This article outlines a model of employment for women and men with disabilities that encompasses a diverse yet particular approach. Through a disability rights lens, employment outcomes are achieved through addressing disabling barriers created by society rather than changing the individual to fit within society’s norms. The Disability Rights Promotion International – Asian Workplace Approach that Respects Equality (DRPI-AWARE) model shifts the focus on training job seekers with disabilities according to their perceived deficits, toward a focus on employers and the workplace.
This article presents the results and outcomes of this employment model for men and women with disabilities in various sectors of the labour market in Kathmandu, Nepal. To date, the DRPI- AWARE project has successfully matched 89 people with disabilities (40 women and 49 men) with paid jobs in their communities. We provide examples of employers who demonstrate the ease and benefits of creating inclusive and accessible workplaces.
Through exploring the systemic reasons for their unemployment or underemployment, the DRPI-AWARE project team has been working with employers, employment agencies, disabled people’s organizations, government officials, human resources personnel and other stakeholders to increase employment opportunities for men and women with disabilities. Over the past four years, the DRPI-AWARE project team has shifted the focus from supply to demand in the labour market by focusing on job skill identification and identification of jobs, rather than training individuals with disabilities.
Key strategies include building employer knowledge through education, bridging gaps between training and job placements for people with disabilities, and bolstering success stories of employers and employed people with disabilities to celebrate leaders and role models. This approach promotes effective job matches between employers and job seekers, and supports workplace adaptations which lead to secure jobs and sustainability over time as employers learn the economic and social advantage of hiring people with disabilities.
Key words: Nepal; employment; disability; rights; disability rights
The Disability Rights Promotion International – Asian Workplace Approach that Respects Equality (DRPI-AWARE) project has put in place a model that enables employers to re-think and re-envision more inclusive workplaces for current and potential employees with disabilities, and for their general workforce. This article presents the DRPI-AWARE model by describing and demonstrating how research, monitoring and inclusive employment practices are creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Kathmandu, Nepal. This article presents: the background of the DRPI-AWARE project and DRPI methodology; how the project is re-contextualizing training people with disabilities for employment; recognition of employment outcomes for people with disabilities; a discussion for quality employment in the workplace for job seekers and employers giving examples of how to incorporate accessibility into the workplace.
DRPI AWARE Model of Accessibility
DRPI is a collaborative project that establishes a comprehensive, sustainable international system to monitor human rights of people with disabilities. Monitoring is a tool for empowerment,giving a voice to people who have been marginalized by society, and aims to achieve social justice in the workplace. The AWARE project builds on the work of DRPI to address barriers for people with disabilities in the labour force in Dhaka (Bangladesh), Hyderabad (India), and Kathmandu (Nepal). This article will explore the particular barriers and opportunities to employment for people with disabilities in Nepal.
The project team has formed partnerships with employers and disabled people’s organizations, including members of the National Federation of the Disabled-Nepal (NFDN), to mobilize opportunities and strengthen employment prospects for people with disabilities in Nepal. Through these partnerships, much of the work is undertaken by a local country coordinator and Work Placement coordinator in Kathmandu, who support job placements, research, and data collection. International consultants also provide subject matter expertise and experience with disability and employment issues and opportunities for accommodations. Barriers to workplace accessibility and challenges faced by job seekers with disabilities in the labour force have been assessed and addressed through ongoing dialogue among employers, job seekers, local staff, and through the support of project team members from Canada.
The DRPI methodology emphasizes that people with disabilities are holders of rights, and shatters previous models that consider people with disabilities to be objects of charity. People with disabilities are entitled to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as all other people. The methodology has been developed to monitor implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
As of December 2017, the CRPD has been ratified by more than 150 countries, including Nepal (www.un.org/disabilities). Ratification of the CRPD implies that states accept their legal obligation under the Convention and enact the necessary legislation. The CRPD explicitly addresses employment in Article 27such that: States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation, to, inter alia. (United Nations, 2017)
Article 27 explicitly addresses employment and prohibits discrimination in the workplace, promotes self-employment, encourages entrepreneurship, as well as employment for people with disabilities in the public sector and in the private sector.
The DRPI methodology was applied in the DRPI AWARE project to explicitly monitor the implementation of Article 27 in relation to work and employment. This monitoring methodology has three broad areas to assess the rights of people with disabilities which includes: monitoring systems, monitoring individual experiences and monitoring media which is highlight in Figure 1 below.
