According to the United Nations (UN) estimates, more than 650 million people suffer from ‘physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments’ globally (Persons with Disabilities, n.d.). 80 % of these Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) live in Global South (Ibid.). A rising global population, food shortages, longer life spans due to better medical technology, and the fight against poverty has brought attention to the needs and vulnerabilities of PwDs.
The United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) 2006 transformed the role of PwDs from objects to subjects of social protection. As subjects, PwDs can demand their rights be translated into concrete policies and actions, exercise independence in decision-making, and be perceived as individuals who have the right to enjoy full participation in the community. The UN Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 aims to provide suitable working conditions and equal incentives to PwDs.
Disability and employment: Challenges
Poverty and disability are cyclical. Malnourishment can lead to minor or severe disability or exacerbate disability over time. Lack of necessary medicinal aid, inadequate nourishment, and poor access to physical therapy can be debilitating to the health of PwDs. To reduce the occurrence of disability and to mitigate its effects, adequate employment opportunities with sufficient pay are critical. Where suitable opportunities are lacking, social protection policies and measures need to step in to prevent individuals from falling under the poverty line.
The labour market is based on the absolute principles of labour demand and supply, which propagate and sustain competition. On account of certain impairments, PwDs may not be viewed by potential employers as effective employees. Challenges may include social stigma, alienation, inadequate education, and communication problems.
Females encounter greater challenges than their male counterparts. When PwDs are employed, the workplace environment may not be without formidable challenges. They may suffer from low-value work, low income, an unsuitable working environment, discrimination, and other ill and unfair treatment.
Finding ability in disability
With the right policy environment, opportunities, and disability sensitive implementation, PwDs can and have risen to entrepreneurial and workplace challenges. For example, Four Biscuits is an impressive Egyptian bakery, operated by women with Down syndrome. Stephen Hawking, a visionary physicist, and Yousaf Saleem, Pakistan’s first visually impaired judge, are astounding examples of PwDs who have defied the odds.
Having a disability does not necessarily translate into an inability to work. What’s more, there is a need to ensure inclusive development for the 650 million people around the world who experience disability. Employment and business policies and workplace environments need to be transformed to ensure access to decent work for all. Supporting PwDs in becoming active members who contribute to the well-being of society can reduce dependency and free up government resources. Businesses need to equip themselves to become more socially responsible and accommodate a diversity of employees.
Social protection and disability
Social protection and employment policies can play a key role in supporting the disabled. The following measures are identified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) of Bangladesh as outlined in a guide for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET): Good Practises for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (International Labour Organisation, 2017):
- Effective policy making
- Strengthening and empowering institutions
- Making training programmes inclusive
- Evaluation of programmes and transmission of information
Inclusive work practises in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, 16 million people experience various disabilities (Farhin, 2018). Despite being signatory to the UNCRPD, and having disability laws that protect persons with disability, mainstream social protection is still absent. The large number of PwDs has pushed the government, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), disability organisations, and training institutes to restructure and provide for the needs of this large segment of the population.
Bangladesh’s Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) has incorporated the four ILO steps in its approach to achieving an inclusive workforce:
- Effective policymaking: A 5% quota was set the in 2011 National Skills Development Policy for PwDs to be incorporated into TVET programmes. The Disability Inclusion Advisory Group (DIAG) was also created in which 35 members deliberate on policies, finances, and the execution of disability-inclusive initiatives (International Labour Organisation, 2017).
- Strengthening and empowering institutions: DTE, through its TVET programmes, offers trainings to participants, including institutional administrators and PwDs. It has created an obligation for all TVET centres to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) (International Labour Organisation, 2017).
- Making training programmes inclusive: DTE and the ILO undertook a revamp of 118 TVET centres to ensure inclusivity in all areas, from policies and finances to the execution of programmes (International Labour Organisation, 2017).
- Evaluation of programmes and transmission of information: DTE has created an information system that allows it to track 400 differently abled students to record the number of students recruited after training and to make relevant policy changes accordingly (International Labour Organisation, 2017).
Various programmes are being undertaken at the local and national level in Bangladesh. Presently, the government is providing 815,000 PwDs with financial assistance (Farhin, 2018).
