ILO Statement on World Down Syndrome Day 2013

Men and women with disabilities can and want to work

The exclusion of people with disabilities from the labour market represents an economic loss, a violation of basic social and labour rights, and a formidable social challenge.

Statement | New York | 20 March 2013
Thank you Mr Chair,

First of all, we would like to congratulate Australia, Brazil, Japan and Poland for this initiative. It is satisfying to see such a distinguished group united around such a noble cause.
Thank you very much for inviting the ILO to share with you our perspectives on the right to work of people with disabilities, in particular those with Down syndrome.
In today’s world, one in six people live with some form of disability (more than 1 billion), the majority of who, around 850 million, are of working age.
Four-fifths of people with disabilities live in developing countries.

About 82 per cent live below the poverty line.

From the world of work perspective, the exclusion of people with disabilities from the labour market represents an economic loss, a violation of basic social and labour rights, and a formidable social challenge.

On the economic side, in most case, people with disabilities have valuable skill sets and possess great economic and productive potential. Some have good jobs or successful businesses, but most do not.

Millions face exclusion, prejudice and other barriers to the world of work. Individuals with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed and poor. We know they are also more likely to be stuck in jobs with limited promotional prospects and sub-standard working conditions.

This exclusion from the world of work can cost societies up to 7 per cent of the global GDP each year due to the lost productive potential of an underutilized workforce.
On the labour rights side, the exclusion of people with disabilities not only prevents them from escaping what is a vicious cycle of poverty and marginalization; it is a violation of their most fundamental rights—the right to work and to pursue a life of dignity, free of discrimination.

The ILO Convention No 111 (1955), ratified by 172 countries, states that equality at work means that all individuals should be accorded equal opportunities to develop fully the knowledge, skills and competencies that are relevant to the economic activities they wish to pursue. Other ILO instruments such as the Convention on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of People with Disabilities (1983) and the Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace (2001) provide further ground for creating decent work for people with disabilities.

On the social side, the recent Recommendation 202 (June 2012) on national floors of social protection calls on countries to extend social protection floors to protect and empower people with disabilities among other vulnerable groups. Integrated and coordinated social protection floor policies combining basic income and access to health services and employment and skills development policies can make the bridge for people with disabilities to access the labour markets.

The ILO is working with its partners—governments, businesses, trade unions, and civil society—to promote decent work for all individuals with intellectual and other disabilities, including those with Down syndrome. This work is grounded on a body of international labour standards that address discrimination, provide for relevant vocational training, and extend social protection to ensure access to inclusive essential services. The ILO also promotes knowledge-sharing of best practices based on employer experiences related to job training, human resources management, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Technology is also playing a major role in helping to overcome the barriers that people with disabilities often face in getting jobs. Enhanced accessibility features now found on computers, the Web and on many mobile devices are providing access to new education and employment opportunities offered by governments and the private sector, and are closing the digital divide that has existed between those living with and without disabilities.

Mr. Chair,

For the vast majority of people with intellectual disabilities, including those with Down syndrome, the opportunity to engage in work within the general community has too long been denied. And yet, experience shows that many can thrive as productive workers, given the appropriate support and the ever increasing benefits of technology.

The ILO recognizes that people living with disabilities want access to the same range of life experiences and professional opportunities as everyone else. By ensuring equitable access to the world of work, we can help provide them and their families with the means to meet their needs, but also provide them with the dignity and self-respect that each and every one of us undeniably deserves.

The right to work is the right to dignity.

Thank you.