people in the European Union.

- Disabled people are two to three times more likely to unemployed than non-disabled people.

- Only 16 % of those who face work restrictions are provided with some assistance to work.

- Many disabled people are "discouraged workers" and don't even attempt to enter the labour force. They are therefore classified as inactive.

- The more severe the degree of disability, the lower the participation in the labour force. Only 20% of people with severe disabilities work, compared to 68% for those without disabilities.

- Across Europe, 38% of disabled people aged 16-34 have an earned income, compared to 64% of non-disabled people. Disabled people's income is dramatically lower than the income of non-disabled people.

Source: www.edf-feph.org

The estimated population of the Council of Europe member states is 800 million, which means that there must be approximately 80 million disabled people within their borders. The WHO estimates that over one billion people, about 15% of the world's population, have some form of disability in the world today. The number is increasing because of war and destruction, unhealthy living conditions, or the absence of knowledge about disability, its causes, prevention and treatment. Among people with disabilities, women, children, elders, victims of torture, refugees and displaced persons, and migrant workers are particularly vulnerable. For example, women with a disability are discriminated against both because of their gender and because of their disability.

The Right to Work
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Article 6:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts (…)
Article 7:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work (…)

European Social Charter (ESC)
Part I
Everyone shall have the opportunity to earn his living in an occupation freely entered upon ... .
All workers have the right to just conditions of work.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This treaty was opened for signature in March 2007
Article 27:
1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation … .

For further information about disability and human rights education, see www.hrea.org

"Reasonable accommodation"
A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that would allow a person with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.
For example, a blind typist cannot use a standard computer and keyboard. In order to deal with such barriers, the concept of reasonable accommodation was developed. When some aspect of the workplace puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled, an employer has to take steps to "equalise" the working environment. Under the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, employers will be obliged to make such a "reasonable adjustment", and not to do so will be regarded as discrimination.

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

Role cards:

Applicant 1:

You are a hard-of-hearing person. You lip read well in good lighting conditions. You always check that you understand what is being said by asking, for example, “Am I right in understanding that…?” In order to work effectively in the organisation, you will need an induction loop in the meeting room (a wire that helps to transmit sounds directly to a hearing aid), a phone with volume amplifier and a light alarm or text-telephone.

Think about what you will need to ask for in the interview and how you will do so.

Applicant 2:

You are a deaf person and use sign language. For the interview, you need to be accompanied by an interpreter and this will mean that you will need extra time for the interview. In the workplace you will need a text-telephone (a Tele Typewriter – a device that uses text instead of voice to communicate via telephone lines) and/or text relay service (an operator service that allows people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, speech-disabled, or deafblind to place calls to standard telephone users via a keyboard or assistive device) to enable you to communicate with customers.

Think about what you will need to ask for in the interview and how you will do so.

Note: You will need to ask one of the other participants to be your interpreter.

Applicant 3:

You are a blind person and need to be accompanied by an assistant whose travel expenses (to the interview) must be paid by the employer. In the workplace you will need a computer with a special keyboard and software that “speaks” the text on the screen to you. To be able to get around, you will need to bring your guide dog. You know that employers may be reluctant to employ you because of the cost and availability of the technological support you will need.

Think about what you will need to ask for in the interview and how you will do so.

Note: You will need to ask one of the other participants to accompany you.

Applicant 4:

You are a person using to a wheelchair. You need the building to be accessible, with nearby parking, and you will need all doorways, elevators, toilets, offices and common areas to be accessible for a wheelchair. If there are steps leading to any of these you will need ramps installing. You will also need a modified workspace with a desk that allows a wheelchair to fit underneath it.

Think about what you will need to ask for in the interview and how you will do so.

Applicant 5:

You are a person with dyslexia and you are applying for a job which will involve a certain amount of reading and letter writing. You have excellent qualifications for the job, including being able to read and write very well, but you find it difficult to work in noisy or stressful situations and within short deadlines. You ask for more time to complete the letter writing test that you are expected to complete as part of the application process.

Think about what you will need to ask for in the interview and how you will do so.

Employers' role cards:

Employer 1:

You will be interviewing a hard-of-hearing person. You talk to the interviewee with your mouth half shut, look away frequently and sit in a badly lit place so that it is hard to see your mouth clearly. Talk fast and be impatient and unwilling to answer the questions of clarification put by the applicant. When s/he asks you to repeat something, do so reluctantly, and in an exaggerated way, giving the impression that the applicant was stupid not to understand it first time round.

Think about the questions you might want to ask the applicant at interview.

Employer 2:

You will be interviewing someone who is completely deaf and you will communicate with them through an interpreter. In the interview you address remarks to the interpreter, not to the applicant. You are in a hurry and do not want to waste too much time waiting while your speech is interpreted or while the applicant is communicating his/her comments to the interpreter. You often interrupt the deaf person at these moments. You cannot understand how a deaf person will be able to communicate with the customers and you think that the sign language interpretation at the interview is a waste of time. You also believe that the deaf person will always need a sign language interpreter in the workplace - though he/she will deny it - and you do not want an extra person in the office.

Think about the questions you might want to ask the applicant at interview.

Employer 3:

You will be interviewing a blind person and you cannot see that someone who is blind is at all suitable for the job. You are sure that the technology required will be too costly and, anyway, could not compensate for the disability of being blind. You are also concerned that other staff will not be able to communicate with him/her.

Think about the questions you might want to ask the applicant at interview.

Employer 4:

You will be interviewing a person in a wheelchair. They will ask about wheelchair access and your building is not at all suitable for wheelchairs. You know that it would be too expensive to make the necessary adaptations but you will try not to use this as a reason because you know that it is illegal to discriminate against a candidate simply because they are disabled.
You will try to find other excuses and reasons, although you really believe that this candidate is very suitable for the job.

Think about the questions you might want to ask the applicant at interview.

Employer 5:

You will be interviewing a person with dyslexia and you are irritated by their extra demands. All applicants have been given a test of their letter writing ability and you are not prepared to accept that this applicant should be given any longer to complete the task. You think that if they are not able to write a letter in the given time and under the same conditions as everyone else, they should not be given the job.

Think about the questions you might want to ask the applicant at interview.