Giving people with special needs chance in the workplace

Ability. A reporter (R) from the union of people with disability in Uganda interviews a participant at an exhibition. People with disability can perform tasks in fields they are skilled in, just like those without disability. Photo by Rachel Mabala

What you need to know:

  • Ability. People with disability, special needs, or the differently-abled, are some of the terms used to refer to people with a form of impairment. While society is embracing non-discriminatory language when referring to them, few organisations have all inclusive human resource policies to give them equal opportunities.

When Chris Agaba* was called for an interview in one of the organisations in Kampala, he noticed the people on the interview panel were shocked at the sight of his condition.
“I remember one of the people on the panel asking me whether I would manage to work considering my condition,” he shares.
Agaba is a person with a disability (PWD) on the leg, and uses a crutch. He is a certified accountant and can work as efficiently as any other person with his skills. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with a specialty in Finance from Makerere University. He also has a certificate in Public Accounting. However, Agaba did not get the accounting job he had applied for. He learnt from an insider that he was the better candidate. However, he was not taken on because of his condition.

The descrimination
Like Agaba, a number of people with disabilities are facing discrimination at different places of work or during the selection process.
According to Hassan Waddimba, a programme associate for East Africa Centre for Disability Law and Policy today, many persons with disabilities are educated and are qualified with different skills. However, despite their qualifications, many of them are still facing challenges of unemployment. He attributes this to the direct and indirect discrimination against persons with disabilities in the labour market.
Waddimba says although Uganda’s legal framework on employment vividly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, a section of employers are still afraid to hire PWDS. “Often times, PWDS are left out of short lists they are qualified for, some employers are still not yet comfortable hiring PWDS, which is a sign of discrimination contrary to what the law provides for,” he says.

Inclusive environment
During a training organised to sensitise employers on people with disabilities, and developing disability inclusive human resource policies, recently, Elizabeth Kayanga, the Executive Director for Integrated Disabled Women Activities Uganda, says, PWDS can and want to be productive members of society but some are being denied the opportunity. She says society should promote more inclusive environments and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
She notes that in order to achieve this inclusion in employment, there must be improved access to basic education, vocational training that is relevant to the labour market, providing jobs that are suited to PWD skills, interests and abilities and other adaptations as needed.
Kayanga observes that most of the factors mentioned above are not yet fully addressed, the reason many PWDS are unemployed. “There are many barriers that have not yet been addressed for instance, making the working environment more accessible for persons with disabilities. Most of our working environments don’t consider PWDS,” she says.

Job advert medium
Kayanga says another issue that is still hindering PWDS from getting jobs is the nature through which jobs are advertised. She says most employers use advertising formats that are not inclusive for PWDS.
She says while advertising jobs, employers need to ensure people with disabilities are provided with information in a variety of forms but not to only place adverts in print media. She adds that on several occasions, employers forget that there are people that cannot see but can hear and these can best learn of a job opening through radio or broadcast media
Following a survey conducted in Iganga and Mayuge districts on employment of persons with disabilities, Kayanga noted that most employers have human resource policies that are discriminative of persons with disabilities, and thus engaged in building their capacity on inclusive employment.

The ability to perform
She adds that on several occasions, employers forget there are people that cannot see, but can hear, and these can best learn of a job opening through radio or broadcast media, yet the job will only be advertised in print media.
Waddimba says another pressing issue that needs to be addressed is challenging the attitudes and mistaken assumptions that people have for PWDS. He says many people due to empathy, imagine that PWDS cannot accomplish certain tasks, which to him are a wrong presumption.
“Most PWDS are hardworking people who have many times proved that they have potential to even perform better, so it wrong to leave them out on employment,” he says.
He adds that many employers still hold fears based on myths and ignorance that is barring them from recruiting persons with disabilities.

He says to close this gap, employers need to be sensitised on the potentials of persons with disabilities in employment, and how this potential can be realised through offering PWDS an opportunity to work.
“Once recruited, it becomes an opportunity for both the employer and the workmates to learn from, and about an individual with a disability about their abilities and what support systems should be put in place to enable them perform better while at work,” he says.
Waddimba says there needs to be reasonable accommodation of PWDS at every workplace. To him, this should include the necessary and appropriate modification and adjustment working atmosphere and not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden to ensure that persons with disabilities get the enjoyment or exercise an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
*Not real name

The records
Allan Kabaale of Disability Rights Employment Initiative, advises PWDs to be aggressive and seek employment opportunities. He says although the society still segregates the PWDS on employment, also some PWDS still look down on themselves and are not aggressive enough. “We need to fight the stigma of inferiority complex among PWDS, you have the potential to compete favourably for different employment opportunities, so do not fear to aim high,” he advises.