The living and working conditions of people with disabilities are linked to health inequalities, but the same people are often excluded from activities and methods of workplace health promotion. An innovative project from Austria provides a remedy.
by Gert Lang & Karina Lattner
People with disabilities may experience vulnerability, for example because they may be less healthy, more frequently chronically ill, and suffer more often from comorbidities. They may also have a more complicated progression of illness, and an overall lower life expectancy than people without impairments. In addition, people working in organisations supporting people with disabilities face higher risks of stress and psychosocial dangers.
Steps towards making workplace health promotion inclusive
Many companies have already established comprehensive health promotion methods. Institutions which support people with disabilities, have in many cases implimented health promotion projects at the staff level. However, the extent to which the usual approaches to Workplace Health Promotion (WHP) can be transferred to everyone in these settings is limited. People with some special needs may miss out. In Austria, the project ‘Health Inclusive’ has adapted and tested WHP methods to become more participatory and inclusive, so that both employees with cognitive and/or physical impairments and employees without impairments can work together in the process of WHP on an equal basis.
Based on established principles of WHP and quality criteria, the project looked at the applicability of typical WHP methods and instruments. ‘Health Inclusive’ then adapted these methods to the special needs of people with disabilities. The ‘Health Inclusive’ project emphasised on the one hand involvement in participatory processes and the inclusion of the views of all those affected, and on the other hand on the special communication needs of people with cognitive disabilities. Consideration was given, for example, to accessible, easy language, and appropriate choice of methods. For example, the project developed an accessible questionnaire in easy language and an observation sheet. In addition, methods in the context of ‘health circles’ (similar to working groups or focus groups) were adapted to the needs of the target groups.
The methods and instruments were tested between 2018 to 2020 at the competence network ‘KI-I’ (Information technology to promote the integration of people with disabilities) and in three workshops hosted by ‘Diakoniewerk Gallneukirchen’, an organisation supporting health and social work and building social spaces in Upper Austria. Organisations representing 120 employees, the majority of whom have disabilities tested the results. Further, and external cooperation partner evaluated the project according to scientific criteria. It was also accompanied by an advisory board of experts.
One of most important lessons from the ‘Health Inclusive’ project is that the awareness-raising phase was very conducive to inclusive WHP processes, so this phase should be maintained in the future. For a participatory way of
working, all documents, presentations, and media should be adapted as best as possible to the needs of people with disabilities. Intensive cooperation, consultation, and reflection with the target group is essential. This means that the process takes time, e.g. for the preparation of documents, media, and materials for the target group as well as for the organisation of meetings and presentations or for the preparation of moderations.
A guide for inclusive WHP
The results were collected and summarised in a guide . This guide is now freely available to the professional public, published as a knowledge booklet volume of the Austrian Health Promotion Fund. The authors developed the report in easy to read language, and should be usable by people with a B1 reading level. The project website also features additional materials such as:
- checklists for staff with high support needs
- a video on health
- materials for games covering the adapted health determinant model and stages of participation.
Both the guide and the website are designed to be accessibility-friendly. This should help other institutions with employees with cognitive or physical disabilities use the results of the project.
The results of the innovative project are ground-breaking for the further development of quality in WHP. They represent a promising contribution to more health equity for employees with disabilities. The companies involved in the project were awarded the WHP quality certificate (Gütesiegel für Betriebliche Gesundheitsförderung) in 2021 by Austrian Network for WHP, in which approaches are assessed according to 15 WHP quality criteria.
The project was supported by the:
- Austrian Health Promotion Fund (Fonds Gesundes Österreich, FGÖ)
- Austrian Health Insurance Fund (Österreichische Gesundheitskasse)
- Health Province Upper Austria (Gesundheitsland Oberösterreich)
- Austrian Network for WHP (Österreichisches Netzwerk Betriebliche Gesundheitsförderung)
- Social Province Upper Austria (Sozialland Oberösterreich)
- Chamber for Workers and Employees Upper Austria (Arbeiterkammer Oberösterreich).
1 ENWHP. (1997). Luxembourg Declaration on Workplace Health Promotion in the European Union. Retrieved 18.09.2021 from www.enwhp.org
2 ÖNBGF. (2021). Die 15 Qualitätskriterien des Österreichischen Netzwerk Betriebliche Gesundheitsförderung. Retrieved 10.11.2021 from http://www.netzwerk-bgf.at/
3 Lattner, K., Peböck, B., & Bäck, M. (2021). Leitfaden für inklusive Betriebliche Gesundheits-Förderung. Linz: Fonds Gesundes Österreich, Gesundheit Österreich.