1. Faith Bangladesh
Faith Bangladesh is a programme involving “A comprehensive approach to identify children with disabilities through capacity building of government and NGO health workers and disability service mapping in Bangladesh”. It uses innovative practises to recognise signs of disability at early stages of childhood (Farhin, 2018). It also seeks to develop and increase the potential of relevant institutions and persons involved in catering to the needs of PwDs. The project will also focus on mapping disability to make data easily accessible to policy makers and implementers (Farhin, 2018). Another core area is providing appropriate training to eliminate the skill gap between PwDs and the job market.
2. Young Power in Social Action
Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) is a non-profit organisation operating in Bangladesh since 1985 to provide opportunities for social upliftment to marginalised segments of society in Sitakund, Chittagong. The organisation extends micro-finance and training to PwDs, ensuring that their skills meet job requirements. In 2015, the project titled “Initiating microfinancing and micro-enterprises for a whole city sub-district”, 250 PwDs were given access to microfinance (Bhattacharjee, n.d.). They were provided with an opportunity to create a group financial fund used on a needs basis. These participants were trained and 100 of them became small-scale entrepreneurs who were allowed to set up enterprises without any rent obligations (Bhattacharjee, n.d.).
With the aim of establishing a gateway to information for persons with disabilities, YPSA initiated a project called, “Accessible learning materials for students with visual impairments”. The project’s goal is to digitise learning materials. 80% of the workforce working on this project are PwDs (Bhattacharjee, n.d.).
3. Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity
Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity (B-SEP) is a project geared towards dealing with issues revolving around TVET setup and making reforms accordingly (International Labour Organisation, 2017). The project is undertaken in Bangladesh by the ILO. It aims to build partnerships to connect various economic sectors and organisations, while elevating potential employees to an adequate job skill level.
Through B-SEP, DTE transformed 118 TVET setups to be disability inclusive by bringing in the disability aspect in all areas of institution building and strengthening; from planning and financing to regulation and the evaluation of programmes. This reorganisation increased the number of differently abled trainees from 56 in 2014 – 2015, to 357 in 2015 - 2016 (International Labour Organisation, 2017).
4. Bangladesh Business and Disability Network
Bangladesh Business and Disability Network (BBDN) was introduced in 2016. With a network of 38 organisations. BBDN facilitates enterprises that aim to make their organisations accessible to PwDs as its beneficiaries and employees. In 2017, BBDN held a career expo through which 150 PwDs were successfully matched with various jobs (International Labour Organisation, 2017).
With greater debate circling around disability and inclusivity, a greater number of businesses are willing to change their work practises. One such company is Swapno, its 56 stores and 2,500 employees, is working to meet its target of employing 10 percent PwDs as part of their staff (Kumar Singh, 2018).
In pursuit of the goal of extending social protection to persons with disabilities, an inclusive workforce plays a foundational role. Mainstreaming empowerment to a marginalised population requires a reassessment of policies, laws, and strategies that encompass an inclusive workforce. The narrative around disability needs to be altered and programmes structured to educate, train, and empower PwDs and eliminate the skill gap between PwDs and the wider job market. Inclusive employment opportunities are required as antecedents to social inclusion.
Farhin, N. (2018). Allowance for all disabled people from next year, Dhaka Tribune. Accessible: https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/law-rights/2018/02/28/allowance-...
Hobson, M. (2015). Finding employment for young people of all abilities, World Bank. Accessible: https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/finding-employment-young-people-all-abilities
International Labour Organisation/ILO. Good practices for inclusion of peoples with disabilities. Author. Accessible: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-dhaka/documents/publication/wcms_596668.pdf
International Labour Organisation/ILO (n.d.) (2017). Major achievements of the Bangladesh Skills for Employment and Productivity (B-SEP) project. Accessible: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-dhaka/documents/publication/wcms_614478.pdf
Singh, K. K. (2018). Serving up success for disabled job seekers in Bangladesh, International Labour Organisation. Accessible: https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/articles/WCMS_635777/lang--en/index.htm
United Nations. Persons with Disabilities. Accessed: September 26, 2018. Accessible: http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/persons-disabilities/index.html
Zero Project. Young Power in Social Action. Innovative Practice 2017 on Employment, Work and Vocational Education and Training. Accessible: https://zeroproject.org/practice/bangladesh-ypsa/