Integralia: Everyday life and work for wheelchair users

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Integralia: Everyday life and work for wheelchair users

For over 15 years, DKV Seguros funds a foundation that provides employment for severely handicapped people. Its CEO, Josep Santacreu, played a leading role in establishing Integralia.

Customers ringing their health insurer, DKV Seguros, in Spain are answered by a friendly and competent staff member in a call centre. But many callers are unaware that the person they are talking to is sitting at his or her computer in a wheelchair. As well, it is quite possible that these staff members are operating the keyboard with the help of a pointing device attached to their hands with a elastic strap. Because the Integralia call centre only employs people with disabilities.
 
The company was founded back in 1999 at a time when DKV Seguros wanted to improve its customer service, and was looking to launch a social sector project at the same time. CEO Josep Santacreu recalls that it was meant to be something with power enough to develop the spirit of the company. Very soon the idea was born of merging the two projects, and that was what started off Integralia – as a foundation and a non-profit organisation. The call centre in El Prat de Llobregat near Barcelona was modified for disabled access (everything is a little wider than in standard workplaces) to ensure that staff in wheelchairs can move around more easily. And of course, there are also slopes and ramps instead of steps.

Original team of nine now 400

Integralia started off with just nine employees. Today, 400 staff assist the insurance company's customers and other contracting authorities, such as hospitals and the Spanish Interior Ministry. Their work is expected to be of a very high standard: "Our customers expect a high level of service," says Santacreu. Thorough and patient training is therefore essential, along with psychological support – since the team also includes people who are confined to wheelchairs following traffic accidents. One of the aims of the foundation is to support and encourage such people: "We want to offer employees a meaningful life, not just a workplace." That includes having an everyday routine, maintaining friendships, and starting a family. "And the best way to do that is to make the most of your own potential."

The success of the foundation's concept is reflected in more ways than just the increasing number of staff. Integralia is growing year by year, and has made a profit from day one, even during the financial crisis. Santacreu puts that down to the staff themselves: "What sets them apart is their exceptional commitment and motivation." In comparison with other call centres, Integralia has a lower sickness rate, a higher standard of service, and lower staff fluctuation.

A major success thanks to training

The foundation has also established a training facility called “Integralia School”, where severely handicapped people can take specialised courses in the fields of banking, insurance and telecommunications. With the qualification they attain at the end of their course, participants can then apply for jobs on the regular labour market. A total of 76 graduates from the school found jobs in this way in 2014. A further training programme gives participants a qualification in the management and operation of call centres. And Santacreu believes the project is far from having achieved its full potential. As well as the call centre in Barcelona, there are now offices in four other Spanish cities: Madrid, Denia, Badajoz and Jerez. In Poland, Integralia has helped ERGO Hestia establish a call centre based on the original Spanish model and there are now further examples in Peru, Colombia and India. "Integralia is the best thing we have ever done," says Santacreu. And he is right…

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