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Employment is key to empowerment

IN PERSPECTIVE

Persons with disabilities must get training and reservation in public and private jobs.

Employment is increasingly being viewed as the key to break the vicious cycle of poverty, social marginalization and lack of access to rights — something people with disabilities (PWDs) are often trapped in. Yet one cannot fail to realize that there are quite a few hurdles for both the employer and the employee in the context of recruiting PWDs.

The National Sample Survey Organisation 2002 report on “Disabled Persons in India” reveals that 55 per cent of PWDs are illiterate and even with the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhayan; things don’t look ready to change drastically. Thus only a very small set of PWDs are really employable.

PWDs want educational opportunities so that they can get into the top echelons of decision making and influence the bureaucracy in a positive way. Unemployment in general is rising and the competition is growing stiffer. The employability of PWDs further suffers as few of the work environments in the public or private sector are really accessible. It is only in the recent past that companies are beginning to realize that their offices are indeed unfriendly to PWDs and architects are only now beginning to integrate an inclusive sensibility into their designs.

Fundamental right

However, the last few years have been seeing a major shift. For one, PWDs have begun vociferously arguing that employment is one of their fundamental rights. The Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995, Chapter 6 on employment talks about identifying and reserving posts, setting up of Special Employment Exchanges, coming up with schemes for ensuring employment and providing incentives to employers to ensure five per cent of the work force is composed of PWDs. Three per cent of government jobs identified are reserved for PWDs, of these; one per cent is designated for people with visual, hearing and locomotor disabilities.

In 2001, the government initiated expert committees to identify the types of jobs suitable for people with different disabilities. A list of over 1,900 jobs had been prepared and circulated to all ministries of the government, while 1,075 jobs in the private sector were identified. A decade down the line however the number of PWDs who are unemployed is soaring and the government doesn’t have much to show for progress either. Not only has the government failed to implement its own laws, but it has also allowed the backlog to build by freezing employment in its own departments.

Here the private sector has seen the benefits of employing PWDs, not only are PWDs more focused at their work thus enabling larger output but the labour turnover for them is also comparatively low. Employing PWDs also sits well with the private sectors “corporate social responsibility”.

Reservation

The disability sector is at a crossroad. The PWDs are demanding fair representation in the labour market. They are demanding a mandatory five per cent reservation in employment in both the public and private sectors and to be brought within the first 10 listings in the reservation roster.

With unemployment rates soaring, PWDs are asking the government to put greater thrust on self-employment opportunities by making it easier to access loans, by reducing paper work, and give more soft loans. There is also a need to modify labour and industrial policy to give incentives to companies that employ PWD, ensure companies make their work environment fully accessible and that penalties be imposed on employers who discriminate against PWDs.

The key to increasing the employability of PWDs is to provide them vocational training. PWDs are demanding that they should not be denied admission to any vocational training institution/program whether run by government, public or private sector merely on the grounds of disability and all vocational training institutions have a five percent reservation of seats for them.

The presently defunct Special Employment Centres need to be revived and to be involved in promoting employment opportunities by identifying appropriate jobs and requirements.

The above article has been published on the 9th of January 2007 in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/jan92007/editpage213715200718.asp

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