Lithuania is launching a project, supported by the European Social Fund, aimed at teaching work skills to youths with mental disabilities and, in the process, reduce the social stigma they suffer from.
A mobile café in Vilnius is already employing fifteen youths with mental disabilities, providing them with work opportunities and, also, offering free cups of coffee to anyone passing by.
“This project aims to develop skills, because in this car [café], there is a professional coffee machine [...] We hope that this project will continue and maybe we will try to find employment for them and perhaps some of them will find jobs in coffee shops,” says Ramunė Lebedytė-Undzėnienė, head of the project at the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.
Over September to next spring, the ministry will establish social workshops for people with disabilities.
The owner of a Vilnius pancake restaurant operating for almost a year says employing people with disabilities comes with certain barriers.
“Because a worker here is from a day centre [that provides social support], if we gave him a salary, he won’t be able to go there,” says Tim Van Wijk from the Netherlands, who also worked with people with disabilities back home. “We’d like to pay them, but we can’t.”
Four workers, including Justina who says she likes to work here because it gives her a “chance to communicate” with people, therefore cannot receive salaries.
Vice-Minister of Social Security and Labour Vilma Augienė says it is because it might be linked with “the [welfare] pay for daycare, and work relations bring in [legal] confusion. We need more regulation [...] to make sure there are labour relations, and the wages are paid, but it doesn't inerfere with social welfare payouts”.
In September, the ministry will call for applications to organise social workshops for people with disabilities, including learning difficulties. Some 17 million euros have been allocated for the initiative.
“We have received quite a number of suggestions on how to organize activities in service and manufacturing [industries],” said Vice-Minister Augienė. “[It will be possible] to establish NGOs, [public] institutions, so the opportunities are quite broad.”