Jan is 55 years old, married with two children. From the age of 14 he has been actively defending the interests of disabled people. He is a qualified social worker. For 15 years he worked on a national level, mainly as the Chairman of the CG-Raad (Council of the Chronically ill and Disabled), which is a paid position.
What is your personal experience of disability?
I have a condition called osteogenis imperfecta (fragile bones) and I am a wheelchair user. My disability in itself isn’t so much of a problem. Society still not being accessible enough is the real problem.
When did you first start your engagement in disability issues and why?
When I was 14 I lived in a boarding school/institution in the forests around Nijmegen, locked away from society. From that moment on I knew I wanted to engage myself in making the full integration and participation of disabled people into society a reality. In that time we never even heard the slogan ‘nothing about us, without us’.
How did you discover the Independent Living movement?
In the Netherlands, we started fighting for independent living back in the seventies. For instance our personal budget scheme and our living facilities with clustered assistance resulted from that. More recently I founded the action group ‘back to the forests’. Since then we established contacts with ENIL. Peter Lambreghts, ENIL Board Member has been our ‘European guest speaker’ on our ‘Robinson Crusoe Island meeting’ with our action group and national MP’s have also participated in this.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
I think that must be the nuns, when I was living in the boarding school. Deep inside I felt that this wasn’t the way to go.
Describe us your present and past employment situation and experience?
I have been employed for twenty seven years doing a variety of jobs in disability advocacy. Two years ago our government in the Netherlands decided to cut the biggest part of the funding for the Chronically ill and Disabled Council. Many of my colleagues and I were fired.
Is it difficult for you to find a new job?
Very difficult, because of my disability but also because I have reached the age off fifty five now. A part from that, having always been a disability advocate stating my opinion loud and clear, I can’t say I always made friends everywhere!
What is your vision for the labour market for disabled persons in the Netherlands at present and for the future?
I am very, very concerned about that. Our Government are implementing massive cuts to social workshops and facilities for disabled persons without offering any other job alternatives. For disabled people who succeed in earning more than the minimum wage, who have a higher education or who are a bit older, there is no policy or support whatsoever. They just leave it to the ‘free market’.
What advice would you give to young disabled persons?
Don’t let your dreams be taken from you, strive for your ideals. Make sure you get a good education and go for it.
Is there anything what you would like to add to this interview to share with our readers?
Don’t lock yourself in and give up. Fight for your rights. The UN CRPD offers us new opportunities, we must grab those. You can only counter discrimination by taking action yourself. But one important thing is sense of humor and being able to laugh with oneself which you need to avoid getting frustrated.
Thanks a lot for your time and shared wisdom Jan.