No jobs for the disabled in the EU?

People with disabilities run the risk of being excluded from jobs - discrimination still happens in many European countries. Cedric Hocepied, who's deaf, knows that all too well. Maria Christoph reports from Brussels.

When Cedric Hocepied, 26, thinks back to the time he was in high school, his eyes darken. Situations would often end with the same conclusion, he recalls. "They never thought I could make it."

"Making it" for Cedric meant finishing high school, carving out a career, finding a good job.

Today, Cedric holds a LL.M. degree in International Legal Studies from the New York City University and a Master's degree in International Humanitarian Law from the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Brussels. He is a Fulbright scholar, was a trainee with NATO and UN. He is fluent in French and English.

But he consistently gets rejected when applying for jobs in his field.

Cedric is deaf.

Many are unemployed

Only every second person with a disability in the EU has a job - compare that to 70 percent of people who are not disabled.

The legal situation differs within the EU which makes it complicated for companies which operate internationally. In Germany companies with more than 20 employees are obliged to give five percent of their jobs to people with disabilities. If they don't live up to that standard, they have to pay fines. Many simply ignore those requirements and pay up.

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Cedric struggled to find a job despite his many qualifications

In Belgium there are different quotas in every region. In Hungary there are no legal requirements. According to Eurostat, Hungary has the lowest employment rate of people with disabilities.

Young people with disabilities leave school at an earlier age compared to those who are not disabled. Many of them live on the fringes of society. Poverty and social exclusion are part of their daily lives.

But even the highly qualified are desperately looking for a job - just like Cedric.

"Access to the labor market is one of the biggest challenges for disabled people," says Christian Wigand, 38, Commission spokesperson for employment and social affairs.

Current figures are alarming, he says. "It must be the EU's mission to improve, simplify and standardize the framework," he added.

The Commission came up with a draft law in 2015 which should ensure accessibility to products and services to people with disabilities - something that was introduced in the US in 2010. The "European Accessibility Act" is part of the "European Disability Strategy (2010-2020)" which has shown success in making the internet and apps more accessible to disabled people, according to Wigand.

Matching people with the right companies

But laws and sanctions are not sufficient, says Marie-Laure Jonet, 41. She says people need to be willing to include people with disabilities. Three years ago she established the social enterprise "DiversiCom" where she advises and assists people like Cedric, but also employers.

"Companies fear to lose their public reputation when the cooperation doesn't work out," she said. They lack knowledge on technical and financial assistance when they employ a disabled person.

The team of four was able to match 170 people with employers in the last two years; they have 50 local and international partners such as L'Oréal, Solvay and Accenture.

Jonet who founded DiversiCom, tries to find jobs for people with disabilities

"Nowadays companies no longer only do business, but have a social mission too," Jonet said. "They have to incorporate social responsibility also in human resources."

But society should be farther along and not still be preoccupied with the fight against discrimination, she added.

Overcoming challenges

Cedrics disability is not visible from the outside. Meeting him for the first time, one doesn't even notice the small microphone behind his right ear. It is the so-called cochlear implant - a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to Cedric.

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When Cedric talks to someone he does not take his eyes off that person's lips. He has to concentrate on every word the other person says. The 26-year-old cannot make phone calls; it is tough for him to follow meetings. Small talk between colleagues in the hallway is not for him.

But Cedric has developed other skills. "I can get information, analyze and synthesize very fast. I adapt also very quickly to new devices, environments or unfamiliar tasks," he said.

With "DiversiCom" Cedric recently found a job that suits him. He has a special contract with the NGO "Handicap International" which is partly financed by the government. The organization fights for equal rights of disabled people around the globe, but Cedric is the only person with a disability in their Brussels team.

"It was a big change for us too - we were really excited to have him," said spokesperson Diana Vanderheyde.

Cedric now works as an arms advocacy assistant. The advocacy team had to turn their tables and chairs so that Cedric can see the faces of his colleagues when they talk to each other.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

Inspired by modern masters

Manuel LLobera Capella was born in 1990 in Geesthacht. His talent was recognizable at a quite an early age. His medium is acrylics and oil paintings and he is well-known for being a master at invoking the masterpieces of artists like Cezanne, Gauguin and Matisse. The painting shown here, "Der Raucher" (The Smoker) is acrylic on canvas.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

A sense of touch

This bronze sculpture was created by Hans Jürgen Heinze, an artist who is both blind and deaf. He has lived and worked in a creative workshop in Lobetal since 1967. Since 2007, he has shared an atelier with ceramic artist Gudrun Sailer in Eberswalde. His remarkable Talent is evident in this piece, titled "Frau mit geflochtenem Haar" (Woman with braided hair).

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

A portrait in three parts

Felt tip pen and acrylic on cardboard: That's the medium Willfried Kassner chose for his self-portrait with a jet fighter. The colors of the markers are mixed, making them pop off the page and giving the artwork an appearance as though they have been especially created as corporate design. In his works, Kassner prefers strong imagery like technology, ships, rockets, airplanes and fireworks.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

Spot on

Martin Vosswinkel, was born in Erlangen in 1963. An award-winning artist, he has received numerous grants. He currently runs an art workshop in Rothenburg. His composition shown here "Punktlandung" (Spot On) is made of acrylic, India ink and three layers of acrylic glass, giving it a dimensional effect.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

70 faces

The same face was portrayed 70 times in these 70 self-portraits by Stephan Kramer (1949-2015). The mentally ill artist titled his mammoth masterpiece, in which he confronted his life, "Taming the Demons." He received a box of paint supplies as a gift in 1979 and began to paint. His style was quick and expressive. Even after his death, the artist's paintings are sought after for exhibitions.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

Two wooden brothers

Boleslaw Jankowski makes art out of a variety of materials, including plaster and cardboard. He creates three-dimensional paintings, finished prints and sculptures. Shown here is his wooden sculpture, "2 Brothers." Jankowski has worked in Bremen at the Blaumeier art studio since 1992.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

Barriers for wheelchair users

Florian Schmerer is a regular visitor at the Amos art studio in Kassel. At his vocational school, he sketched circuit wiring diagrams, buildings and machines. Now, his Job involves deciphering, improving and implementing technical drawings. He needs a wheelchair to get around, which is something he deals with in this painting, picture "Stolpersteine" (Stumbling Blocks).

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

Inspiration from Russia

The artist Schanna Saranzew was born in Russia in 1976 and now lives in Bielefeld, where she is an active participant at an artists' house known as Künstlerhaus Lydda in Bethel. She began her career with small sketches; today, her pictures fill wall-sized canvasses and often have the motif of mother and child. She is inspired by classical Russian symbolism.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

Nine times one

Mustaphaa El Ayachi was born in Malaga, Spain, in 1977. Although he is physically and mentally disabled, the artist produces work at a very high level. His paints are quickly and spontaneously produced, as if coming out of his subconscious. His work has been presented in a number of shows. These nine portraits show the lively, unsettled sides of the artist.

Disabilities haven't hindered these talented artists

A colorful encore

This work by Jürgen Rudy is not officially a apart of the "Kunst trotz(t) Handicap" (Art Despite Handicap) exhibition now showing in Kassel. He produced the work in two pieces for the high walls of the city's Documenta hall. The pieces both measure eight-by-four meters (26-by-13 feet), a colorful, knitted centerpiece that Rudy spent months shaping into its amorphous form.