ENIL are delighted to introduce you to our newest Role Model, Elena Ratoi who is from Moldova and was one of the participants of ENIL’s 2014 Study Session.
What is your personal experience of disability?
Throughout my whole life I have had a mobility impairment. I have not known any other situation and so I cannot not compare life before and after. Everything related to my disability I took as something normal and I just had to adapt to different life situations. Maybe because of this I did not feel myself to be treated differently. Growing up I was not isolated from my peers. My family and my friends helped me a lot to cope with various cases of discrimination or unequal treatment, like inaccessible environment or the prying eyes of the people.
For a long period I have been trying to fight against a lot of stereotypes in relation to disability. When I was in school, the teachers tried to mark me with a label of ‘good girl’, just because I am a person with a disability, I have to be an example for others, to give them a hope that they have all the opportunities to change their life in a better way. Starting with the school faculty, I was able to break all those thoughts and to prove I am not better or worse than anyone else. I am just different, with my own character, my own way of being who I am, with my own way thinking and so on. I started to become involved in a number of activities by attending different events and becoming engaged in different areas, like the youth field. First, you have to put forward your abilities and skills and people will recognize you and like you as a person, rather than a person with disabilities.
Because I wish to be a lawyer, I fight for equal obligations as well as for equal rights, we can counteract so called “positive discrimination”, because I believe everybody is responsible for his actions, and the disability must not be taken into account.
When did you first start your engagement with disability issues and why?
For a large part of my life I have been involved in a lot of different activities but was not very involved in the disability field. Even if I am a person with disabilities, I had advocated for everything, except the human rights of people with disabilities! Because of this I was shocked to realize I knew nothing about disability field. I first realised this in 2012, when I got a job in a DPO, called Association “MOTIVATIE”, and I started to work with many people with disabilities. One big push for my engagement was the fact that I was involved in a project on monitoring of human rights of persons with disabilities in Moldova, where I met people with different types of disability and I found out that each type of disability has its own features. I started to learn to communicate with people with disabilities taking into account the specific aspects of their personality, their physical situation, their life experience. It was hard, especially when I interviewed people with disabilities have faced rough experiences in their life.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
I cannot choose a single person who had an influence on my life. Every day I meet a lot of new people and each of them has his own life story. I can learn something new from everybody, because people have various life experiences and each of them make them stronger in some aspects. Well-known human rights advocators, politicians, leaders as well as simple, ordinary people have something specific which make them different from others. Sometimes it is kindness, smartness, patience, courage or another virtue which you can borrow or copy.
Is it difficult for you to find a new job?
The labour market in Moldova is a competitive one and it is pretty hard for everybody to find a job. The first time I got a job after the graduating the high school, it was a part-time job, designed for students and young people. I looked for it for a long time; I have passed a lot of job interviews and every time the employers have found some new arguments not to employ me. I just did not lose my hope and kept trying till I have found something suitable for me. Even now it would be hard to find a new job, because a well-qualified and well-paid job has a lot of requirements, like to have a master’s degree, several years of work experience in the field and to speak several foreign languages.
Nowadays, the employers are much more open to employing a person with disability. However, the biggest problem is we do not have trained young professionals with disabilities who would meet all the requirements.
Describe your present employment and even your past employment experience?
Since 2012 I have been employed in Association “MOTIVATIE” of Moldova, which is a DPO and has worked since 2002 for social inclusion of people with mobility disabilities. We developed services for young people with disabilities in several directions: employment and professional education, promoting accessible infrastructure and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. For some time I undertook two roles: project assistant and public relations coordinator. Now I do only public relations for the organisation. Taking into account I have graduated from a Law Faculty, it was a challenge for me to requalify and to work in the public relations field. I like my job because it requests a lot of flexibility and it triggers me daily. I have to improve my skills and knowledge continuously.
Also, I led several small projects, initiated by a group of young people. They were implemented in the field of media for youth. We managed to print several editions of a newspaper for young people in order to motivate them to become more active and more involved in social activities.
Speaking about my previous job, it was in the research field. I worked like data operator and everyday I found out a lot of interesting information about people’s point of view on different topics.
Of which achievement from employment are you most proud?
I am proud I am at least employed and I have an independent life. I was involved in several fields, like youth, research and now in the disability field. For sure it made me more tolerant and more flexible to work with different types of people. I am proud of my work and my colleagues work every time our beneficiaries tell us how important our work and our service I for them. I am also proud when other institutions ask us for help and our intervention as it means that our work is necessary and useful.
I think my most important achievement is still waiting for me.
What is your vision for the labour market for disabled persons in your country at present and for the future?
As I said before, to find a job is quite problematic for any person at the moment in Moldova. The labour market is competitive and not well developed. The unemployment level in Moldova is high and a lot of people decide to go abroad for a better-paid job. The Moldavian society is still in transition after the soviet experience and it faces economic difficulties.
Unfortunately, for people with disabilities the situation is worse, taking into account that some work places are not accessible and that there are still a lot of stereotypes about employees with disabilities and there are still barriers to high level education for people with disabilities.
In the organisation I work for, we developed a service to help people with disabilities to find a job and to apply for vocational education. With my colleagues we organize different activities for Human Resource managers and we notice that how after these activities they become more and more open to employing people with disabilities, especially after adopting the quota regarding employees with disabilities. However, the biggest problem is to find the suitable person who would fit the job responsibilities. Because of the education system, most people with disabilities do not have an education and they are just excluded from the employment system due to this. I also think that many disabled people are passive to change something in their life and to face responsibilities as it can be difficult and they need to support to do this.
What advice would you give to young disabled persons?
To be more active and to fight for their rights. It is a waste of time to expect somebody else to advocate for your rights instead of you. Many young disabled people complain of the difficulty of gaining professional experience, but one solution to this could be volunteering. I urge all people with disabilities to decide what they like to do and to do this properly through volunteering activities. It can develop in you a lot of new skills and it can serve as job experience. So, don’t give up!