Cases 09:27 10 Apr 2023

Massage parlor, museum, and IT company: how Ukrainian business provides work to visually impaired people

Even before the full-scale war, finding a job for visually impaired Ukrainians was quite a challenge. Due to combat operations, the number of people with eye injuries is increasing, but gradually, businesses are also getting on their feet and capable of giving these people a job. Rubryka looked into three projects that provide employment to the blind and visually impaired.

What is the problem?

There are about 150,000 people with visual impairments in Ukraine, of which about 40,000 have a profound visual impairment. Most of these people are cut off from social life. Many barriers, including employment, hinder the integration of people with visual impairments. Before the war, among the biggest problems when looking for a job, people with disabilities called:

  • inaccessibility of public space;
  • discrimination;
  • high competition in the labor market.

Over the last year, the situation has worsened even more.

What is the solution?

The Ukrainian Society of the Blind (USB), whose enterprises use manual labor, mainly deals with the employment of blind people. Salaries there are at the minimum level, but people with disabilities often don't have the possibility to choose because, unfortunately, for a person with a disability, even such a job is a great fortune.

However, many people with visual impairment can successfully work in other fields. The world knows many blind people who have become real aces in their field. Among them are musicians, lawyers, journalists, IT specialists, rehabilitation specialists, and chefs. The solution for Ukrainians with disabilities can be an inclusive business that understands that losing the potential of a huge number of people is an unacceptable luxury for any country. And there are such enterprises in Ukraine. Despite the war and the general crisis, they find strength and inspiration to continue their story and help people with visual impairments to acquire new professions and realize themselves.

Social enterprise Inclusive IT, Lviv

Inclusive IT

Since 2017, the Lviv social enterprise Inclusive IT has been training and employing people with disabilities, including those with visual impairments. The company's employees analyze and test websites for web accessibility. In Inclusive IT, blind testers listen to web pages. Testers with weak vision notice and analyze inconveniences on the site.

In 2019, Inclusive IT programmers created the first accessible museum sites in Ukraine. The pioneers were the National Holodomor Genocide Museum and the Khanenko Museum. At that time, the company employed 10 people from Ukraine and abroad, particularly Poland. Unfortunately, the number of employees had to be reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A full-scale invasion was an even bigger blow. The founders faced a difficult task — to try to survive and save a unique enterprise.

"Although I was mentally prepared for the crisis caused by the war, I cannot say that we met the loss of the Ukrainian market successfully," says Roman Borenko, the company's executive director, "More precisely, we were very unprepared. The spring and summer of 2022 became the most difficult, and it was not known how we would cope further. There were no large orders."

Роман Боренько

Roman Borenko

Blackouts were hard to deal with — it was impossible to invest in additional equipment. The solution was a flexible work schedule. There was also hope for a support program in Poland. But as practice shows, the support program results are felt much later than the support ends. However, one of the key tasks is the registration of a subsidiary in Poland, which was planned even before the war, and we completed it, shares Borenko.

The pre-war projects also helped to save the company — currently, existing cooperation allows both to stabilize the situation and to think about development.

"The Ukrainian market is gradually recovering. We are actively working on our web accessibility testing automation startup Digital Ramp. It was developed for sales in Ukraine, and now we are adapting it for sales in Poland as well," Borenko says.

As of today, the company has three completely or almost completely blind employees — a tester, a programmer, an HR manager, and three more — without visual impairments. One of them is a tester using a wheelchair. But in the coming weeks, the test team of development on WordPress is starting. According to Borenko, if the launch is successful, four more employees will get work at Inclusive IT.

"The war slowed down many processes. By and large, during the war, we took certain steps to resume activities in new markets. I will be obvious, but I was always inspired by the earnings for the team for the quality services provided. Because this is the first thing a business should consider," Borenko continues. "Our asset is the cleanliness of work, customer satisfaction, and their recommendations. We still need to do a lot: improve and automate our processes and create a team. But we look to the future with hope. We believe that Inclusive IT will be stable."

Massage parlor Health in touch, Brovary, Kyiv region

Василь Закревський

Vasyl Zakrevskyi

Vasyl Zakrevskyi, the founder of the Health in touch massage parlor, is one of the most famous para-athletes of Ukraine, an honored master of sports who represented Ukraine more than once at the world and European championships.

Vasyl Zakrevskyi lost his sight as a teenager, but blindness did not become a sentence for him. Then Zakrevskyi decided to attract as many people with visual impairments as possible to an active social life. In 2016, he founded the Non-governmental Organization of Active and Independent Blind People ONLINE, which currently has about a dozen activities — various running, swimming, Nordic walking, legal support, art therapy, and a massage parlor where people work with visual impairments.

Vasyl Zakrevskyi is a titled athlete, public activist, and massage therapist with almost 20 years of experience. He studied massage at an international medical college, then began teaching this profession to blind people and giving them work.

