Providing sheltered employment for the disabled
Published On February 8, 2014 » 2525 Views» By Davies M.M Chanda » Features
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DISABILITY CORNERMANY countries have Government-run sheltered employment or so-called work centres which provide employment for persons with disabilities.
In other countries sheltered employment is provided by the private sector authorised to employ workers with disabilities at sub-minimum wages to keep them busy and placed on social security programme that comes because of their work.
In United States of America the sheltered employment public policy at the Federal level has shifted away from sheltered centres in favour of administering services, programmes and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities and this is a clear indication that no Government can allow sheltered employment to be run by disabled people’s organisations or so-called cooperatives.
This is the most integrated setting as it enables individuals with disabilities to interact with non-disabled persons to the fullest extent possible, so the issue of isolation is neither here nor there.
It is a fact that sheltered centres in the US became the subject of criticism for being exploitative, abusive and discriminatory.
In January 2011, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) issued a report entitled ‘Segregated and Exploited: The Failure of the Disability Service System to Provide Quality Work’.
The report charged that “hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities are being isolated and financially exploited by their employers.”
Zambia, like any other country across the world, needs sheltered employment for persons with disabilities because there are disabled people who are employable and those who cannot be employed in normal employment setting but can contribute to national development through provision of sheltered employment.
So explicitly criticising the entire concept underlying the sheltered employment will be wrong and out of tune because it is a well-known fact that we have very few educated disabled people in Zambia who can be hired based on their qualifications but persons with disabilities have a right to spend their lives in the most integrated setting, appropriate for them as individuals and is just as sensibly applied to the employment setting.
It is argued that “a full and equal life in the community is the ultimate goal of every disabled person but this cannot be achieved without a meaningful, integrated way to spend the day, including integrated” work options that is based neither on qualification or disability.
When individuals with disabilities spend years or, indeed, decades in the street begging for so called tandizo (Helping), yet do not learn any real vocational skills, we should not lightly conclude that it is the disability that is a problem.
Rather, institutions like Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ failure to provide sustainable rehabilitation through real sheltered employment and job-placement relevant skills leaves their clients stuck.
Throughout the world, paid work is a crucial aspect of culture and identity, with many individuals organising their lives around employment.
Employment helps define an individual’s place in the community.
The unemployed are often excluded from important activities and roles within the social group.
Disabled people need to be employed just like any other person but with societal attitudes toward them, the Government needs to review the Employment Act just like in the United States, prior to the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, employment policies rarely aimed to place people with disabilities in competitive employment positions.
With the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (as amended in 2008), employment discrimination has been reduced and employment opportunities for people with disabilities have improved in the United States and this can be done by any government.
This trend is not exclusive to the United States.
However, employment outcomes for people with disabilities continue to lag substantially behind those of people without disabilities in the United States and worldwide.
Since its adoption by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2006, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been signed by 114 nations with the promise, in part, of greater employment opportunities for all persons with disabilities.
The Convention entered into force on May 3, 2008.
While reliable data on the employment of people with disabilities worldwide is difficult to come by, available data indicate people with disabilities have poorer employment outcomes than people without disabilities.
At least 650 million people have disabilities worldwide, with approximately 15-20 per cent of each country’s population affected by disability.
In developing countries, 80-90 per cent of people with disabilities of working age are unemployed.
In industrialised countries, the situation is slightly better.
However, individuals of working age with disabilities are still unemployed at a rate between 50 per cent and 70 per cent, at least twice the rate of those without disabilities.
Now to address this gap sheltered employment must be promoted by all.
Regionally, the general trend is the same. In Asia, there are 370 million people with disabilities, 238 million of whom are of working age.
Of those, the unemployment rate is typically twice that of the rest of the population and often as high as 80 per cent.
In the European Union, 43 per cent to 54 per cent of individuals with disabilities are of working age and their unemployment rate is two to three times greater than for people without disabilities.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 80-90 per cent of individuals with disabilities are unemployed, and those that are employed receive comparatively low wages.
The employment outcomes clearly show that countries cannot do away with sheltered employment and next week we will discuss more why Zambia needs sheltered employment and not retirement of persons with disabilities. Please make a date with me.
For this Sunday I wanted to give you a global picture so that we appreciate when we shall look at Zambia.
(For your letters please send to us on P.O Box 34490 Lusaka, Zambia or use our South African address. The author is regional disability policy analyst for SADC and inclusive development advisor for Centre for Disability Development Research, Law and Policy, Johannesburg.
Project office, P.O Box 1981, New Castle, 2940 South Africa
Tell:        +27343127894
Fax:        +27343127894
Mobile:  +27733453663
Mobile +260966-036931)

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