OP-ED: Persons with Disabilities Deserve to Participate in the Workforce Too

On the streets of our larger cities, you can often see disabled persons directed by children and begging. It often gives the impression that people with disabilities in Liberia are not qualified to work.

If you are a person with a disability, you will find it difficult to access public or private buildings in Liberia; those buildings are structured without any consideration for the disabled, which can add to gaps in providing services, and promoting discrimination, bias, and societal humiliation.

There is limited data on persons with disabilities in every country and Liberia is of no exemption; disability is pervasive across the country, with no accurate data on the employment status across industries for people with disabilities.

According to a 2011 World Bank report on disability, there are at least one billion people across the world who have some form of disability – representing 15 percent of the population. In developing countries like Liberia, this figure is even worse.

People with disabilities experience hostile social and economic consequences, compared to those without, including less schooling, subordinate health outcomes, lack of employment, and poverty.

Ask any employer in Liberia’s private or public sector about hiring disabled people and they will likely seem hesitant to include those persons within their workforce.

Bias, superstitions, and sometimes ignorance can help propagate the idea that people with disabilities in Liberia are impotent and not qualified to be hired. Additionally, human resource professionals often think recruiting them is too expensive for business.

Why are public and private sector employers not being inclusive in hiring persons with disability? Why is the government not drafting stronger policies to ensure that employers are liable if they denied persons or people with disability from being employed? Why are our buildings so structurally unfriendly to persons with disability?

Our laws are not strong enough to punish organizations that refuse to hire persons with disability. Moreover, the government itself does not encourage the inclusion of people with disabilities in the public sector.

However, like any other human beings, people with disabilities deserve to work and feed their families. Employing them will not only provide stable income but give them the opportunities for socio-economic contribution.

What can the Liberian government do to further promote an inclusive working environment to accommodate persons with disability? To begin with, the Liberian government needs to initially gather sufficient insights on individuals with disabilities in the private and public sector to determine what prevents people with disabilities from finding work.

The government also needs to actualize the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for their rights to be respected. In order to do that, enough resources should be allotted to implement laws that guarantee the benefits of individuals with disabilities.

These can be done through capacity building opportunities and partnering with private and public sector employers to prioritize the disabled.

Ultimately, even with full implementation of the law, human resource professionals in Liberia will still need to actively start persuading their management to hire people with disabilities. They too deserve the chance to work and contribute to the development of Liberia.

Featured photo courtesy of Clément Theriez from Pixabay

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Jonah Soe Kotee

Jonah Soe Kotee is the president of the Association of Liberian Human Resource Professionals and director of human resources at Partners in Health/Liberia, a Harvard-affiliated international NGO that has partnered with the government of Liberia to strengthen health systems. The opinions stated in this article are those of the author and are not the positions of Partners In Health.

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