VERBUND Diakonie Empowerment Fund

The VERBUND Diakonie Empowerment Fund helps people with disabilities to live self-determined lives with the aid of assisting technologies.

Michael Chalupka, Director of Diakonie Österreich, has a very clear goal: "Communication is a fundamental right. This makes it all the more astonishing that a group of people in Austria is denied this fundamental right. Because at this time there is no legal right to aids, assisting technologies or communication tools for persons with disabilities, so that they could communicate actively. Along with our partner VERBUND, we would like to close this gap."

The fund provides persons with disabilities - whether from birth or due to an accident - immediate assistance for a self-determined life. This includes the expansion of the existing advisory network for persons with disabilities and their families. In addition, the fund supports early intervention for children and provides immediate assistance for acquiring assisting technologies. A total of about 40,000 persons will profit from this cooperation.

More than 600,000 persons with disabilities live in Austria; of these, about 85,000 have learning disabilities and about 63,000 have speech impairments.

The Diakonie welfare organisation, along with Lifetool and the Austrian Institute of Technology, develops assisting technologies and accessible learning programmes and advises and trains the users and people associated with them, since the public sector does not offer sufficient support for these "life tools". The existing advisory network will be expanded thanks to the cooperation between VERBUND and Diakonie. The main focus is on counselling centres in Linz, Vienna, Klagenfurt and Graz, but also on mobile consulting services for Salzburg, Tyrol and Salzburg.

Integration into the Labour Market

Persons with disabilities are often disadvantaged – despite the Disabled Persons Employment Act. Recently there were five times as many preferential disabled persons unemployed as unemployed persons in general. The situation is made more acute by the economic crisis: The number of persons with "health-related placement handicaps" registered with the Austrian Public Employment Service has risen dramatically in the last two years, as has the total number of unemployed persons in Austria. Incidentally, VERBUND does an excellent job of meeting its obligations: The company currently employs a third more disabled employees than required by law.

Legal situation in Austria regarding assisting technologies

Services for persons with disabilities can be financed by means of various funds, such as benevolence funds or compensation tax funds. There is no legal entitlement to benefits from these funds. Various financing agencies such as Social Insurance Institutions may also assume the costs for aids, but here too there are primarily discretionary provisions. The individual federal provinces are also often involved in the financing of supporting technologies, communication aids or other aids. Independent sponsors, such as various aid organisations or "Licht ins Dunkel", are additional financiers for persons with disabilities. Moreover, major purchases usually cannot be financed via a single entity.

Based on this situation, it is clear that in Austria there is no uniform means of financing aids for people with disabilities. Long waiting periods, differing competencies, widely differing regulations and especially the lack of legal entitlement are characteristics of the situation of persons with disabilities.

A long-term goal of the VERBUND Empowerment Fund and Diakonie is therefore the establishment of legal entitlement to financing for assisting technologies for persons with disabilities.