Have skill, will workConcrete actions to offer jobs to youths with disabilities are all doable and possible
Beg is one of the many young adults living with disabilities I have the honour to work with. Only 18 years old and originally from Dhading district, he lives at the St Xavier’s Social Service Centre in Jhamsikhel. Having known him for a few years, I realise his huge potential as an individual and member of society. Beg has big plans in life as he wants to become an engineer one day. Unfortunately, the chances of turning his dream into reality are quite slim as he faces multiple challenges due to society’s perceptions towards his disability. The problem is not his wheelchair but rather the unfair and unjust way society treats him and many of his peers with disabilities.
The principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ should not be thought as something impossible to be realised, but simply as an attempt to make adjustments in the system to accommodate or include persons living with disabilities in society. The adjustments here, refer not only to physical accessibility but also to changes in the mindset and attitudes to include and involve persons living with disabilities in the job market. They are an extra burden; this might be what an employer or a human resource manager of a bank might think while hiring a person with disabilities, either physical or intellectual. But is this really the case? Are persons living with disabilities a burden on society because of the few adaptations that employers and local administrators would have to make in order for them to actively participate in the social and economic life of the country? Or might it be quite the opposite? Or are persons with disabilities a real burden because we are missing out on their potential, a tremendous waste in terms of economic productivity for the entire country?
Unescap, the United Nations Commission for Asia Pacific, shows that over 650 million people, or one in every six in Asia Pacific, have some form of disability and they are among the poorest of the poor. With high rates of unemployment in the region, the challenge of finding a job is daunting for persons living with disabilities. The problem is not only confined to the developing countries of the region. A research finding published by Warwick University in the UK shows the devastating impact of disability discrimination leading to poverty not only among individuals with disabilities but also the same families who have, for example, one child with disabilities: on average, these families are £50 a week worse off than others.
In development agendas
The new Sustainable Development goals offer new hope to mainstream disabilities into the development agenda. For example, Goal No 4 “guarantees equal and accessible education by building inclusive learning environments and providing the needed assistance for persons with disabilities”. Goal No 8 “promotes inclusive economic growth, full and productive employment allowing persons with disabilities to fully access the job market”. Similarly, Goal 10 “emphasises the social, economic and political inclusion of persons with disabilities” and Goal 11 is about access to physical spaces, including the importance of mobility through disabled-friendly transportation and the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy green spaces. Having the new goals attach due importance to disability is extremely important, but it will be even more important to see how the desire for a better deal for persons living with disabilities can be translated into concrete actions.
In the Asia Pacific region, we also have an ambitious agenda, the Incheon Strategy to ‘Make the Right Real’ for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific to be implemented within the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities for the period 2013 to 2022. Yet, regardless of how perfect these strategies and plans might be, a real change will happen only when new initiatives are designed and implemented at the national level. Even without a strong leadership at the political level championing the rights of persons with disabilities, as is the case now in Nepal with the government overwhelmed by the ongoing political crisis, the private sector should be pushed to do more to include disability as a core area.
Here I am not talking about one-off projects funded by international aid agencies, but rather a moral commitment that will envision how the business federations and chambers of commerce will be able to become more inclusive. While cross-cutting approaches that mainstream disabilities are important, we also need a focused and holistic effort to reduce the levels of inequalities currently existing in corporate houses throughout the country. What we need is a ‘push-up’ for those young adults living with disabilities like Beg who cannot even escape the unemployment trap by migrating as labourers to the Gulf.
Make the move
Interesting tools and expertise already exist. ‘Inclusion of youth with disabilities: The business case’, a flagship publication by the ILO, shows in a practical way how the business sector can constructively engage actors working in the disability sector to promote employment among youths living with disabilities. Incredible it may sound, but concrete and incremental actions to offer jobs to youths with disabilities are all doable and possible. Here we are not talking about corporate social responsibility activities, but rather practical ways that include youths with disabilities in the marketplace while helping companies increase their bottom line.
Nepal, like many other countries in the region, lacks state programmes to boost their employability. It does not make sense to wait eternally for the government to take the lead when we all know that it is easier said than done. Let us move beyond common tokenistic approaches in the development sector. If the government cannot lead at the moment, it can join later and back pilot initiatives already in place that prove to be effective. Let us get down to serious business with those who are supposed to understand business: our entrepreneurs. The need of the day is setting up a high-level working group made up of business leaders and members of disability organisations with the task of coming up with a tangible Agenda for Action on Disability and Business.
The agenda for action should enlist a common working approach and a series of initiatives to be jointly promoted through partnerships. The government can step in and endorse the initiative through budget provisions. Young citizens like Beg are striving to show how capable and good they are. They are currently cut out of any efforts to develop the country. Let us not pretend to be bold when all that it takes is common sense and a sense of fairness to make Nepal a more inclusive and just nation for all.
Galimberti is co-founder of ENGAGE and editor of Sharing4good