Disability inclusion: The progress so far at the International Labour Organisation

By Asatu Getaweh

Disability inclusion: The progress so far at the International Labour Organisation

Arthur O’Reilly’s book entitled ‘The right to decent work of persons with disabilities’ (2007) does indeed provide an excellent overview of the principal international legal instruments, policies and initiatives in the context of employment, as it relates to persons with disabilities. However, the continuous discriminatory barriers faced by people with disabilities in the labour market, makes one question the effectiveness (or indeed the visibility) of the existing policies and instruments designed to protect these individuals. As set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006:

State Parties recognise the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others

State Members, under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of (Disabled Persons) Convention 1983 (No. 159) are required to:

         …… implement and periodically review a national policy on vocational rehabilitation and

            employment of disabled persons … and at promoting employment opportunities for

             disabled persons in the open labour market…

The above legal instruments have the potential as suggested by Salazar-Xirinachs (ILO Director of employment sector, 2007) to foster the empowerment, rights and dignity of disabled people when implemented effectively. Indeed, anti-discrimination legislation can have a significant impact on the labour market experience of persons with disabilities, but implementation needs to go hand in hand with enforcement. While international organisations such as the UN and the ILO are invaluable players in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, one must remember that they are also employers. The ILO policy on the employment of persons with disabilities which dates back to 2005, has been said to encourage equal access to employment opportunities for disabled people within the ILO. But just how disability-inclusive is the ILO as an employer? And moreover, how is the ILO general treatment of employees with disabilities?

A recent ILO staff survey on disability inclusion found that although 33.3 per cent of respondents rated the inclusiveness of the ILO as high (28 per cent as low), the question was rated more negatively by respondents with disabilities than by non-disabled respondents. The results also suggest that it is more common to acquire a disability after recruitment by the ILO than being hired with a disability. In relation to discrimination, 10.3 per cent reported witnessing disability-based discrimination at the ILO, the percentage was even higher among respondents with disability (14. 7 per cent). For example, the discrimination reported related to employment practices, physical and informational accessibility. It was also evident that policies related to persons with disabilities needed to be promoted more effectively. The majority of respondents with disabilities, for instance, appear to have little knowledge about the reasonable accommodation reserve at the ILO. For the majority of respondents, more information on people with disabilities is required to obtain inclusiveness.

Policies and initiatives are crucial for enhancing the employability of people with disabilities, however, as mentioned earlier, policies need to go hand in hand with implementation and enforcement. The ILO policy on the employment of persons with disabilities offers opportunities people with disabilities can seize, but these opportunities may be lost if the above and other legal instruments remain invisible.

 Asatu is an MA Social Research student in the department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield. Asatu’s research interests are manifold, but she is specifically interested in issues pertaining to disability and employment, stammering, and Western society’s perception of Africa.

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