Development and human rights for all

International Day of Disabled Persons

3 December 2007
"Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities"

In every society very few persons with disabilities are gainfully employed. In fact, in most countries up to 80% of persons with disabilities of working age are unemployed. Most others are under-employed or will never have access to the labour market. Everywhere there is a sizable gap between the working conditions and employment trends of persons with disabilities and those without a disability. All too often persons with disabilities are dependent upon begging, hand-outs, and welfare for their livelihood, not through any meaningful employment. The denial of opportunities and negative attitudes are the main reasons why persons with disabilities are disproportionally absent from the workforce.

This year's International Day of Disabled Persons focuses on how to ensure decent work for persons with disabilities and on ways to tap into the abilities of this marginalized talent pool. The recently adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes in Article 27 the rights of persons with disabilities to work and employment on an equal basis with others. It stresses the right of persons with disabilities to earn a living from freely chosen work, and to work in an environment that is both accessible and accepting.

Many countries do not have legislation to promote and protect the rights of workers with disabilities. This makes discrimination on the grounds of disability legitimate, hindering persons with disabilities from entering the labour market. However, the discrimination often begins a lot earlier in life, when persons with disabilities are denied other opportunities that would facilitate their inclusion into the workforce, such as education or training in employable skills, accessible transportation to get to work, and accessible workplaces.

Employers often resist employing a person with disabilities believing they will be unable to perform their roles and/or that it would be too expensive. This attitude is rooted in fear and stereotyping, focusing more on the disability than on the abilities of the individual. Empirical evidence, however, shows that persons with disabilities have high performance ratings and retention rates, as well as better attendance records than their colleagues without disabilities. In addition, the cost of accommodating workers with disabilities can be minimal, with most requiring no special accommodation at all. Studies have shown that there are other benefits to employers of persons with disabilities, such as improved workforce morale and increased customer goodwill.

Ensuring decent work for persons with disabilities will vary from country to country, and setting to setting. Business groups, Governments, and persons with disabilities should work closely together to address both the lack of opportunities that prevent persons with disabilities from entering the workforce and the attitudes found among employers. For many persons with disabilities in developing countries self-employment is the only option. Countries should consider ways that support persons with disabilities in this area, such as the inclusion of persons with disabilities in schemes such as micro-credit and micro-finance, which have largely excluded persons with disabilities as potential beneficiaries.

In more developed countries, persons with disabilities still experience high rates of unemployment. Countries need to continue to close the existing gap between persons with disabilities and those without disabilities. The Convention will mean that workplaces and practices are adapted to be more accessible and accepting. It will also mean that employers and the business community will have greater roles to play in the social and economic integration of persons with disabilities.

In order to support the implementation of the Convention, this International Day will look at new ways in which the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the labour market may be promoted by governments, the private sector, and/or civil society, including the disability community. These include programmes such as supported employment, social enterprises, cooperatives, on the job disability management (job retention and return to work measures), and on the promotion of entrepreneurship, self employment and viable micro and small businesses.

The International Day is an invaluable opportunity that should be seized by Governments, business groups and persons with disabilities to discuss and formulate ways that allow persons with disabilities to participate fully in the labour market.