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Is there a perfect recipe to empower learners with disabilities?

Mónika Szakács from the Symbiosis Foundation shared with EPALE an inspiring story about the empowerment of a young girl with a disability.

Mónika Szakács works for the Symbiosis Foundation and has years of experience in education and working with people with disabilities. Mónika shared with EPALE an inspiring story about the empowerment of a young girl with a disability.

I met Zsuzsa, a young lady with a learning disability, in 2012 at the living department of the Symbiosis Foundation – an NGO in Northern Hungary. Being an orphan she was alone and unemployed.  Fast forward to 2016, she now has a full-time job at a local restaurant and lives with her boyfriend in a flat they rent. So what happened between 2012 and now?

“Never give up learning, little girl! Nobody can take your knowledge away from you.” – my granny used to tell me all the time when I was young. Now I know learning is a key to having a good, well-paid job. Most people have a lot of possibilities to learn but is it so easy for people with disabilities? Unfortunately the answer is no.

Zsuzsa was involved in an awareness raising program, run from 2011 to 2014 by the Symbiosis Foundation, called My Rights – My Voice. During this lifelong learning program she attended a short training course on the rights of people with disabilities. She gained knowledge, confidence and competencies to be a trainer with a disability. During the programme Zsuzsa was chosen out of 15 participants to be a trainer on fundamental rights, including the right to learn and the right to work. The piloting period lasted for half a year and Zsuzsa gave lectures with a mentor at three different adult education providers. At the same time she gradually became independent and eventually moved out from the Symbiosis Foundation living department to a semi-independent home.

But her story does not end here.

Symbiosis provides services to more than 400 people with disabilities and their families in Hungary including a living department, day-care support, trainings, awareness raising and different therapies. In December 2014 it opened the third restaurant in Hungary where almost all qualified employees are people with disabilities, including Zsuzsa.

Symbiosis Foundation is an accredited education provider that specialises in vocational training and competency development courses designed for people with intellectual disabilities. Symbiosis not only designs training materials for learners with intellectual disabilities but it also provides the trainings.

People with intellectual disabilities usually have low education and in some cases they have a profession or a vocation that is not in demand on the labour market. According to a recent census (2011) in Hungary 53.4% of people with disabilities have just primary education and only 9% have a university degree. If we take a look at people with intellectual disabilities 34.5% have no education at all, and 37.2% have just primary education. Average population data shows 31.7% have primary education and 17% have a university degree. Compared to the average population we can see the difference is rather big especially in the case of people with intellectual disabilities.

These facts served as an inspiration to build up our training department through having accessibility experts and trainers design training materials in easy-to-read versions.


Catering assistant training material – easy-to-read version (front page and a sample page)

The key factors of our success are: small groups; carefully designed training material divided into small units; more time for practice than in an average course; sufficient number of experienced and motivated trainers; cooperation with vocational schools and enterprises; emphasising the aim of the course – to find a job.

We can provide the following courses: catering assistant, woodworker, launderer and handicraftsman (e.g. making soap, chocolate desserts, recycled paper products). We plan to start new courses related to tourism because there is a high demand for qualified workforce in this sector and inclusion of people with disabilities can be a reality if they are visible for all.

Zsuzsa attended the catering assistant training course and passed the final exam successfully. Since then she has worked at a popular downtown restaurant that serves 130-150 customers every day. Zsuzsa’s story is just one example; in recent years more than 150 people with intellectual disabilities attended a course at Symbiosis Foundation and 70% of them got a job!

Resource of images: Symbiosis Foundation


Mónika Szakács is a project manager and also a board member at Symbiosis Foundation, a Hungarian NGO. She is a teacher by profession and also a mental hygiene expert. Mónika has several years of experience in education and she has been working with people with disabilities since 2009. Mónika was a manager of several national and European projects; in 2015 the project „Learning Groups-we can do it” was acknowledged by the Tempus Public Foundation in Hungary in the adult education category.

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