Jussi Ollikainen works for Lyhty, a Finnish association providing housing services, work activities and training for adults with learning disabilities. He worked for three years in IPI Kulmakuppila, which is a café staffed by disabled in Helsinki. Ollikainen will run the vegan café in Pertti’s Choice with staff from IPI. We asked him about employment and disabled people.
How did IPI Kulmakuppila get started?
“One of Lyhty’s customers had this crazy idea that he wanted to work in his own café one day. A lot of work was done after that. I have been involved with the café almost from the beginning. I worked there for over three years but I’m now employed by Lyhty’s music workshop.”
What have you learned during your time in IPI?
“A lot about our customers and working with disabled people as well as about the business of running a café. I am a trained social worker with no prior knowledge of working at cafés. Above all, I have learned that disabled people can work in much more diverse and challenging posts than majority of people expect.
We have a really good spot in Helsinki’s Kallio district and the location probably plays a role. The customers there are very neutral about being served by people with learning disabilities. All feedback we had was positive during the three years I worked there, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Customers are very pleased with everything that they see and get at IPI.”
Have any of the IPI staff been hired by other cafés or restaurants?
“Unfortunately nobody has received a job from the free labour market yet. Our aim is to make the work of disabled people more visible. Hopefully the work situation will improve little by little.”
Could IPI become a model for employment of disabled people that could spread elsewhere?
“Regarding the day activity programmes for disabled people, yes. The cafe serves as a good model if we look at disabled people who can’t work 8 hours a day. Cafés and lunch restaurants offer a great possibility for flexible working hours as their need for staff varies a lot during the day. If 4 hours a day works for someone, cafés can employ them to help during busy lunch hours only.”
In England, only 6% of adults with a learning disability are gainfully employed. In Finland, 2% of adults with a learning disability are gainfully employed, while 32% participate in work activities. How would you improve the employment situation?
“In Finland it would take political commitment and the demolition of welfare traps. Employers should also be more flexible and able to allow people to tailor their working hours.”
What can a café customer expect at Pertti’s Choice?
“Finnish pastries and coffees. We will offer premium quality coffee and customer service. Service with bigsmile and great spirit, that’s how we do it!
It’s great that we get this opportunity to come there. I’m excited and a little nervous, but I know it’s going to be great.”
Text: Kaisa Paavola Photo: IPI Kulmakuppila/Gallery