With the beginning of a full-scale invasion, the massage parlor Health in touch temporarily closed but resumed its work on April 9, 2022. Now three blind massage therapists work here permanently, and two more come to help occasionally. In addition, the team includes a psychologist who is also blind.

"We have many requests from wounded soldiers, so massage therapists often work on a volunteer basis. As they say, we are bringing victory closer to each of us on our own front," says Zakrevskyi. "Contusions, injuries, burns — all this requires rehabilitation."

Health in touch

To further promote the Health in touch brand and draw attention to blind massage therapists, in December 2022, Zakrevskyi set an absolute Ukrainian record among healthy people and people with disabilities, having performed a continuous massage for 26 hours. In addition, according to Zakrevskyi, he tried to inspire and motivate people with disabilities to lead a fulfilling life by his own example because all boundaries are only in our heads.

Now Zakrevskyi dreams of transport so that it would be possible to collect elderly blind Brovary residents around the city, for whom it is very difficult to go outside the threshold of their home. Based on the massage parlor, he would like to create a club where people with visual impairments could communicate and go together for short walks.

"All this would be a great joy for people who are cut off from society today," says the activist.

Museum in the Dark, Kyiv

Третя після опівночі

The first interactive museum, Three After Midnight, appeared in Ukraine in 2017. All excursions occur in complete darkness and are accompanied by blind guides. Every visitor to the museum has the opportunity to spend their time interestingly and experience the problems the blind face. The museum Three After Midnight is a social project. Funds from the sale of tickets are used to pay the salaries of guides and to organize events for people with visual impairments.

According to the co-founder of the project Alina Marnenko, they managed to survive quarantine during the pandemic easier than a year of the war. Then the company was able to reformat effectively and relatively quickly.

During the war, according to Alina Marnenko, the emphasis and priorities shifted — first of all, everyone thought about security. At first, there were no thoughts about reopening and resuming tours — it seemed inappropriate. In addition, the museum was just beginning to recover from the effects of the pandemic, and the financial situation was also worse. The museum's co-founder says that a year ago, she was sure the museum in Kyiv would have to be closed, and the only chance to save the project was to move to Lviv.

Третя після опівночі

In May 2022, Marnenko began to think about what to do with the museum in Kyiv — what to do with inventory, how best to transport it. Nova Poshta Ukraine's postal company supported the project. The company evacuated the museum exhibits at its own expense and also helped with the packing of particularly fragile elements. It would seem that the relocation issue has finally been resolved. But visitors from Kyiv started calling. One guy was very persistent, he wanted to book a tour with a girl he met in the bomb shelter, and it was to be their first date. The museum staff could not refuse the lovers.

Museum guide Yaroslav, who had already returned to Kyiv from evacuation, conducted the first wartime tour, but at that time, the museum had not yet officially announced the resumption of work. After several more such requests, the museum resumed its work in the capital in early June. However, the occupancy rate was quite low and not enough to cover operating costs. At the same time, the head of the museum was looking for premises in Lviv (the opening of the branch was planned even before the pandemic), and she chose it in June. The question of preserving the museum in Kyiv arose again.

Preparation for the launch in Lviv lasted from June to October. During this time, repairs were made, exhibitions were prepared, and blind guides were found and trained. However, it was possible to launch the museum in test mode only in February 2023. At the same time, it became clear that the museum would continue its work in Kyiv and will now work in two cities.

Аліна Марненко

Alina Marnenko

Currently, in Lviv, you can visit the exhibition in the dark accompanied by a blind guide, Art by Touch and children's interactive Five Senses is held here (both outside and in the museum space). In the plans for 2023, all formats of the museum will be launched at the new location: exhibitions, walks, meetings, concerts, and dinners in the dark. Excursions Walk in the Dark, Date in the Dark, and Experience Kyiv city tours continue to operate in Kyiv. Supporters of the museum also have the opportunity to purchase suspended tours at a reduced cost, which will then be held for children with disabilities, children of resettlers, military personnel, and their families.

The museum is proud of the fact that, despite the full-scale war, it was possible not only to preserve the project in Kyiv but also to open another one.

"Another achievement this year is what incredible people our idea was able to unite. Despite the war, we supported each other and implemented many cool projects together," says Marnenko.

Even more useful solutions!

To help people with disabilities find work, the project On Equals team created a special website. Vacancies from various industries and professional areas are collected here.

The project aims to increase employment statistics of people with disabilities in Ukraine in various fields in accordance with the professional qualities of candidates.

The project's slogan is "Only your talent makes you special." Its main goal is to break down stereotypes about the employment of people with disabilities and provide a tool for realizing professional ambitions.

This material was created by the online media outlet Rubryka within the Ukrainian Rapid Response Fund program framework, implemented by IREX with the support of the US State Department. The content is the sole responsibility of the Rubryka online media outlet and does not necessarily reflect the views of IREX or the US State Department.



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