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High unemployment among nation's disabled

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

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THERE are approximately 200,000 Jamaicans living with a disability, World Bank data has shown, but fewer than five per cent are in paid employment, making the disabled community one of the most susceptible groups in the country.

However, Executive Director of the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD) Christine Hendricks told the Jamaica Observer recently that this is gradually changing.

“We are now seeing businessplaces coming to the JCPD and asking 'do you have a person with a physical disability?' It wasn't like that some years ago and so even though the attitudes in some areas are still the largest barriers to go through, there is some breaking taking place and the conversations are happening and it makes our work in the disability sector seem as if it is bearing good fruit,” she said, noting that disability inclusion is not a sprint, but a marathon.

She added that requests in terms of employment opportunity for the disabled community from business owners come as often as weekly and sometimes bi-weekly.

“Sometimes they want one, sometimes two. They might also want a set for the holiday season depending on where and depending on what kind of business. The factory-type of business comes more frequently, so you have those that make the bags, and you have those doing the sewing of stuff, designing and that kind of a thing more than anything else. Every now and then you get the request for accountants or persons with supervisory skills,” Hendricks shared.

In comparison, diversity and inclusion expert Haqeeq Bostan argued that the world over there's a significant gap in terms of employment rates.

“In the UK we've had comprehensive legislation for 20-odd years. The so-called hearts and minds battle has been won, but still the employment rate gap remains at 40 per cent. So one of the jobs work that's going on now is called disability confidence. So how can employers and service providers say that they have disability confidence? That means they've got employment practices that are inclusive; they've got facilities that are inclusive. They are working towards best practice,” he said.

In terms of best practices in the workplace, he told the Observer that it is about how the workplace includes members of the disabled community. He said organisations that have expertise whether they are impairment specific or whether they are hand disabilities are very important as they accommodate needs.

At the same time, projects and resources coordinator at the British Council, George Young, said that not many organisations in Jamaica have a human resource policy that speaks specifically to disability employment.

“Oftentimes, the entities trying to accommodate persons with disability only look at the built environment. Accessibility inclusion goes way beyond that. So it's even how you interact with the person; it's the strategies that we put in place to ensure that they could even work from home. In getting more persons employed it is important that we start at that point. [We] need an HR policy that not only guides them, but provides room for recourse whenever that person with disability feels that he or she has been discriminated against,” Young said.

— Kimone Francis

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