By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
Worried by increasing discrimination against physically challenged persons in the workplace, the International Labour Organisation,ILO, and other stakeholders have taken new steps to put an end to the development.
According to an estimate of the United Nations, disabled persons experience unemployment rates as high as 90 per cent in some low-income countries, and up to 70 per cent in developed countries of the world.
To address this challenge in Nigeria, stakeholders gathered recently in Lagos under the aegis of “Network on Disability and the Business” to brainstorm on the way forward.
Organised by “Theseabilities Limited in partnership with ILO, participants included ILO, StanbicIBTC Plc, Total Nigeria Plc, Workforce Management Centre, Fate Foundation, Gallaudet University, Washington DC, S.I.A.O (firm of chartered accountants), Startrite Mayton and Co. Nigeria Limited, Trinity House, Sickle Cell Advocacy and Management Initiative, The Nation Newspapers, Senviron Properties Limited and Enable Africa limited.
The aims include increasing awareness on the need to increase employment opportunities for qualified persons with disabilities, sensitize organizations on the Lagos State Special People’s Law, identify and discuss the challenges faced by employers in hiring persons with disabilities and discuss strategies for overcoming such identified barriers and making the workplace more inclusive.
Welcoming participants, Executive Director of Theseabilities Limited and convener, Network on Disability and Business, Adeboye Abioye, shared the vision of the Network and the benefits of membership. He equally encouraged participants to be open as possible in sharing their perspectives during the forum, advising them to interact with each other and learn from each other.
On his part, Dr. Gabriel Soje, an Assistant Professor at the Gallaudet University (for the Deaf, Hearing-Impaired and Regular Students), Washington, D.C. who spoke on the Challenges and Solutions to Employing Persons with Hearing Impairments, highlighted the challenges that communication and prejudices played in the process of hiring and keeping the deaf in employment.
He emphasized the need for organizations to be more open and ready to include the deaf in the communication processes and encouraged employers to do away with negative attitudes and unwholesome prejudices that were capable of undermining the chances of qualified persons with disabilities.
Soje advised organizations to ensure that members of staff also learn the sign language which usually is the first language of the Deaf and posited that the disabled and especially the deaf were capable of coping intellectually and emotionally in the workplace.
Similarly, Chairman of the Lagos office of Disability Affairs, Mrs. Tolu Animashaun, in a message to the organizers of the conference, said “The theme for the Forum “employABILITIES: Creating a win-win situation for disability and the business” spoke volumes and is in keeping with the provisions of the Lagos State Special People’s Law of June 2011. The mandate of the Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs ( LASODA ) is to ensure the proper implementation of the Lagos State ‘Special People’s Law’ and policies which guarantee inclusion, equal rights and opportunities and self-esteem of people living with disability (PWD).”
Speaking, Ms. Sina Chuma-Mkandawire, Director, ILO Country Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Gambia and Liaison Office for ECOWAS , represented by Mr. Pius Udoh , cited a study undertaken by the ILO in 2009, using 10 countries – 3 in Asia and 7 in Africa – which concluded that “economic losses related to disability are large and measurable, falling into a band between three and five per cent of GDP.”
She said it was gratifying to note that the international community, including the ILO as well as countries had made adequate provisions aimed at ensuring that disabled people attain their full rights, saying “when the disabled people realize that they are protected by law, they need to take steps to ensure their integration in line with the provisions of the laws and conventions.”
According to Ms. Chuma-Mkandawire, “the Federal Government of Nigeria, in an effort to ensure the protection of disabled people enacted the Nigerian with Disabilities Decree 1993, stating as its general principle that “the purpose of this Decree is to provide a clear and comprehensive legal protection and security for Nigerians with disability as well as establish standard for enforcement of the rights and privileges guaranteed under this decrees and other laws applicable to the disabled in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It also ratified the ILO Convention 159 on 26 August 2010. With these legal instruments in place, the disabled people have what it takes to ensure their full employability – education, skills, knowledge and competencies – which indeed is a gain-gain situation for all.”
“These conventions and enactment guarantee, among others, prohibition of discrimination, protection of just and favourable conditions of work, exercise of trade union rights, availability of vocational training, promotion of employment opportunities and continued advancement, promotion of self-employment, provision of employment in the public sector, promotion of private sector employment through affirmative action, incentives and other measures, ensuring the provision of reasonable accommodation or adjustment, promotion of work experience in open employment, and promotion of rehabilitation and return-to-work programmes.”
Nigeria’s decree of 1993 went further to grant 15% tax deduction for organization that employ disabled people while reserving 10 % of both labour force and training funds for the disabled. The question is how much of these provisions have we translated into practice?”
Developing positive aspirations is a key factor in securing good educational and occupational outcomes, and an important component of autonomy. Persons with Disabilities who have the required education, skills, knowledge and experience should assert themselves and others will support them.