The European Commission: Making a visible difference for an invisible disability
Vera Pinto, who plays a key role within the European Union’s space programme, suffers from an invisible but quite debilitating disability. As she puts it, “I have a chronic autoimmune bowel disease, which was diagnosed when I was 27. I need to take two immunosuppressant medications just to function. However, I’m one of the lucky ones, as I have periods of remission when it’s much easier to manage the disease. Even in remission, I can suffer from chronic fatigue and brain fog – it can be hard to focus during a meeting or when writing a report.”
Vera was already an established professional by the time she was diagnosed and has not permitted her disability to hold her back in any way. She currently operates at the heart of the Directorate-General Industry and Space, using data to support the Green Deal and climate change initiatives, and is also the Directorate’s Equality Coordinator.
“I have to say that the European Commission has always gone the extra mile for me since I joined in 2013,” she says. “At the end of 2015, I contracted food poisoning, which is extremely dangerous for someone with my condition, and my disease became active for two years, which meant I had to stop working. All my colleagues, including my managers, were extremely compassionate and understanding. On my first day in hospital, I had a Director sitting at my bedside, assuring me that I could take as much time as I needed to recover and that my job would be waiting for me.”
After returning to her role, Vera moved to a structured system of teleworking and was assured that she could organise her days in any way she wished. The arrival of Covid mandated further teleworking, as contracting the disease or flu could be very dangerous for her.
As she notes, “In my case, ‘reasonable accommodation’ from an employer can be quite wide-ranging. It can mean giving me a place to rest or offering a flexible schedule so I can work when I feel productive and relax when I’m fatigued. The European Commission gives me the flexibility to manage my bad days and my treatments in hospital, which I don’t believe would occur with most private sector employers.”
Above all, Vera is confident that at the European Commission nobody is seen as a lesser person because they have a disease or disability. She urges potential candidates to disclose any disabilities during the application process, as the Commission will have no hesitation in making reasonable accommodation.
She concludes, “This is an exceptional place to work, particularly if you have a disability. You can reach out for any help you need during your Welcome Day and anything you say will be kept confidential. The HR Directorate has an office for Disability & Inclusion that can assist you with any doubts and questions and support you on your journey with the Commission – and it’s a journey that could take you almost anywhere you want to go.”