80% of persons with disabilities are of working age, who require skills and inclusion to gain decent work opportunities

Special address at the Zero Project India Conference and CII-IBDN Conference on "Global Networks and Innovations Making Inclusive Employment a Reality in India" by Satoshi Sasaki, OIC and Deputy Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi

Statement | New Delhi, India | 19 September 2023
It is indeed my pleasure to be part of this gathering and share views on the global networks and innovations making inclusive employment a reality in India. I would like to express my appreciation to Zero Project, IBDN, CII and the organizers for hosting such an important conference. While there are many good practices of inclusive employment in the private sector, the government and the UN, we still have a long way to go. The ILO, with its unique position of working with the government, employers and workers, we have implemented various innovative approaches to promote employment of persons with disabilities that I would like to share today.

I would like to start by sharing some figures to help everyone conceptualize the field in which we operate. People with disabilities make up an estimated 1.3 billion, or 16%, of the world's population and about 80% of those are of working age. Ensuring an inclusive future of work is part of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006 and rapidly ratified by a majority of countries, reflects the fundamental shift that is taking place in how disability is regarded in international and national policies. People with disabilities are increasingly being regarded as citizens and as rights holders rather than as objects of social welfare or charity. The CRPD provides fresh impetus to the ILO’s activities to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in training, employment and occupation. Article 27 of the CRPD talks about the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others.

The ILO has a longstanding commitment to promoting social justice and achieving decent work for people with disabilities. It takes a twin-track approach to disability inclusion. One track allows for disability-specific programmes or initiatives aimed at overcoming barriers, while the other track seeks to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream services and activities, such as skills training, employment promotion, social protection schemes and poverty reduction strategies. You will agree that inclusive employment is a key component of inclusive growth, which aims to reduce poverty and inequality by creating opportunities for all segments of society, including persons with disabilities. Disability inclusion is vital and unlike gender, race or age, addressing disability inclusion can be challenging as most disabilities are invisible, and many choose not to be open about them. People with disabilities are 50% less likely to get jobs, and even the jobs they perform tend to be at the lower rungs of the corporate ladder. People with disabilities with an advanced degree earn less annually compared to people without disabilities, though they have the same education levels. Some of the innovations and strategies that can ensure equal participation of persons with disabilities in employment, for example: Awareness raising is a core component to bring about attitudinal change, improve work culture and ensure an accessible environment and communication. Equality of opportunity and treatment is a fundamental principle of social justice that has been at the core of the ILO’s work since it was founded in 1919. Reasonable accommodation is an essential component for promoting diversity and inclusion at the workplace and the right to equality in employment, vocational training and education. 85% of the jobs due to be available in 2030 have not yet been invented, so skilling reskilling and upskilling people with disabilities with 21st-century skills, such as creativity, communication and critical thinking, can propel them to be in a stronger position in this constantly evolving world of work. Technological changes: According to 2019 NASSCOM report, the growth of e-commerce and technology-based sectors is leading to the creation of new job ecosystems, which are becoming a large source of employment. Digital transformation with remote working and networking can drive people with disabilities towards greater success and help tap into their potential and unique skill sets.

Now, let me come to Networks. The ILO Global Business and Disability Network aims to create a global workforce culture that is respectful and welcoming of people with disabilities. The goal is to ensure that employment policies and practices in companies of all types are inclusive of people with disabilities around the world. The ILO also works to increase awareness about the positive relationship between disability inclusion and business success. The Network is a unique platform for business-to-business support and peer-to-peer learning on disability issues. The Network facilitates the exchange of knowledge through global, regional and national meetings, both face-to-face and online, as well as working groups and joint publications. The Network also supports national-level business initiatives on disability inclusion and India is part of the Network. Company members have signed the Network Charter and thereby commit to its 10 disability-inclusion principles. I would like to Congratulate CII for setting up the Indian Business Disability Network in 2019. The IBDN has taken many initiatives in recent years to afford opportunities for people with disabilities recognising their true potential to contribute to society. With a membership of 100 companies IBDN stands strong to promote a workforce culture that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

In recent years, the colour purple has been increasingly associated with disability, symbolising a new positive narrative about the contribution of persons with disabilities in the workforce and the wider community. As mentioned earlier, an estimated 80% of the world’s persons with disabilities are of working age. Yet very few life experiences invoke the same mixture of pity, fear, awkwardness or feelings of inconvenience from others. These human reactions can make it challenging for employees and employers around the world when setting out to create an accessible world of work. They require employees to build resilience and confidence and for employers to develop a sophisticated approach to cultural change. To accelerate the pace of change, the PurpleSpace Strategy 2022-2025 sets out a bold ambition to boost the Global Disability Employee Resource Group/Network. Governments, companies, disability NGOs, trade unions and academia must be encouraged to commit and contribute towards the Global Disability Employee Resource Group/Network through different actions.

Also, Valuable 500 is a global partnership of 500 companies working together in harmony to end disability exclusion. It is changing the narrative by: Putting disability inclusion on the leadership agenda. Tackling the disability data gap to create business accountability. Authentically representing people with disabilities in advertising and media and ensuring accessibility for all. India has reaffirmed its commitment to disability inclusion by forming a dedicated working group Disability Equity and Justice under Civil 20 of G20.

Lastly, I would also like to share that ILO is supporting the implementation of the SPARK Project in Maharashtra, where persons with disabilities are identified from rural villages and trained as Disability Inclusion Facilitators. Disability Inclusion Facilitators engage with the government, community and persons with disabilities to raise their awareness and promote engagement of persons with disabilities, especially of women in the socioeconomic activities. There is collective knowledge and experiences, capacity, and networks of all stakeholders to work together and take the agenda of leave no one behind.

I would like to end my speech by sharing a quote from UN Secretary General António Guterres: “Achieving a world where all people have equal access to opportunities is a goal worth fighting for”. Let us all work together to make inclusive employment a reality.