Whilst away recently on holiday in Spain (don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to be a gloat about my getaway to sunnier climes), I was interested to investigate a little into the treatment of VIPs in the country. Through this, I discovered ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, or the National Organisation of Spanish Blind People), which is an organisation which predominantly employs VIPs to sell lottery tickets. In most cities, I saw kiosks selling ONCE lottery tickets as well as several VI people in the middle of high streets or walking from restaurant to restaurant selling tickets to locals. Furthermore, whenever I told sighted Spanish people that I work for an organisation that supports VIPs, they would always say “Oh, we have an organisation like that here in Spain: ONCE.” Clearly, then, ONCE is a very well-known organisation that a good proportion of the Spanish population, both VI and sighted, is aware of.
Upon doing a little further investigating, I managed to discover just how well-known ONCE is. The entire organisation currently employs 23,000 VIPs and other people with disabilities to sell their lottery tickets. From 1989 to 2003, ONCE sponsored one of Spain’s leading cycling teams, and has even received support from the Spanish royal family, with Princess Letizia presenting awards at an awareness-raising event. The organisation itself covers several different aims outside of the provision of employment, including providing an online support network and helping to eliminate communication barriers for VIPs.
Clearly, this is fantastic service which provides not only support but a likely avenue of employment for VIPs across the country. However, this raises interesting issues, particularly when looked at in contrast with the UK. In Spain, of the VIPs who are in employment, 80% of them are involved in the selling of lottery tickets for ONCE. It is believed that these ‘reserved occupations’ are beneficial to VIPs as they provide a relatively sure channel of employment. In contrast, in the UK, it is believed that VIPs should be integrated into wider society and as such there is nothing comparable to the employment channel that ONCE provides. However, as we are all aware, finding employment in the UK for VIPs is rarely easy, and it will probably come as no surprise to hear that the unemployment level of Spanish VIPs is lower than that of VIPs in the UK. However, does this method of keeping specific jobs predominantly for the VI community pigeon-hole VIPs? Does it mean that they are less likely, or less encouraged, to find employment elsewhere, in other fields which may interest them more? Or is the fact that VIPs in Spain find it easier to get any work at all more important than this? Does it mean that, ultimately, VIPs are less integrated into the wider community, or is the opposite the case and are VIPs actually more visible in Spain owing to ONCE’s success? These are tricky issues that I don’t have any answers for, but I certainly think it’s always worth looking at the different ways of doing things in other countries, and to learn any lessons that we can. And next time you’re in Spain, look out for ONCE, and maybe buy a ticket. You never know when you’re about to strike it lucky!