Work & OI
Interview with Anni Kyröläinen, Finland
Who are you and what is your relationship to OI?
I am Anni Kyröläinen. I am 31 years old and I come from Finland. I was born in Eastern Finland and after high school I moved to Helsinki from my little little hometown. I studied political science in the university of Helsinki. I have OI type 3. Nobody in my family has OI, so all this was a small surprise to my parents who got me when they were young. I have 5 siblings, but I’m the only one with OI. I went to all normal schools and was raised like my other siblings.
Can you tell us a little bit about your job?
After high school and during my studies, I did various office and customer service jobs. I have also done some projects in politics and elections. At the end of my studies and after graduation, I headed to public administration. I worked with the Equality Ombudsman under the ministry of justice on discrimination and communication. There I was also able to use my expertise in disability issues. After that, I worked in the city of Helsinki on employment issues. I did development work related to the employment of young people and marginalized youth.
I am currently working in the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. At the Ministry, my work is about work ability and changes in working life. This year, I carried out an extensive study on structural barriers to the employment of people with disabilities in Finland.
Since 2018, I have also had my own company, Riesa Consultative, with three friends of mine. We do service design and consulting related to accessibility and equality. You can read more about us here: https://www.riesa.io/en/accessibility/
How can we improve employment of people with OI and other disabilities? Services for persons with disabilities, including personal assistance and transportation services, play a big role when it comes to their ability to work and inclusion in working life. Practices vary in different municipalities, which is why attention should be paid to the developing regional equality. In addition, services should support employment better than before. For example, persons with disabilities who need transportation services are not currently entitled to reimbursement of expenses caused by travel during the working day.
Public employment services are also important for the employment of persons with disabilities. The services should be developed in collaboration with organisations and experts by experience. People working in the employment services need more information about the rights of persons with disabilities and about their services. Persons with disabilities on disability pension, who are willing to participate in working life or employment services, should be taken into account.
Also, the network of service providers for persons with disabilities is complex. It would be important that, for example with the help of work capacity coordinators, measures be developed ensuring that the services provided are timely and multidisciplinary.
One of the barriers to employment could lie in the employer’s attitude or the threshold involved in recruiting a person with a disability. Information should be disseminated about targeted training, for example. On the other hand, one challenge to employment can be the fact that persons with disabilities do not have work experience. This could be influenced through guidance for students, improved accessibility, dissemination of information, and new kind of cooperation between educational institutions and service providers for persons with disabilities. All politics should be disability politics. We are not targets of care, but citizens, schoolchildren, customers and employees like everyone else.
What have been your greatest challenges in education and work?
Lack of accessibility in society in general. Sometimes also attitudes. I feel I need to do more and prove more that I am taken seriously.
What is the status of employment for people with OI in Finland and other countries?
My feeling is that for some reason, disabled people who have OI, are more likely to be in employment when compared to other people with disabilities. I don’t know why. I wish the opportunities were the same for everyone. The employment rate of people with disabilities varies from country to country. There can be many reasons, services and support systems are certainly the biggest.
You are also on the national team of wheelchair hockey we have heard?
I’ve been playing floorball for over ten years. The last two years I have been a national team player. I have loved the sport since childhood, I am a football fan and for a long time I longed for the team sport that would suit me. When I moved to Helsinki, I immediately went to training and fell in love. The sport is tactical and fast-paced. You can use your game skills on the field and you can forget about all the other things.
What are your dreams and hopes for the future?
I hope to do significant things for accessibility and equality. I hope that my work in the ministry and in our company will make accessibility mainstream and improve opportunities for people with disabilities. I also hope that the Finnish national team will win the European Championship next year.
Any messages for OIFE and/or the readers of OIFE Magazine?
Keep the issue of people with disabilities and accessibility on the agenda! We do not have to settle for less. We must demand equal rights in all aspects of life!
November 17th 2020, Anni was invited as an expert commentator on national television (YLE) in Finland, to talk about discrimination of disabled people in the workforce. The cover photo is from her TV-performance.