Topic: The establishment of a centre for young persons with slight disabilities and its impact on social life in a rural context: the example of höch, austria
Keywords: Persons with disabilities, second labour market, integration, rural
In 2012 the former school building in the Austrian village of Höch (population 330) was sold to a pharmacist couple. A local municipal councillor, who was also the head of the local tourist agency, persuaded them to open a small cafe’ in the building, and to hire him as manager. He also developed a concept called “Inclusive Work”, and was able to get the “Lebenshilfe” (an organisation which supports people with disabilities) to come on board in 2015. Since then, a multipurpose centre was established with different learning and working environments such as a café, a farmer’s shop where local products are sold, a workshop where natural products are made and sold, e.g., soaps, yoga cushions, and
organic herbs. The centre is run by two women with the help and support of nine young people with slight disabilities.
My talk will highlight how this concept enabled the young people, who were unable to find work in the “first” labour market, were integrated into community life. The talk will present the different kind of activities that were established over time to strengthen the contacts between the local and the wider population and the centre. Here, particular emphasis is put on different forms of cooperation (renting land for the production of herbs, buying products from local producers for further processing) and interactions (visits from different groups within and external to the municipality, selling the products produced in the centre at local events, etc.) that has been established between the (local) community and the centre. This has also contributed to changes in the mutual perception and narratives between the population and the young people alike. The study uses an ethnographic approach including participant observation and interviews with key persons involved in this process, some of the local families as well as the young people working in the centre, so to get a broader picture from all sides. The interviews were conducted during several visits to the region between 2017 and 2018.