The monitoring methodology, shown in Figure 1, has been adapted in this project to look specifically at employment outcomes and general trends in the workforce for people with disabilities. This monitoring takes into account other characteristics that impact the experiences of disability in society including gender, ethnicity and race. DRPI monitoring recognizes that equal access to employment is a human right that respects human diversity and inclusion. Monitoring activities of the labour market in Nepal has shown that people with disabilities are underemployed, and that job outcomes could be improved.
Through understanding the systemic reasons for their under and unemployment, the project team is working with employers, employment agencies, disabled people’s organizations, government officials, human resources personnel and other stakeholders to increase employment opportunities for men and women with disabilities. When an individual with a disability gains access to paid employment, it also benefits indirect beneficiaries such as family members as they are contributing to the household income. Moreover, the community and labour market gains valuable insights from individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences. Greater diversity can lead to innovation and inclusion in society.
Going beyond Training to Job Placement
Employment programming for people with disabilities has tended to focus primarily on skill-based training and job readiness in many countries, including Nepal. The DRPI-AWARE approach recognizes that this focus emphasizes the deficits and limitations of individuals with disabilities. The DRPI-AWARE team has found little evidence that training individuals with disabilities leads to non-precarious and long-term, secure employment. Indeed, some training programs mis-diagnose barriers to employment. We have found that the barriers are not the limitations of the individual, rather that the barriers are found in physically, systemically, and attitudinally inaccessible workplaces. Using the CRPD as a guideline, DRPI-AWARE is moving a trend towards identifying the skills that people already have and finding jobs that require those skills. This avoids the potential for a mismatch of individual skills and the skills required for job placements. This means that training is no longer based on individuals’ deficiencies (the supply side of the labour market), but focused on the needs for skills in the local labour market (the demand side). We have learned that it is crucial to avoid disincentives that prevent sustainable employment. Concentrating on the supply side (job seekers) rather than the demand side (employers) has not proved very effective or sustainable. We have found that jobs are more likely to materialize if we change our emphasis. For example, we have learned that working with employers in collaboration with people with disabilities has led to employment. Employers have provided us with key information that we have been able to build into our methodology. They have told us that they want to do their own on-the-job training; Curricula Vitae are important but not necessarily a deciding factor; and job fairs have a down-side.
As such, a sustainable and viable hiring model has been developed and ongoing relationships are key to meeting challenges as they arise. We are listening carefully and avoiding activities that employers have told us are not effective or that they do not find helpful. Instead, we are developing strategies that meet the needs of employers and the demands of the labour market.
Once we have a detailed understanding of a job, then we can match the job seeker’s skills with that job. Making that match, is the core of our program. This matching process involves a careful analysis of job seeker skills. This analysis process is organic in practice but meticulously focused on skills. Workplace coordinators develop a professional relationship with job seekers to identify relevant skill information, take transferable skills into account, and determine which jobs people want and which jobs people have the skills to do. The matching process also involves job task analysis. This process involves understanding the employer’s needs and requirements, as well as an understanding of the skills required to do the work.
We have found there is a need for an ongoing relationship with employers and their associations. We are meeting employers where they are at, and understanding their hiring needs. A key component is building strong Employer Councils that are guiding sustainable initiatives for engaging other employers, and presenting inclusive employers with an award recognition. This builds confidence in our process and ensures that if issues arise we can support the employer and find ways to work through the barriers. It also ensures a smooth transition to inclusive employment.
Outcomes – A Model that Works
To date, the DRPI-AWARE project has supported over 300 people with disabilities to obtain full-time employment. This includes 97 women and 202 men . An additional 45 people with disabilities have been hired part-time since the beginning of the project.
In Nepal, local project coordinators have connected with 250 job seekers with disabilities across Kathmandu. These connections have assisted job seekers to identify job opportunities that match their skills and work interests and facilitate a successful transition into employment when possible. In addition, more than 150 employers and employers’ associations have been engaged in the project, with at least half of these contacts demonstrating interest on the part of the employer, taking tangible steps to create an inclusive workplace, and or hiring candidates with disabilities. Employers who have hired people with disabilities with the support of DRPI- AWARE have returned to local Work Placement coordinators and country coordinators to seek more candidates with disabilities when employment openings arise. Employers recognize that this precise job matching and workplace accommodation model is solving their human resource problem by providing them with quality, skilled employees, and support in designing accessible work environments.
Figure 2 illustrates the employment outcomes of the 89 people with disabilities employed in Kathmandu from April 2015 to September 2017. Employment for men and women with disabilities is quite similar overall, the exception being in the Information Technology industry (IT) which has 2.8 times as many males in the industry. This suggests, that the DRPI AWARE has had success in its implementation, as the grey literature states that women with disabilities in Nepal face double discrimination (Dhungana, 2006; Dhungana&Kusakabe, 2010; Lamichhane, 2012). According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (2014), about 4 out of 5 or 80 percent of the employees in the tourism industry were male. Despite this general industry pattern, the DRPI methodology has been successful in advocating and finding employment for women with disabilities both in the tourism industry and service industry more generally. The DRPI AWARE project in Nepal has employed 89 people with disabilities in the workplace (40 of whom are women and 49 are male).
