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From Chile

Hiring people with disabilities is not charity; it’s good for business

The ILO and Chilean employers are working together to raise awareness of the positive impact that people with disabilities (*) can have on enterprises.

Feature | 28 August 2013
"Sometimes they would just say: ‘you already know why we are not hiring you'"
SANTIAGO (ILO News) - Alejandra Caris is 29 years old. She studied accounting and now works in the fruit and vegetable section of a supermarket in Santiago. She has a congenital condition affecting the movement of her legs. Alejandra is a feisty and determined woman who has fought very hard to be part of the labour market.

“Once I graduated, I immediately started looking for work in the field of accounting. It did not go well,” she tells ILO News. “It is hard to find a job when you have a disability. Sometimes they would just say: ‘you already know why we are not hiring you’.”

Alejandra is not alone. Many disabled people in Chile find it difficult to find a job and simply give up. Others do not even try.

The Chilean employers’ federation - SOFOFA - and the ILO conducted a study of 150 companies that hire people with disabilities. They found that this group represents 0.5 per cent of the total workforce. (7.6 per cent of the Chilean population has a disability, according to the most recent data).

Based on this research, SOFOFA and the ILO launched a joint programme setting out guidelines to help companies understand that recruiting people with disabilities increases efficiency, productivity, competitiveness and overall success.

Structured into four chapters – three for employers and one for workers - the programme offers a set of tools to overcome the commonly held misconception that having a disability is an impediment to work. It also promotes the idea that integrating disabled people into the workplace is not only good for jobs and economic growth but for society as well.

For example, it advises enterprises on occupational risk prevention policies and on the existing legal and financial incentives to hire people with disabilities. It also provides workers with tips on how to enter the labour market.

Jorge Coggiola is a manager at Sánchez y Cía, a plastics manufacturing company that employs people with disabilities. Ten of its 150 employees at the factory in Quilicura (satellite city of Santiago) have hearing impairments. He says the company only started hiring people with disabilities because it was difficult to fill vacancies. But looking back it was a great idea.

At the beginning, shift supervisors were not happy.... but right away they realized that they were wrong"
“At the beginning, shift supervisors were not happy. They thought the new employees would perform poorly. But right away they realized that they were wrong. The new staff showed a great willingness to work. Now the supervisors ask me to hire more people like them,” says Coggiola.

“We tend to think that people with disabilities have difficulties working, learning or even going about their daily lives. It is only when I started working with them that I realized this is not the case. They learn and they adapt, and they can be self-sufficient,” he adds.

Barriers and myths

Ignorance is a major obstacle that prevents people with disabilities from entering the labour market and having a normal life.

“Lack of good information generates myths, fear and prejudice. For instance, some companies express concern that disabled people will have a higher rate of accidents or sick days,” says Andrés Yurén , Senior Specialist for the ILO Bureau for Employers' Activities (ACT/ EMP) in Santiago.

“ILO evidence shows the opposite is true. People with disabilities are often very careful. They know they have to take care of themselves to avoid things getting worse. The same goes for work absence. They are absent less often from work and they are very loyal,” he adds.

The benefits of employing people with disabilities have been widely documented: they make good, dependable employees; they help to increase workforce morale; they are an untapped resource of skills and talents; and consumers are likely to look favourably upon businesses that employ them, even considering switching brands on this basis.

Lack of good information generates myths, fear and prejudice"
“Hiring people with disabilities is not philanthropy or charity; it is just good for business,” says Yurén. “A company that favours integration and diversity is a company that favours innovation, a good working environment and, above all, client and consumer loyalty.”

But barriers, both physical and cultural, remain high.

“The lack of appropriate infrastructure and transport networks restricts opportunities for this group of people. They also face problems having access to good education and training, and of course the existing myths that surround them. Our strategy addresses these problems by analyzing concrete data and presenting very positive experiences,” says Anita Briones, president of SOFOFA’s Disability Committee.

Alejandra Caris is one of those positive experiences.

“I now have the opportunity to achieve one of my biggest goals: to raise money so that one day I can have my own grocery store. In the meantime, I am in contact with other people, I see other realities, I feel that I count and this makes me want to continue advancing.”

(*) More than one billion people (15% of the world’s population) experience some form of disability. They are the world's largest minority group, according to the most recent estimates of disability incidence from the World Report on Disability (2011), jointly published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank.