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Harnessing hidden potentials of the disadvantaged groups

Harnessing hidden potentials of the disadvantaged groups

People with Disabilities (PWDs) are entrepreneurs, self-employed workers, artisans, and technicians, among others, and they have continued to demonstrate capability despite their conditions.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are about one billion disabled people globally, accounting for about 14 percent of the world’s population estimated at 7.9 billion.

The WHO’s 2011 World Disability Report put the number of Nigerians with disabilities between 25 million and 27 million. While available data may not show the precise number of PWDs in Nigeria, data from the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey revealed that an estimated 7 percent of household members above the age of five (as well as 9% of those above 60 years) experience some form of difficulty in at least one functional domain.

PWDs are often excluded from access to economic opportunities even as they face discrimination from employers. A study conducted by Leprosy Mission Nigeria a few years ago showed that of the 1, 093 PWDs surveyed, 61 percent had no job. This affirms the fact that working age PWDs tend to experience significantly lower employment rates and much higher unemployment rates compared with people with no disability.

The talent pool among PWDs is currently being underused, causing significant economic losses. Almost all jobs can be performed by someone with disabilities and provided with the right environment, most people with disabilities can be productive.

PWDs typically receive little support from the government. One of their biggest obstacles is the stigma surrounding their disability, which excludes them socially and economically. Due to this stigma, the unemployment rate among PWDs significantly exceeds the general unemployment rate.

Read also: Economic and social costs of unemployment in Nigeria

In Article 27, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD (Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)) recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others. This includes the opportunity to gain a living by working freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open, inclusive, and accessible to persons with disabilities.

It is no news that PWDs are disadvantaged in the labour market. The system in Nigeria subconsciously deprioritized the value of employment for many disadvantaged groups. For instance, their lack of access to education and training or to financial resources may be responsible for their exclusion from the labor market.

In addition, misconceptions about the ability of PWDs to perform jobs are important reasons both for their continued unemployment and if-employed for their exclusion from opportunities in their career. Employers may discriminate against PWDs because of their misconceptions about disability or because they do not wish to include them in their workforce.

There are many reasons this should change. Firstly, the value of purposeful employment to all people is critical as it impacts on well-being, social interaction, economic independence, and happiness. Each country that aims to make more disabled people economically active will strengthen its economy significantly.

Policy support thus far

President Buhari signed the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill into law in year 2019. The law prohibits discrimination based on disability and imposes sanctions on those who contravene it.

The law birthed the establishment of the National Commission for PWD, which is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring disabled persons have access to education, healthcare, and housing.

The Lagos State Office for Disability Affairs (LASODA) was set up to uphold the rights of persons living in any form of disability in Lagos by safeguarding them against all forms of discrimination and ensuring equal access to opportunities.

Meanwhile, social impact organizations such as the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund have exhibited an inclusion mindset by ensuring its interventions are accessible to PWDs.

Despite numerous efforts targeted at improving access to economic opportunities for the disadvantaged groups, most PWDs still encounter discrimination either when applying for a job or trying to access interventions.

Harnessing the potentials of PWDs

Promoting the implementation of Discrimination against Persons with Disability Act and strengthening the institutional landscape for disability inclusion through disability-focused organizations is critical.

There should be concerted efforts among the three tiers of government to raise awareness surrounding disability issues and eliminate negative perceptions and stigma against persons with disabilities among families and communities.

Investment in inclusive employment and livelihood interventions are critical to addressing unemployment challenges among persons with disabilities.

These could include entrepreneurship training and business advisory services, as well as the promotion of locally produced assistive devices and accessible workplaces. More so, disability-focused organizations like LASODA should be empowered to support this process and provide services to persons with disabilities and caregivers.

Governments, development partners and other critical stakeholders have a key role to play in shifting employer’s perceptions through policy levers.

For instance, government can put in place:

Funding – provide grants for disabled workers, funding for self-employment or other tailored interventions. Establishing a dedicated credit facility for PWD at concessionary terms is a move in the right direction in empowering PWDs. Institutions in the social impact space must have an inclusion mindset in the process of designing and implementing interventions.

Incentives – (tax rebate) to employers that have a certain level of persons with disabilities in their workforce, this would encourage employers to absorb functional PWDs, thereby reducing residual unemployment.

Softer levers

Such as awareness-raising to change attitudes and perceptions towards PWDs.

Odubola, an economist, writes from Lagos