Persons with disabilities a boon for their employers, says Secretary-General

3 December 2007 –

Marking the International Day of Disabled Persons, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today emphasized that people with disabilities not only make good employees, but that companies benefit greatly from employing them.

“Persons with disabilities have the ability to make valuable contributions in the workforce as employees, entrepreneurs and employers,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day, whose theme this year is “Decent work for persons with disabilities.”

“Whenever the opportunity arises, persons with disabilities prove their worth as productive members of the workforce,” Mr. Ban said. “That is why more and more employers are slowly coming to the realization that employing persons with disabilities makes good sense.”

“Changing workplace environments and advances in information and communications technology are also giving persons with disabilities new avenues for seeking decent work,” the Secretary-General said.

Economic factors will dictate more hiring of persons with disabilities, said Chris Sullivan, National Program Manager for Merrill Lynch’s Special Needs Financial Services, at a press briefing at UN Headquarters. There would be a global shortage of 31 million skilled workers by 2010, and companies would increasingly resort to the largely untapped pool of talented workers with disabilities.

“The supply and demand cycle will turn the tide,” added National Business and Disability Council Vice President Judy Young. In addition, companies that hired persons with disabilities had come to recognize their contribution not only in terms of skills and productivity, but “in the innovative ways in which they are able to solve problems and accomplish tasks.”

But a change of perception was needed, Ms. Young said. “Governments can dictate legislation, but cannot change attitudes. Attitudes only change when people with disabilities work side by side with people without disabilities, and each learn how to value each other and the contribution each brings to the workplace.”

“It is all a matter of breaking down negative perceptions,” said Mr. Sullivan, who was born hearing-impaired. “You have to look at the person and not at the disability. That requires a tremendous change of perception in everyone, including the international community. But we are working on it.”

His company employed persons with disabilities as financial advisors, propriety traders and staffers of the compliance division, he said. A Wall Street Consortium of Diversity was being formed and would hold its first meeting in New York in January, he added.

Persons with disabilities also represented a large customer base, Ms. Young said, with an estimated $1 trillion in aggregate income worldwide. “Companies have long recognized that it is good business to hire workers who reflect their target markets,” she said. With advances in technology and accessibility, customers with disabilities were more often visiting businesses, in person and on-line.

It was time, she said, “to turn the tide and recognize the power of people with disabilities as important players in the world economy, as productive workers and as viable customers.”

In a related development, Spain became the tenth country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which introduces new international human rights standards to combat discrimination and promote equality of persons with disabilities.

Spain’s Vice-President María Teresa Fernández de la Vega today deposited her country’s instrument of ratification, following Bangladesh and South Africa, which ratified on 30 November. Ten more ratifications are now needed for the treaty to come into force.

Meanwhile, in an event to mark the Day at UN Headquarters in New York, eight pianists from around the world who have disabilities are performing tonight at a concert called “Unheard Notes.” The concert is being co-hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN and the New Heritage Theatre Group.

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