Good Practice: We Empower uS bH - Better Career Opportunities for People with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus in Europe

We Empower uS bH 

Better career opportunities for people with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus in Europe 

Organisation     Josefsheim Bigge
Country Germany
Short description The programme focuses on transnational development, pilot testing and transfer of occupational support concepts for people with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus. More specifically, the programme includes activities such as:
  • Europe-wide exchanges of experience on vocational training and employment of people with spina bifida and hydrocephalus
  • Setup networks
  • Joint development of a support concept
  • Develop a resource-oriented concept so that people with spina bifida and hydrocephalus may achieve their full learning and working potential
  • Strengthen the method skills of this group of people
  • Inform the vocational rehabilitation centres and employers
  • More transparency with regard to the disability symptoms
  • Peer support: people with disabilities advise people with disabilities
  • Further training for employers, rehabilitation counsellors, integration services, job coaches and case managers
  • Assess the need for the further training of specialised staff
Co-productive activities People with physical disabilities belong to the risk group who have particular problems on the job market. To change this, the German self-help association ASBH and Josefsheim Bigge initiated "We Empower uS BH", a Leonardo da Vinci project which focuses on the target group of young people with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Due to their condition, they need special help and special support in the field of vocational education. The project brought together eight partner organisations from five European countries, and included people with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus as experts on their own affairs, their already existing self-help associations, and those responsible for their occupational rehabilitation. Together they developed support tools to improve the career opportunities for people with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. 

The ASBH and the Josefsheim Bigge planned the project together. Both were responsible for the project application work.
Service users with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus of all vocational training centers in the project partnership and members of the self-help association in Germany, Romania and the Switzerland were involved in the actual state analysis and needs analysis. A “future workshop” (specific method) with 40 service users from all partners was organized in the Netherlands. The service users and self-help associations tested and evaluated the instruments (modules) of the tool box in the pilot phase. The self-help associations were also important strategic partners to disseminate the project results and to guarantee the sustainability.

Three national self-help associations from Germany, Switzerland and Romania joined the “We empower uS bH”  project as equal  project partners:
  • ASBH, Germany           
  • Schweizerische Vereinigung für SBH, Switzerland 
  • ARSBH, Romania 
To provide the resources to corporate fully they had and an extra project budget. Representatives of the self-help associations and service users with SBH of the other project partners took part at all project meeting. The service users took on the role of an advisor and were involved in the development, testing and evaluation of the instruments and services of the future.
One representative per self-help association was also a member of the project steering group, to plan, coordinate and evaluation the project process and organize the next steps.
Service users with SBH are acting as peer supporters.

In addition the project was accompanied by the regular body and committee of service users at the Josefsheim and other partners (information and monitoring).
Underlying theories
  • Involving people with disabilities as experts on their own affairs as consultants in project activities is necessary.
  • All people with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus involved in the project should be given the opportunity to pass on their know-how and their experiences of certain topics to other people with disabilities (through instruments like the Peer Support group).
Direct impact  The methodical toolbox is filled in with instruments that were identified and defined by consulting “experts of their own affairs” and specialised staff, through literature research as well as by means of the future workshop. These tools are flexible and may be used individually. Seven instruments have been developed:
  • Guidelines for action and practical help in training and vocation
  • Empowerment and self-management of young persons with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus
  • Information, tips and hints for employers
  • Information for occupational guidance councellors 
  • Vocational biographies of people with these disabilities
  • Promoting activities with the help of friends, colleagues and the social network 
  • Peer support training
All instruments support the Empowerment of people with disabilities. Empowerment is an important aspect of the companies philosophie. At the Josefsheim we offer special empowerment training (“VrijBaan” for service users / “Request” for members of staff). We trained multipliers (train the trainers) to train others.
New members of staff were informed and trained about the empowerment concept.

Empowerment is the basis of our person centered planning process (future plan, quality of life questionnings (assessment / impact)…

Another conclusion from this project is to plan a project partnership and structure in a similar way and to involve self-help associations and service users in all project activities starting with the project planning.
Conclusions and results Many challenges were encountered during this co-production project:

  • It is important that representatives of self-help groups are not overloaded with work, because they regularly have a family, a job, an additional position on voluntary basis in the self-help group or association and additional to that the project work.
  • In larger organisations/institutions it is challenge to reach a common understanding of empowerment. So many members of staff and service users have sometimes different understandings and levels of empowerment. You have to have ressources to train and discuss it. What does empowerment mean for my job? How can I contribute to an empowering environment. 
  • Many representatives of self-help associations and self-help groups work on voluntary basis for the self-help groups and do not have the resources for intensive projects or co-production work in addition to their paying jobs.
  • In another European Erasmus+ project (INDIVERSO) we work with and for people with mental disabilities. We also involve a self-help association (BApK) into our project partnership. Many people with a mental disability like Borderline or AS(D)H or Autism do not view themselves as people with disabilities.  They see themselves as as having a social condition not a psychological impairment. 
  • It is a struggle to engage young people in the project activities. They fear stigmatisation in the labour market or in social contexts. One solutions is to involve the self-help groups in the project activities.
  • Because the representatives of self-help associations regularly have a job and work additional on voluntary basis for the co-production, the schedule has to work around normal work hours, it is best to schedule the meetings on the evenings or on Saturdays. This might be a source of conflict with other professionals from other network partners. 
Duration and Milestones This project has been funded with the support of the European Commission (Lifelong Learning Programme) from September 2010 - April 2013. 
Contact/More information Project Manager - Martin Künemund:

More information at: