Viera Zahorcova

Ashoka Fellow
Bratislava, Slovakia
Fellow Since 2011


This profile was prepared when Viera Zahorcova was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Over the last two decades, Viera has been at the forefront of the movement to engage disabled citizens in society as equal economic players and ensure their full economic citizenship, proper social treatment, and human rights. She was instrumental in creating the first experimental early intervention center for disabled in Slovakia, which now serves as the country’s model for developing early intervention care for the mentally disabled. In this center, multidisciplinary teams of specialists work with families who have disabled children ranging from prenatal to school age. In 1998, Viera founded the Association for Help to People with Mental Disabilities in Slovak Republic, which evolved into the umbrella organization for forty-seven independently-run organizations that support the disabled. Viera’s vision and entrepreneurship is best illustrated by her perseverance toward full employment opportunities for the disabled. In 1999 Viera founded the first Agency for Supported Employment (APZ), an employment network which has now expanded to over sixty APZs in Slovakia and thirty in other regions of the world.

Quite rapidly the APZs brought together local and regional governments, clients, the disabled and organizations seeking new employees, who all had different agendas, yet APZ helped bring these players together toward a shared goal. One of the creative ways that Viera continues to coordinate, scale, and ensure quality is by associating APZs with the Slovak Union of Supported Employment, which provides counseling and education services to its members. Viera has also developed quality standards in all supported employment agencies, which enables APZs to be considered a social service.

Viera has built diverse networks of governments, citizen organizations (COs), parents, for-profit organizations, and healthcare institutions at a time when these stakeholders did not traditionally overlap, and in a society that discriminates against and isolates disabled individuals. To build this comprehensive mental healthcare system, Viera has had to focus on her ultimate purpose: The full integration of the disabled into society, in particular, relating to their education and employment opportunities, as well as the legislation essential for their fair treatment. Viera’s experience began twenty-five years ago when she began empathizing with the disabled, although it has transformed into a systemic approach to disability that combines intervention, education, and employment support. Viera’s continuum of care has been adopted as national policy in Slovakia and is funded by the state.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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