What are the main problems young people with disabilities face and how are they different from their peers who are not in wheelchairs? These are the questions that Matthias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) sought to answer with the help of two involved people and an expert.
The first topic of the event was friendships. Zsanett Adámi, a Paralympic swimmer, PhD student at the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Corvinus, wheelchair user, thinks that although she has many friends, she still has room for improvement in keeping in touch. As she said, it depends a lot on the issue of mobility, she lives in Budapest, where transport is much better than in the countryside. “When it’s cold, it’s harder for me to go out, so my friends come to me,” she added. “Making friends also depends on what kind of disability you have,” said Miklós Bálint Tóth, a research teacher at MCC’s School of Social Sciences and History, who is also wheelchair-bound. The pandemic has narrowed the circle of friends of all young people, and they have tried to take advantage of digital opportunities. “It is often said, Tóth added, that the digital space works against people, but for people with disabilities it is more of an opportunity.”
Speaking about integrated education, Adrienn Anita Tóth, an expert working for the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta and a PhD student at ELTE, said: “Currently, 70-73 percent of young people with disabilities are in integrated education, and social inclusion is an important goal because it helps them learn coping strategies. She added: “Unfortunately, secondary schools are less likely to accept young people with disabilities, but the drop-out rate is not good because it puts young people with disabilities at a great disadvantage in finding a job, and with higher education it is much easier to find a job.”
A reliable helper is essential
Becoming independent is a huge challenge for all young people because of the housing issue. People with disabilities are at an even greater disadvantage here, as they need more than just any kind of housing because of their situation. For example, Zsanett Adámi said that she can only rent an apartment in a house with 2 lifts, because if the only lift in the house breaks down, she will either be trapped in the apartment or possibly stuck outside on the street. Or a ground-floor apartment is needed by all means.
Finding a job is not easy for young people with disabilities in other respects, as they have a lower share of higher education than young people in general. While, as has been said, the post-Covid proliferation of home offices and other atypical forms of employment is in some ways a great opportunity, it is still helpful for inclusion in the workplace if young people have the opportunity to go into the workplace, and personal presence is a much better way to build relationships. “This requires a change of approach, with personalised jobs, part-time work, mentoring” – this is the expert’s opinion.
“My first rented flat was next to my parents’ flat when I was 21. I definitely need a good parental background, without it I just can’t do it,” says Zsanett Adámi. She now lives in another rented apartment, where she has the courage to ring the neighbour’s doorbell if she can’t put her hair up (one of her hands is injured), but she agrees with Miklós Tóth that it is essential to have a reliable personal assistant who “helps in a way that suits me”.
The role of sport and foreign environment
The Corvinus PhD student has also been involved in competitive sports, swimming for 23 years. At a very young age, during a water game, she discovered that she could not sink in the water because her body is lighter than the water. Now a Paralympian, she has won many swimming events, but as she says, “there was a time in my life when I just hated swimming. You have to get up at the crack of dawn, you have to take a dip in the cold water, the chlorinated water ruins your skin, so I felt like I wanted to stop. I will always be grateful to my parents for not letting me do that…” – she said. Now she rather enjoys alternating learning with training, as it is also a way to relax. She recommends everyone to go for a run during a long study session. She also tried bowls and dressage, but in the end swimming was the sport she liked best.
Asked if they would move abroad, Zsanett Adámi said that (she has experience of many countries because of the swimming competitions), the UK, for example, is a very good place for a disabled person, public transport is much better and every taxi can accommodate a disabled person. “People stare at me in the street at home because I’m in a wheelchair, but not abroad. People with disabilities get much more help there than here. To be honest, I’m thinking about it too, and I’m glad my PhD is in English,” she added. According to Adrienn Tóth, it is primarily the parents of people with disabilities who are tempted to move their families abroad for inclusive education and better healthcare. In her experience, moving abroad is also an attractive option for Erasmus+ students, although it has its own difficulties.
The audience asked about the difficulties of finding a job and the work they want
Afterwards, students were invited to ask questions. Relationships and starting a family are the most difficult questions in the life of the average young person, what about you? – asked a young man from the audience. “It is extremely difficult to get to know people like this,” said Zsanett Adámi. Otherwise, as she said, she experienced the same things as everyone else. Twice she has been in a relationship where she moved in with her boyfriend. She also uses the internet to meet people, but she is aware that stereotypical thinking is very difficult to eliminate. She tells all his prospective partners that it’s OK to ask her anything. “I know of three para-athletes who have become fathers with an intact partner,” she added. Miklós Tóth, on the other hand, believes that often people with disabilities develop a relationship with a fellow disabled person, and that shared experiences can strengthen coexistence.
“Where do you really want to work?” – asked someone in the audience. It has been said that people with disabilities are often happy even when they find a job. “I graduated as a political scientist, I can do research and teach at MCC, and I really enjoy it,” said Miklós Tóth. “I used to work at Telekom, Szerencsejáték Zrt., now I work at the Integrity Authority and I am also a PhD student at Corvinus. I feel good and I find teaching attractive,” said Zsanett Adámi. The discussion was moderated by Dóra Réka Babos (MCC Constitutional Policy Workshop).