Big and small employers shared that their disabled staff stayed longer and also outperformed their non-disabled staff.
I had the privilege of taking part in the Harkin International Disability Employment Summit (November 2-3) in Washington DC. With over 240 participants from 40 countries, this was a second of its kind event hosted by retired American Senator Tom Harkin. He has personally taken up the challenge of doubling employment rate for people with disabilities globally in the next 10 years. Keynote speakers were CEOs of various companies, presidents of the World Bank and the Ford Foundation, representatives from International Labor Organization (ILO) and various development organizations, as well as academics. This summit highlighted several key practices for competitive disability employment. I explore a few here.
It was astonishing to hear Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. She shared that her company had taken off only after it started recruiting persons with different types of disabilities and used their skills and talents to create multiple accessibility designs in their products. The experience of Microsoft suggests people with disabilities are more than capable of being productive employees. There is hardly any business where disabled people cannot contribute, both in terms of their technical skills and interpersonal and problem-solving skills.
Better than the rest
Similarly, employers from big and medium scale companies shared that their disabled staff stayed longer on the job and consistently performed better than their non-disabled staff. This helped cut down expenses related to recruitment and productivity loss. It was, likewise, highlighted that disabled staffs have lower absenteeism, fewer complaints and less workplace injury—all helping reduce costs. Other speakers shared that disabled staff not only inspired them with their unique skills (often performed better than non-disabled staff) but also helped instill great team spirit. Disabled people employed at decent wages thus contribute to productivity, safety and higher attendance for companies. These findings corroborate an ILO study that links hiring people with disabilities with improved workplace morale.
Since its establishment in 1991 the Bakery Café has been recruiting deaf persons, and it currently employs 45 deaf staff. The company chairman is impressed with their dedication and professional contribution, which in turn contribute to the company’s success. Following this example, several other companies also started hiring people with disabilities, Hotel Devotee in Dhangadhi for instance. The operation manager of this hotel shared that they have gained strong reputation for their ethical business practices and their excellent service. Humanitarian organizations in Nepal have also started recruiting disabled persons.
Moreover, the reservation quota (5 percent) introduced by Public Service Commission, Nepal Telecom, Teacher Service Commission, and Radio Nepal is helping people with disabilities access decent jobs. However, these quotas are seen as mostly benefiting influential people with mild or moderate disabilities.
There is a gap in Nepal between disabled job-seekers and employers. Despite having so many talented people with disabilities, their access to good jobs is severely restricted. Though a few recruitment agencies like Merojob.com have started helping disabled people find jobs, there is a scope for these organizations to do a lot more.
Myth and reality
As our education system is impractical, disabled persons often lack professional skills. Therefore it is up to the training centers, both private and public, to ensure that their programs are inclusive and accessible to disabled persons. Additionally, we need recruitment centers to help private companies recruit more people with disabilities. For civil society organizations, we need to walk the talk and be the role models in promoting disability-inclusive employment.
There is a hue and cry regarding the costs associated with disability inclusive employment. But national and international evidence shows that employing people with disability does not involve any additional cost if these employments are well-planned. We should all remember that building an inclusive, diverse workforce benefits everyone: employees, the organization and the community as a whole.
Nepal is still far from having an inclusive society. That said, we have made significant progress on the policy front. Now a lot depends on the will of our political parties to implement disabled-friendly policies.
It is great to see voices being raised to make disability employment an everyday action. The National Federation of the Disabled Nepal is taking the lead in this and various national and international NGOs, corporate sector, government line agencies, UN, and other bilateral agencies have expressed their full support.
One thing is for sure: just getting a handful of organizations back this idea will not suffice to win the battle against workplace discrimination. For that, government line agencies, the private sector and civil society organizations need to join hands and be willing to promote decent employment. Without the active economic contribution of people with disabilities, a nation can never truly prosper.
The author is associated with Handicap International Nepal. Views are personal