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J eanett Dian Amonsen was a high-flying TV journalist with a state broadcaster when a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at 40 derailed her career.
Lars Holstein was about to turn 30 and studying law when a car accident left him in a wheelchair.
These turns of events were frightening and disorientating, they said, even in a developed country like Denmark with a comprehensive social welfare system.
“Before my accident, I always could find jobs. No problem. Afterwards, it was very hard,” said Holstein, now 55, shaking his head.
Both credit their current employer, Huset Venture, Denmark’s largest social enterprise – where nearly all of the staff has disabilities – with giving them back their sense of self-worth.
Huset is part of a wider global trend of social enterprises – firms that aim to do good as well as make a profit – that strive to build more inclusive workforces by hiring people with disabilities who may otherwise have limited job prospects.
Canada’s The Raw Carrot employs people on disability benefits to cook gourmet soups, and Singapore’s WISE hires those with disabilities to design leather bags.
U.S.-based software testing company Aspiritech touts the special qualities of its staff who have autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
British tech firm Auticon also employs people with autism and works with big companies such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and global law firm Linklaters to improve the diversity of workforces along their supply chains.
Social enterprises could be natural, at least at first, for such workers because traditional companies assume hiring people with special needs is too difficult, said Craig Brown, who manages Trojan Mailing, based in southern England.
“As long as how you interact with them is done appropriately, they don’t need any more special requirements than any other employees,” said Brown, whose design and printing company employs people with learning difficulties and mental health issues.
“They’re told for a lot of their lives they are unable to actually achieve, and that they are never going to contribute properly… But they have a diligence that if I could bottle I’d be a millionaire.”