When Disability Is Just Different Ability

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Iva Tsolova and Joana Koleva don’t think of the disabled as people with impairments: they call them people with different abilities. This is the philosophy that drives their collaborative project Jamba, which aims to change attitudes to disability and the disabled in Bulgaria in addition to improving the group’s economic conditions.

Tsolova and Koleva launched the Jamba platform in May 2017 to give people with disabilities in Bulgaria access to training and internship opportunities and facilitate contact between employers and job applicants.

“Our experience has shown us how amazing people with different abilities can be and how great their potential is and that the biggest challenges for their integration are the lack of equal access to quality education, relevant vocational training, and inclusion in the labor market,” Tsolova says.

Qualified staff is in short supply worldwide, a problem Jamba’s founders believe can be resolved by enabling people with disabilities to find work. In Bulgaria alone, there are around 800,000 individuals with disabilities. Lowering barriers to their labor market entry will make them more economically independent, which will help reduce social spending, stimulate economic development, and lead to general prosperity, Tsolova says.

“Jamba is truly valuable for people with disabilities. With its help, we can be useful to both our country and ourselves by getting decent wages. This helps us feel that we are worth something,” says Yordan Iliev from Yambol, who is one of 40 differently abled individuals who found work through the platform.

For their work, Jamba’s founders were included in the 2017 New Europe 100 list of the best and brightest Europeans influencing their countries’ social, economic, and political development. Koleva left a career in advertising to join the NGO sector, while Tsolova is an NGO veteran, a graduate of ABF’s summer entrepreneurship program, and a member of the Association of Bulgarian Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ABLE), an ABF grantee.

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