1. Statistics and legislation
  2. Number of employees and their adaptation
  3. Investments in spatial accessibility
  4. Expectations from the state

According to the latest data from the Ministry of Reintegration, there are 3 million people with disabilities in Ukraine. For comparison, in 2021, there were 2.7 million such people in Ukraine. Unfortunately, these figures cannot be considered final, as the number of Ukrainians with disabilities is constantly increasing due to the hostilities.

Among them, there are many young, energetic and ambitious people who seek professional fulfillment and want to provide for themselves and their families on their own. Against the backdrop of the staff shortage experienced by the Ukrainian labor market, people with disabilities not only can, but should become sought-after specialists in companies.

Statistics and legislation

Currently, 400,000 people with disabilities are employed in Ukraine (not including the self-employed), which is 13.3% of the total number of people with disabilities. It is also worth noting that there is a certain percentage of people with severe disabilities who may not be in need of employment, but rather quality and affordable care. That is, when we talk about the employment of people with disabilities, we mean people who, despite physical or mental health problems, can perform professional duties.

In 2024, the government plans to help employers create 10,000 jobs, with 660 million hryvnias ($17.5 million) allocated in the budget. However, this area requires not only funding, but also changes in legislative regulation. Currently, the relationship between the state and businesses in the area of employment of people with disabilities is more of a coercive and punitive paradigm.

According to Article 19 of the Law "On the Basis of Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities in Ukraine," every business is obliged to hire a person with a disability. If a company has more than 25 employees, their number must be 4% of the total number of employees. If the company employs 8 to 25 people, it must hire one employee with a disability. Failure to comply with the quota is subject to penalties. It was only in August 2023 that the government passed a resolution that provides employers with compensation for the cost of equipping a workplace for a person with a disability.   

However, the government has declared its intention to change the rules. In May 2023, the parliament voted in the first reading on Bill No. 5344-d, which proposes new approaches to the employment of people with disabilities. The government intends to turn from an overseer to a partner of businesses in this matter.

The draft law stipulates that instead of a fine, employers who fail to hire a person with a disability should pay a targeted contribution to a special fund of the state budget. Compensation and subsidies are provided for the organization of a workplace for a person with a disability and for his or her vocational training.

There are also proposals to create labor integration enterprises that will be entitled to tax benefits, loans, financial assistance, and subsidies. Any business entity will be able to acquire this status if it meets the legally defined criteria. The authors of the draft law also propose the creation of protected employment enterprises, which will not be aimed at making a profit but at providing employment for people with severe disabilities. However, the regulation has not yet been adopted, and businesses continue to operate in the current environment.

Fozzy Group of Volodymyr Kostelman (Silpo and Fora chain stores), Vitaliy Antonov of Concern Galnaftogaz JSC (OKKO filling station chain), Taras Panasenko and Lev Zhydenko of Aurora, which owns the eponymous chain of stores, and Oleksandr and Halyna Hereha of Epicenter K Group (Epicenter shopping center chain) told about the current work with people with disabilities and veterans and what preparations are made for their employment in the future, as well as what kind of government assistance would be relevant to businesses.

Number of employees and their adaptation

All the companies surveyed said they already employed people with disabilities and veterans. The Aurora chain of stores employs 466 such people, and the Fozzy Group has 746 people with disabilities and 276 combat veterans among its employees.

Concern Galnaftogaz employs about 400 people with disabilities.

"Most of them hold office positions: IT, finance and accounting, etc. But there are also those who work at gas stations or oil depots," the company's press service notes.

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Epicenter has had a total of about 4,000 employees mobilized, of whom 600 have been demobilized. The company continues to pay salaries to those who are fighting, and after demobilization, they are hired back.

Almost all of the companies surveyed either already have or are creating separate positions or even departments to work in this area. They are responsible for the adaptation of such persons in the workplace and the team as a whole.

In particular, the Epicenter company talks about a specially designated department for training and staff development within the HR department. Specialists with psychological education work there. One of the priorities of this department is special training, work with demobilized soldiers, as well as with HR managers directly in shopping centers.

"The number of demobilized people is constantly increasing, and they often need not only psychological assistance but also additional time to integrate into the work process. The issue is particularly acute in settlements far from large cities. Taking into account their own experience and the importance of integrating demobilized defenders into civilian life, the co-owners of the chain initiated the development of a global program of psychological support for the population of Ukraine within the Epicenter chain. We are currently working on the project, engaging contractors and volunteers to jointly provide psychological and legal assistance to demobilized employees and locals in shopping centers," says Ksenia Belyaeva, HR business partner of Epicenter K LLC.

Aurora runs communication campaigns to raise awareness of inclusion among employees. All employees undergo internal training on the corporate Code of Ethics, which addresses the topic of inclusion and tolerance. For employees with hearing or speech impairments, the company has developed name badges with the appropriate inscription and a request to contact another employee if necessary.