The graph highlights those industries where people with disabilities have been hired including the pharmaceutical industry, IT, hospitality, service, finance, retail, customer service, non-government, and government. Specifically, 49 people (24 women and 25 men) have gained employment in the hospitality, service and finance sector and 19 people (5 women and 14 men) have gained employment in the IT sector. Further, at current 76.4 percent of people with disabilities that have been employed through the DRPI AWARE project have been in the IT, hospitality, service and finance sector, which suggests that further work needs to be done with other industries.
Quality Employment in the Workplace
Quality employment in the workplace means obtaining regular, salaried and formal jobs. The DRPI-AWARE team also defines quality employment as that which understands and matches job seekers’ and employer’s needs, as well as ensuring accessibility in all stages of employment.
Job Seekers and Employees
In the absence of quality employment, people with disabilities may turn to precarious work that is unpredictable, irregular, lacks worker protection and benefits, and promotes a sense of economic insecurity. People with disabilities employed in precarious work are at risk of being underpaid and undervalued for their work. The working conditions for people with disabilities are central to the work within the DRPI AWARE project. Working conditions are carefully evaluated to ensure workplace policies, procedures, supports and adaptations are available for employees with disabilities. Working conditions are monitored to ensure that there is no risk of exposure to physical, biological, chemical, radioactive, or other hazards. Work Placement coordinators conduct skill identification assessments with job seekers to clearly understand their specific skills and requirements in terms of workplace adaptations.
This skill mapping provides the coordinator with guidance when identifying potential employment opportunities, narrowing in on skill matching depending on a company’s requirements, and accessing adaptation requirements to ensure success throughout the hiring and employment process. For example, it is important to ensure that no barriers exist during the interview process, including communication or discriminatory attitudes.
The DRPI-AWARE model promotes sustainable hiring and employment based on considerations of health and safety, income adequacy, and the availability of peer support in the workplace. Training and advancement opportunities are also considered for potential employment opportunities. Ultimately, quality employment safeguards economic empowerment and increased quality of life for individuals with disabilities.
From the Employer’s Perspective
In addition to understanding job seekers skills and abilities, it is also important to understand employer’s needs. By identifying job qualifications and requirements, Work Placement coordinators can carefully match the employer’s needs with a job seeker with a disability. If additional skills are required, many employers have indicated their preference to conduct their own on-the-job training which is tailored to their company and specific operations.
The DRPI team provides transitional support and advice during the hiring and training process to ensure any accessibility requirements are addressed upfront and the worker with the disability is not disadvantaged or excluded due to a lack of accessibility. For example, if an individual with a hearing impairment requires a sign language interpreter, he or she will need this accommodation to allow equal access during the interview process, allowing clear communication between the employer and the job seeker.
Employers can anticipate that people with disabilities may be applying for their job opening and can identify needed accommodations during the interview. By offering all job candidates the opportunity to request disability-related accommodations during the interview process, this will minimize miscommunication and address barriers from the beginning. Through this open dialogue, it makes the future employee more likely to gain trust, be successful in their position, and increase employee retention. In the DRPI experience, there are few if any accommodations if the job matching is accurate and well carried out.
The DRPI-AWARE team has worked closely and built trust with employers to dispel some of the stereotypes and assumptions held about people with disabilities. Workshops have been conducted with senior managers and human resources professionals about how to gain business advantage through inclusion. These educational workshops facilitate dialogue among employers and the disability sector. This dialogue provides education for management and operational staff, to overcome discrimination and negative myths about the skills and abilities of people with disabilities. A focus on the demand-side approach (that is the employer) has been found to increase the likelihood of employment, reduce the stigma towards people with disabilities and create lasting change and employment outcomes.
The DRPI-AWARE team in Nepal has developed a locally relevant employment model for employing people with disabilities. In collaboration with NFDN, there is an increased understanding of the gaps in services and supports for employers and job seekers in Nepal. For instance, Nepal has market shortages that lead to challenges for employers to balance supply and demand. Through innovative thinking and inclusion of employees with disabilities, employers in Nepal can work toward a better balance that meets their supply needs and demands for goods or services produced. Employment opportunities have been created through on boarding employers, particularly in the tourism, service, finance and telecom industry thus far. For example, Hotel Hardik has been an inclusive employer and have made their workplace accessible to an employee who uses a wheelchair. By becoming accessible, Hotel Hardik can attract customers with disabilities as well. Another employer who created an accessible workplace, Nepalaya Publication, built a ramp in place of stairs at the entrance to accommodate a newly-hired employee who uses a wheelchair.
