Disabled people in Bulgaria are more vulnerable to poverty and isolation than any other social group. Less than 10% of people with disabilities are employed or/ and involved in educational and training activities. For comparison, the average percentage of employed people with disabilities in the EU is between 40 and 50%. Moreover, most of the people with disabilities in Bulgaria are working mainly in a sheltered or supported environment.
A number of global IT companies have included autistic persons in diverse project teams, requiring various roles. Microsoft in Denmark recognized that whilst its own people had to be client facing, creative, and handle a large amount of stress, these were not the attributes required to test and QA its software. An autistic person can make a significant contribution when given the right role and framework to work in.
Since 2010 ESI CEE has been promoting the talent of people with ASD for IT and expresses the willingness of IT companies – members of BASSCOM (Bulgarian Association of Software Companies) to provide employment for persons with disabilities in the IT sector.
In 2011-2012 ESI CEE implemented a project “Model for IT training and employment of people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders). It involved 20 young persons with ASD in ICT training and ICT internship in 8 ICT organizations. The project was promoted by the EC as one of the initiatives that helped people with autism to get a foothold on the employment ladder in Bulgaria.
In 2014 ESI CEE further developed the employment model with the project Society and work inclusion technologies for children and youths with ASD (SWITCH YOU) funded by the European Economic Area and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation. A functioning model was created for the inclusion of people with disabilities in education and the labour market with the support of all stakeholders via trainings, communication with employers and involvement of the families. The developed model enables all stakeholder organizations to continue to provide the service or organizations that plan to provide the service from the beginning with the help of the tools developed, i.e. the methodology, technological elements, results from the communication campaign.
The project involved as direct beneficiaries 24 children and young people with autism, 32 families of people with disabilities and 10 employers.
The project has been implemented in partnership with Autism Association, Adapta Foundation, Spain, Černorizec Hrabar Varna Free University and the Bulgarian Association of Software Companies.