"We have a register of employees with disabilities. The company pays a monthly allowance to employees with disabilities, which is not provided for by the state," says Olha Pravda, Human Capital Director at Aurora.

Fozzy Group noted that it has enlisted the support of qualified partners who can provide support to each employee. Each employee also receives equal opportunities training, which provides tips for improving interaction with people with disabilities.

Investments in spatial accessibility

In addition to being ready to hire people with disabilities, it is necessary to create conditions for their work. One of them is the spatial accessibility of the premises. For people in wheelchairs, this should be a level entrance with the street. If this is not possible, "proper" ramps should be installed. According to the standards, this is a ramp with a handrail 70-90 cm high, with a slope of 4.6 degrees or an angle of inclination of 8%. The acceptable width of the passage is 90 cm, and the corridor is at least 1.2 m. For people with visual impairments, navigation should be highlighted in contrasting colors, etc.

The surveyed companies noted that some of their premises are adapted for the work of people with disabilities, and they are looking for new ones or building them in accordance with the new building standards.

Concern Galnaftogaz said that their headquarters in Lviv has long been equipped for easy movement of people in wheelchairs or with reduced mobility. It is equipped with ramps, sliding doors, and elevators. The company also allows employees to work on a remote or mixed schedule if their job duties allow it.  

"Just a few days ago, OKKO signed a declaration with the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska on the implementation of the principles of barrier-free business. However, long before that, all the new filling stations that the company built on its own were designed to meet the requirements of barrier-free and comfortable access for people with disabilities. We are also planning to conduct a full audit of all our facilities for barrier-free accessibility and to consider the possibility of further reconstruction," the company said.

Fozzy Group also notes that most Silpo stores are accessible to people with limited mobility. These stores either have an entrance on the same level as the sidewalk or have a ramp or lift. Some stores have contrastingly labeled front doors. A number of supermarkets also have parking spaces and restrooms for people with disabilities.

"The availability of these amenities often depends on the size of the store, the architectural features of the building, and, unfortunately, we cannot make the space more accessible everywhere. Since 2018, we have changed our standards for building new stores with a focus on spatial accessibility and inclusivity. Next year, we plan to revise the standards again and develop work plans for our stores," the company said.

The Epicenter company emphasizes that for many years, the needs of people with disabilities have been taken into account during the construction of shopping centers. The shopping centers were built with wide doors, freight elevators, travelators, convenient entrances, etc. This, among other things, is required by the specifics of the chain's product range. Today, the reconstruction and construction of new shopping centers is carried out in accordance with the updated State Building Standards. They provide for the creation of a barrier-free space for all people.

The process of adapting the premises and territories of existing outlets is also underway in the Aurora chain of stores and continues in several stages. In particular, ramps are being installed and entrance aisles are being expanded in accordance with government requirements. In 2023, the company spent 3 million hryvnias ($79,395) to adapt the space. In 2024, the company plans to spend about 19 million hryvnias ($502,835).

In addition, companies are beginning to cooperate with public organizations that advocate for accessibility in society. Aurora and Fozzy Group shared the story of their cooperation with the Dostupno.UA NGO. Together with the organization, Fozzy Group has developed operational standards for serving guests with disabilities, inspected supermarkets, and developed recommendations for improving accessibility. Aurora noted that the organization's experts should help the company identify growth points and train responsible employees in accessibility assessment metrics in the chain.

Expectations from the state

In addition to investing in the adaptation and rehabilitation of people with disabilities and veterans, retailers expect some moves from the state.

Epicenter stresses that the state needs to update its occupational health and safety legislation in accordance with the specifics that limit activities and the number of people who are returning to work and will return in the near future.

"Also, professional retraining and training programs should be developed at the state level for the positions required by the businesses. The synergy between businesses and government would be more effective, as businesses do not possess sufficient competence to do everything on their own," the company said.

One of the important areas of business assistance could be attracting foreign investment for internal programs for company employees and for improving offline business spaces, Fozzy Group notes.

"Recently, the government has decided to compensate employers for fixed amounts of expenses for the arrangement of workplaces for people with disabilities. This is an example of the right and necessary initiatives in this direction," the group of companies says.

A number of proposals are also voiced by Aurora, in particular, they highlight the promotion of inclusive development at the level of public policy. In particular:

  • Training and consulting: access to specialized training and resources on working with people with disabilities; the opportunity to seek advice from experts on inclusive hiring and creating a supportive work environment;
  • Assistance in building an inclusive corporate culture: programs that help companies develop and implement policies aimed at creating an inclusive environment and more effective communication;
  • introduction of a certification system for companies that effectively implement inclusive hiring and management programs.

"In addition, a differentiated approach to job quotas should be introduced at the legislative level; a unified register of job seekers with disabilities should be created, as this step will help reduce bureaucracy. Also, the legislation should be amended to ensure that working people with group II disabilities retain their social pension after employment. This will encourage people with disabilities to look for work and help businesses address the issue of staff shortages," the company says.