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UN rights chief stresses need to promote employment of persons with disabilities

Disabled workers at a chalk factory in Ghana's capital, Accra.
Irin/Evans Mensah
Disabled workers at a chalk factory in Ghana's capital, Accra.

UN rights chief stresses need to promote employment of persons with disabilities

The United Nations human rights chief today called for promoting the employment of persons with disabilities and removing the obstacles that impede them from working on an equal basis with others.

“The right to work is a fundamental human right that is inseparable from human dignity,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “Not only does it provide individuals with the means to make a living and support their families; insofar as work is freely chosen or accepted, it contributes to their development and recognition within their communities.

“Work carries no less meaning to persons with disabilities,” she told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as it held its annual discussion on human rights and persons with disabilities.

Ms. Pillay noted that when the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in 2006, it embodied an “important shift” in the way that the global community viewed persons with disabilities.

“Prior to this, they had been regarded as mere recipients of charity, goodwill or medical care,” she said. “The Convention challenges these perspectives, establishing that persons with disabilities are holders of human rights on an equal basis with others.”

A study prepared by the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR) highlights good practices in promoting employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; delves into the barriers faced; and identifies the main challenges that States encounter in ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoy access to, retention of and advancement in employment on an equal basis with others.

Ms. Pillay outlined three barriers that often confront persons with disabilities, beginning with the fact that many workplaces continue to be inaccessible to persons with disabilities – be it in terms of physical access, or via attitudes that create barriers to equal participation.

“Persons with disabilities are often seen as incapable of carrying out tasks required in the labour market, or better off in protected environments such as sheltered workshops. Efforts to promote employment of persons with disabilities often focus on creating jobs in separate settings, and fail to respect the Convention’s underlying principle of inclusion,” she stated.

“It is imperative that States move away from sheltered employment schemes and instead, actively promote opportunities for persons with disabilities to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted, in a labour market which is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.”

Another major barrier preventing persons with disabilities from enjoying the right to work is lack of access to education and training in relevant skills.

“In line with the Convention, we must ensure that persons with disabilities are able to take part in vocational training programmes that are non-discriminatory and that promote equality of opportunity as well as concrete outcome,” Ms. Pillay stressed.

A third barrier, she noted, is created through the lack of meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities in the development of legislation and policies related to their training and employment.

“Drawing upon the Convention’s essential pillar of full and effective participation, I call for capacity development of representative organisations of persons with disabilities to effectively take part in negotiations on their behalf.”

Ms. Pillay voiced confidence that the Council’s discussions will result in identifying practical steps that everyone – States, the private sector, civil society, UN entities, and others – can take to continue promoting the work and employment of persons with disabilities, in line with the Convention.

“In this critical time of building a global development agenda beyond 2015 that is firmly anchored in human rights, our joint efforts are more important than ever,” she stated.