Persons with disabilities make up 12.4% of Uganda’s population according to a mapping report on employment of persons with disabilities (2016). Though The Persons with Disabilities Act addresses the issue of access to physical structure and places responsibility on employers to ensure premises occupied by an employee with a disability doesn’t put them at a disadvantage, people with special needs suffer getting opportunities in the work place - in the first place.
Lydia Abenaitwe says: “whereas other people only have to prove their abilities to employers, we [people with special needs] have to, and try to prove what we cannot even prove because we are physically, handicapped and that is often seen as a limitation.”
With that, finding employment gets even harder. She has been looking for a job for almost three years with no results. “Sometimes, the employer just tells you, I do not think you can manage because the job requires a lot of movement, while others just tell you off,” she says.
“For example, in 2006, I applied for a job and was employed. However, I was told to go to another branch of the same company. On getting there, the branch manager said, ‘I can’t believe they have sent me a person like you!’ They told me to go back home and I would be called soon. They never called me back,” Abenaitwe says.
In addition to this, the working environment can be so inadequate that persons with diabilities just end up quitting.
Just like Abenaitwe, many other people with disabilities are in the same shoes. “I lost my father in 2008 when I had just finished Senior Six in 2007. I could not continue school and it is then that I started looking for a job, but in vain,” Bonny Okoda a business administration graduate explains.
“One time, I decided to join the Uganda prisons service – in 2010, because my father had been a prison warder. I went to Lira Town for recruitment. The first thing was to screen the documents,” he says. He continued on to pass up to the last level.
“When it came to the oral interview and my name was called, I went and sat in front of the interviewers. They started asking me questions, but I could not hear a thing since I am deaf. They chased me away. I cried,” Okoda sadly narrates.
Finally, graduating last year from Uganda Christian University, Mbale, Okoda tried applying for jobs, but has never been short listed. “I have resorted to rearing pigs to pay school fees for my siblings,” he says.
Juliet Nalule says she became self employed quite quickly after realising that being employed would be hard.
“I have a diploma in catering, however, many people cannot believe I can actually stand for long or cook. For over two years, I sought employment in different hotels and restaurants, but failed,” she shares. Nevertheless, she applied to go in Arab countries to work.
“After investing a fortune in getting a visa and tickets, I was put on a plane back to Uganda by the employment agency that had taken me, because no one wanted to hire a physically handicapped person. I started my own restaurant and I am self employed,” Nalule says.
Abenaitwe says employers should be more open minded about employing people with special needs. “Don’t just look at a person’s physical inability and conclude they are not competent. Give us a chance before you turn us down. For example, employ that person on probation, even if it is shorter than the normal probation period, and then judge competence,” she says
However, Fred Yakwaya, a bachelor of Business Studies graduate at Kyambogo University, says: “Many times, employers fear the extra cost of hiring a sign language interpreter, but personally, I can work without an interpreter,” he says, noting that other people assume people with special needs come to their offices to beg for money.
“Last year I was chased from a bank after the manager mistook me for a beggar. She threw Shs1,000 at me and walked away. I have also realised that when I apply for a job and I indicate that I have a disability, they never call me for interviews. This has happened about 10 times,” Yakwaya says, adding that this is the reason he decided to start his own mini hardware business.
Laws and policies on PWDs
The Persons with Disabilities Act 2006 section 13(3) gives the Minister of labour the authority to determine a quota or percentage of PWDs to be employed in the workforce for employers.
The Persons with Disabilities Act, 2006, makes provisions for the elimination of all forms of discriminations against people with disabilities and towards equal opportunities.
Workers’ Compensation Act, 2000, provides compensation to workers who are injured or disabled through industrial accidents
The National Council for Disability Act (No. 14), 2003, monitors and evaluates the rights of persons with disabilities as set out in international conventions and legal instruments, the Constitution and other laws.
The Business, Technical, Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) Act, No. 12, 2008, promotes equitable access to education and training for all disadvantaged groups, including disabled people.
National Policy of The Equal Opportunity Act, 2006, and the Employment Act (No. 6), 2006, both prohibit discrimination of persons in employment based on disability.
Source: Uganda- Mapping report on employment of Persons with Disabilities (Feb 2016)
Though Uganda has a number of policy and laws that promote employment for Persons with Disabilities, implementation has been hampered due to unclear guidelines on promoting affirmative action, quota schemes and incentives on employment of persons with disabilities. The call therefore is for policy reviews to address these shortcomings.
Also, despite various legal instruments and undertakings, Persons with Disabilities continue to face barriers in accessing employment on equal basis with others. Persons with Disabilities are still considered by many employers as incapable to work due to their disabilities. In addition, the majority of people that are injured and acquire a disability while at work are dismissed from their work and are unable to benefit from the provisions of the law either on compensation or re-placement in other positions due of limited awareness and poor implementation of the law. Deborah Lyute, the programs officer; National Union of Disabled persons of Uganda (NUDIPU)