The ramp installation allowed Nepalaya Publication to take full advantage of this employee’s skills and assets for their business. These are examples of employers who are committed to accessibility and equality in the workplace, and hiring individuals based on their skills. These adaptations could be extended to other potential employees with various physical, sensory, mental, intellectual, invisible or co-occuring disabilities. The removal of simple barriers allows employers to gain access to an under-employed labour force ready to work.
The DRPI-AWARE recognizes those employers who have made positive social change to enhance their business. Through collaborative partnerships with engaged employers, the project team is working to build local sustainable Employer Councils that promote inclusive employment by celebrating champion leading employers. The Inclusive Employer Awards have been presented to employers in Nepal as a way to recognize their commitment and celebrate employers who are accelerating inclusion and accessibility in their workplace.
In addition to employer recognition, the DRPI-AWARE project has developed a full public relations campaign. We have created videos, pamphlets, billboards, and radio clips. The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness of the skills and abilities of persons with disabilities, facilitate role models and promote sustainability. There is also a need to shift the emphasis from training to employer-driven approaches to help move toward a focus on the demand side rather than the supply side of labour. This campaign highlights persons with disabilities as equal citizens with the rights and abilities to work productively in the local labour market.
The DRPI AWARE model challenges traditional employment models by addressing the society built barriers that exist within workplaces. Progressive employers at the forefront of innovation are recognizing the value of inclusive and accessible workplaces for both their existing workforce, their customers, and the ability to hire talented and skilled jobseekers with disabilities.
- Dhungana, Bishnu Maya. (2006). The lives of disabled women in Nepal: vulnerability without support. Disability & Society, 21(2), 133–146.
- Dhungana, Bishnu Maya, &Kusakabe, Kyoko (2010). The role of self-help groups in empowering disabled women: A case study in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Development in Practice, 20(7), 855-865.
- Lamichhane, (2012). Employment situation and life changes for people with disabilities: evidence from Nepal. Disability & Society, 27(4), 471-485.
- Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation. (2014). Tourism Employment Survey 2014 (p. 37). Kathmandu. Retrieved from file:///Users/emilymcintyre/Downloads/Tourism%20Employment%20Study%20Draft%20Report_integrated(1).pdf
Marcia Rioux is a professor in the School of Health Policy and Management MA and PhD (Critical Disability Studies) as well as the Director of the York Institute of Health Research at York University in Canada. She also teaches a core course in the newly inaugurated PhD (Critical Disability Studies) at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. With BengtLindqvist, she is the co-Director of Disability Rights Promotion International, a multi-year project to monitor disability rights nationally and internationally. Professor Rioux’s research includes health and human rights, universal education, international monitoring of disability rights, the impact of globalization on welfare policy, literacy policy, disability policy, and social inclusion. Dr. Rioux has lectured throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. She has been an advisor to federal and provincial commissions, parliamentary committees, and international NGOs as well as United Nations agencies. She has edited a number of collected volumes and nearly 70 book chapters and articles on disability rights.
Paula Hearn has over eight years of combined experience working in the disability and international development fields. Her expertise ranges from disability rights monitoring, inclusive employment, project management, and inclusion in international development policies. She holds a Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies from York University, and a Bachelor’s degree in International Development from the University of Guelph in Canada.
Sagar Prasai is Employment Project coordinator of National Federation of the Disabled – Nepal. He has been working here for 4 years. Before that, he had experience of working in other national and international NGOs. He is also a disability rights activist and is actively involved in various campaigns for the promotions of rights of persons with disabilities in Nepal for past several years. Sagar is Physics Graduate and is also an IT enthusiast. He also actively writes blogs and articles on social media sites.
Alexis Buettgen has a PhD in the Critical Disability Studies from York University where she studied poverty, disability and employment in the international context. She is currently a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Disability Studies. Alexis also has nearly 10 years of experience in community based applied research projects at the local, national and international levels, as well as nearly five years of experience in program evaluation working with various non-profit organizations working with various marginalized population groups.
Emily McIntyre works as a Research Coordinator at the Tamara Daly Research Program in Canada. Her scholarship highlights gender and health access; advances working, living and visiting conditions in long-term residential care; and promotes policies to improve access and health equity for older adults. She previously worked at the Graduate Assistant at Disability Rights Promotion International. She has obtained her Master’s Degree in Critical Disabilities Studies at the York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.