There are 32 million youths in Bangladesh (15-24 years), and in general, about 10% of any population has some form of disability according to the World Health Organisation. Thus, in Bangladesh, approximately 3.2 million youths may have disabilities.
These youths need access to skills training and decent jobs to earn livelihoods. Excluding this population from the labour market represents a waste of potential, and fails to uphold their human rights enshrined in international conventions and the Bangladesh legal system.
The business case for hiring persons with disabilities is rooted in the understanding that they can have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line.
Employees with disability make good, dependable employees who often perform better than non-disabled co-workers. They stay longer at the same job, reducing costs related to recruitment and re-training, and are more loyal to their company.
Hiring persons with disabilities tends to boost overall workplace morale, productivity of employees, and company image.
However, finding people with the right skills may be a challenge. Many persons with disabilities are from poor backgrounds, and were unable to complete primary school due to the lack of facilities to accommodate their challenges.
If we work to foster a culture of inclusiveness, young people with disabilities will be more likely to reach their potential. Not only will this benefit society, but the nation as a whole
Persons with disabilities who are women or rural dwellers had even less chance of accessing education services. How can these people be brought into the economic sphere to meet the demands of private sector companies?
The government of Bangladesh has taken steps to include persons with disabilities in its skills training system.
The National Skills Development Policy 2011 prioritised disability inclusion in the skills reform process, and included the following recommendations: 5% admission quota for persons with disabilities at all Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) institutions, stipends, hostel facilities with reasonable accommodation, transport and accessible training institutes.
To ensure that training institutes can meet this quota, the International Labour Organisation’s Bangladesh Skills for Productivity and Employment project (B-SEP), funded by the government of Canada, is working with the Department of Technical Education (DTE).
DTE has initiated a pilot program to formulate and implement a departmental policy of 5% admission quota for persons with disabilities, and has appointed an advisory committee to guide on these matters.
Further, it has integrated disability inclusion in its annual work plan, budget, procurement plan, performance appraisal, and monitoring system, and developed a disability inclusion guideline for TVET institutes.
The challenge then is to ensure that all persons with disabilities who attain training can get jobs. But where should do they go for employment? Are there any employment services available for this group specifically?
Often, employers shy away from hiring persons with disabilities, despite the many successful examples from Bangladesh. Keya Group, for example, has successfully employed and retained over 800 persons with disabilities.
There are more than two dozen such companies in different sectors promoting disability inclusion such as BEXIMCO, Viyellatex, AKH Garments, Renata Pharmaceuticals, and Square Fashions.
To bring these champions together so they may motivate other employers, ILO partnered with the Bangladesh Employer’s Federation (BEF) to initiate a process to form a Bangladesh Business Development Network (BBDN), aligned with the ILO-supported Global Business and Development Network.
A core group of employers has come together to form a task force to give shape to BBDN. The task force also includes disability organisations and representatives of development partners.
The BEF and ILO have developed a practical guideline to help employers become disability inclusive. If anyone would like to join this movement, they should get in touch with BEF.
Companies interested in becoming more disability diverse need to think about “attitude, accessibility, and accommodation.” To make a workplace accessible to persons with disabilities, the company may need to make certain policy adjustments.
For example, a first step could be a human resource policy that includes a statement on non-discrimination and inclusion that should be communicated to all key stake-holders.
Once the commitment is made, it is important to assess the current situation with regard to disability inclusion. What are the barriers which need to be addressed? Do the staff and managers understand disability?
Do they have positive attitudes about hiring? Are there infrastructural barriers that need to be addressed to make the workplace accessible?
Next, a plan needs to be established with specific priorities, targets, activities, people responsible, and budget to share with the team.
A clear and positive message needs to be communicated from leadership, preferably from the CEO, supporting and encouraging the initiative.
From the start, management and staff should be informed through corporate or organisational communication for branding, and to create a sense of pride.
Stories can be sent to local business publications, presented at business and disability seminars; newspapers, especially journalists from the business section, can be invited to cover the company as the plan is being implemented.
Finally, recruiting can begin and persons with disabilities can be hired.
Finding qualified candidates with disabilities can be a challenge. To find the right employees, partnering with training institutes, DPOs (disabled people organisations) and NGOs working on disability issues can be helpful.
Placing people in the right job is important as is ensuring that they have the support needed to succeed. “Buddy systems” that partner another employee with the person with disability can help break the ice.
If we work to foster a culture of inclusiveness, young people with disabilities will be more likely to reach their potential. Not only will this benefit society but the nation as a whole.