Ahead of the International Day for Persons with Disability 2022, Kalkidan Girma looks at how inclusion programmes can be better incorporated in workplaces in Ethiopia.
According to WHO, 15% of the world population live with some sort of disability. That’s over 1 billion people and 80% of persons with disability live in low and middle income countries. Taking a look at common activities, it’s safe to say most people are skilled at one thing or task but are challenged in another. We can call it lack of focus, experience or exposure. As much as there is strength in one area, there is also weakness in another. However, if given the right tools, support and guidance, it has been proven that people can do the unthinkable and the unfathomable. The same goes for most people with disabilities (PwDs).
They excel at one skill due to focused usage of a specific organ and they may not be as strong on another by merely lack of it. And that certainly does not make them any less of a person than anyone that possesses a fully operating physical body. In general, the term “disable” emphasizes the person is not able whereas if we coin the term as “differently able”, it triggers curiosity to find out what that person is able to do.
Most PwDs when asked what caused their disabilities would share their stories reminding everyone we are all one incident or unknown illness away from being considered PwD. Having said that, the reaction one projects towards an individual who is differently abled is perceived as though the person lacks something to lead his/her day to day life. Of course, they might need additional support or a bit of adjustment to their environment but once that is provided, they are able to perform to their fullest potential.
However; unwelcome comments made, gestures, stigmas, biases and reactions projected, body language portrayed are all reflections of how society understands their circumstance. Having to bear attitudinal issues in addition to environmental and institutional barriers makes it even more harder than dealing with their disability. What matters most is not what one says or what one does; what matters most is the impact those words or actions bring to the person on the receiving end.
Having an inclusive and advanced society is key to creating a welcoming space for everyone regardless of their abilities. It serves humanity well when PwDs are treated as equals and are seen beyond the wheelchairs, hearing aids or walking canes.
A delicious food is made out of a great recipe composed of different ingredients with rich flavors and textures put together and cooked with the right amount of heat. Any amount from the list of ingredients applied greater or less than it should is guaranteed to ruin the flavor and the overall dining experience. Similarly, an inclusive society grows and prospers when different ideas and perspectives are entertained and are welcome to flourish. It is inevitable that a strong, advanced, well-rounded and inclusive society emerges when different demographics and parts of society are provided the space to share their expertise.
In the contrary, what creates a challenge in society is when a differently abled person gets treated with sympathy rather than empathy. And not to forget – that type of treatment is for those with visible disability. For those with invisible disability such as mental illness or hearing impairment, it is even more challenging to deal with society who do not understand their predicaments and do not make a conscious effort to learn. This is where policy makers could make a huge dent by providing inclusive policy shift that brings a lasting societal impact.
In well-advanced societies such as Japan or the U.S., government takes considerable actions that significantly increases the mobility and inclusivity of PwDs. They are supported with different services such as subsidies on social worker home visits to equipment that aid with mobility and communications. This encourages tax payers to be more active in the community and volunteer to go the extra mile to improve the environment for people around them who live with different disabilities. The policy and implementation go hand in hand. In Ethiopia, there are considerably strong laws that support the mobility and inclusivity of PwDs. Policies are in place to protect employment rights, proclamations strictly prohibit from discriminating a competent candidate with disability from getting employment opportunity, building codes are in place to be accessible for PwDs and the list goes on.
Back in 2015, a directive was passed to allow people with impairment to import tax free personal automobiles. In the private sector, employer discrimination against specific protected categories such as sex, religion, nationality and any other conditions are strictly prohibited. In addition, the disability law is currently under revision as there is still room for improvement.
All these policies and laws are well intended. What remains as a huge challenge is the gap in implementing these laws. PwDs should be seen as assets to the society and not as second class citizens. Policy makers should actively encourage and recognise companies that implement these laws in the work place. More advocacy work needs to be done to raise awareness of the situation that’ll help remove the stigma associated with disability. In the process of actively implementing the laws and policies, an empathetic and inclusive society will emerge creating a safe and welcoming space for all.
When given the right resources, tools and a support system PwDs are actually more abled in a specific tasks. Once the challenges they have is identified, their roles and responsibilities can be tailored to an individual level increasing their productivity. A person with dyslexia can be granted a bit more time to deliver a report of a project and a person with vision impairment can be a great asset for companies with call centers.
Reasonable accommodation should be embedded in the company HR manual as a common practice so each employee feels welcome and goes above and beyond their call of duty creating a win-win situation for all parties – the business, the employees and the tax authority. The private sector can bring a dynamic change if incentivised and properly encouraged by the government for providing lasting solutions. This will, in turn, help the government address the alarming unemployment rate, push for digital inclusion, and generally fulfill its constitutional obligations to citizens.