Disability and work

Employing people with disabilities: It’s right and smart

Employing people with disabilities – a huge and largely overlooked market segment – makes a lot of sense for companies. But that requires overcoming a fear of the unknown and looking at abilities rather than disabilities.

Feature | 31 March 2014
Yves Veulliet, IBM
GENEVA (ILO News) – Yves Veulliet, who had an accident that deprived him of the use of his legs when he was 21, knows all about the barriers people with disabilities face in finding a job, which often result from misconceptions about what they can and cannot do.

And when they do get a job, negative attitudes from co-workers and supervisors often affect their careers, even in companies committed to hiring disabled persons.

“The reality is that we are all afraid of the unknown. Most people are uncomfortable at first around people with disabilities, it is natural,” says Veulliet, who had to knock on quite a few doors, before he found a job 25 years ago with IBM, where he is now Global Disability & Inclusion Manager.

Evidence suggests that once employers overcome their fear of the unknown, hiring and working with people with disabilities becomes natural.

“How do you speak about someone’s ‘disability’ when it is hidden by their ‘ability’?” says Sean Callaghan, a General Manager at Sodexo, in Toronto, Canada. He says his team of 36 includes four people with different disabilities, “but most importantly, they have different abilities.”

Enabling, not disabling

The environment is also important – not just the physical aspects, but also the work culture and an inclusive atmosphere.

At the end of the day, an employer’s mission is to provide me with an enabling environment so I can manage my disability."
“At the end of the day, an employer’s mission is to provide me with an enabling environment so I can manage my disability, and my mission as an employee is to manage my disability and my work. Roles must be clear for both,” says Veulliet.

He says that when he joined IBM, he felt his disability had vanished because the premises were highly accessible.

Why hire?

Consumers are likely to look favorably upon companies that employ people with disabilities. And, the world’s 1.3 billion people with disabilities together with their 2.2 billion family and friends control more than US$ 8 trillion in global disposable income per year, according to disability and corporate profitability expert Rich Donovan.

In Indonesia, the major drive for inclusion is legislation, which mandates that disabled people must make up at least 1 per cent of a company’s workforce.

Better Work, a partnership between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), helps companies in Indonesia comply with the law. “One of our team members, Angela Friska, who is Deaf, raises awareness among the employers in the garment industry,” says Simon Field, Chief Technical Advisor for Better Work Indonesia.

To date, only three of the 90 suppliers Better Work works with are fully compliant with the legislation. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” says Field. “But it’s a start.” Multinationals are also pushing their suppliers to become disability inclusive.

Employers are gradually realizing that hiring people with disabilities is not just charity and that employees with disabilities have a lot to contribute. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do,” says Sreela Das Gupta, Global Diversity & Inclusion manager at Tata Consulting Services.

In the many presentations he gives about disability inclusion, Veulliet asks managers to ask themselves why they should hire a person with a disability when they can hire a non-disabled one. “The answer is companies do not have to hire a person with a disability. They have to hire someone with the appropriate skills to perform a given job. If that person happens to have a disability, so be it, but disability is not the point. “

The ILO and disability
  • The ILO’s Disability Programme promotes equality of opportunity and treatment for persons with disabilities in vocational rehabilitation, training and employment. It works to increase knowledge on the training and employment of people with disabilities.
  •  The ILO Global Business and Disability Network is a unique worldwide network of multinational companies, national employers’ organizations, business networks and disabled people’s organizations working in collaboration to promote disability inclusion in the workplace. The ILO believes that by participating in such a network, companies will benefit from more diverse workforces, improved productivity, reduced personnel turnover, safer workplaces and increased customer service and community brand loyalty.