Enhance job opportunities for people with disabilities for everyone's benefits

Viet Nam has lost 3 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product as the result of the involuntary exclusion of persons with disabilities from the labour market. On the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), the ILO is calling for investment in more effective inclusion strategies that can yield returns to society and benefit everyone.

Feature | 30 November 2012
HANOI (ILO News) – Ngo Thi Kim Oanh no longer believes in luck and has given up her job hunt after four years of trying in vain.

Despite her accomplished education background, the 38-year-old – who suffers from some mobility disability because of cerebral palsy – cannot stand the discriminating look from employers.

“I asked them [employers] in advance if they recruit people with disabilities and they said yes,” said the woman who is now living with her retired parents in Hanoi’s outlying district of Thuong Tin. “But when I submitted my application in person, they looked at me as if I was an alien, some even didn’t let me step in.”

After graduating from the Hanoi Foreign Languages University and struggling to find jobs for several years, Ms Oanh was recruited by some foreign non-profit organizations on short-term contracts to help other people with disabilities but those projects closed down in 2008, leaving her with no job prospects again.

For Ms Oanh and the more than 15 per cent of Viet Nam’s population, who have a disability, jobs seem to be too big a dream to achieve although they are still able to work.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), Viet Nam loses about 3 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product as the result of the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the labour market.

The ILO is partnering with Irish Aid to promote employment opportunities for this less advantaged group, as part of a 2012-13 programme worth more than US$250,000.

“It is important to remove barriers against women and men with disabilities, not only for the benefit of those individuals and their families, but also their communities and the wider society,” said Geneva-based ILO Lead Expert on Disability Barbara Murray.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability recognizes that the global existence of barriers constitutes a central component of disability, a result of the interaction between those people and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

People with disabilities have demonstrated their willingness to work and their capacity to contribute effectively and productively in their places of employment, Ms Murray said. Yet many are prevented from making this contribution by barriers which result in their underemployment, unemployment or labour market inactivity.

In Viet Nam, few of them have stable jobs and regular incomes and many remain outside of formal employment. Compared to other workers’ groups, their unemployment rate is much higher, at about 30 per cent.

“This is a terrible waste of potential,” said Ms Murray.

According to 37-year-old hearing-impaired Nguyen Tuan Linh, with the national Law on Disability, the State wants to help people with disability integrate into the community but “local governments think and do differently”.

Ms Oanh agrees that communal officials know nothing about disability.

“They only judge you through the way you look without trying to understand your real work capacity,” she said.

The exclusion of people with disabilities from the labour market means a hard life for them and their families. One in every four households with a family member with disability lives below the poverty line, according to the 2009 Viet Nam Population and Housing Census.

Mr Linh said people with disabilities have inadequate access to education and training, which makes it more difficult for them to get a job.

As the only person with impairments who has a teachers’ college degree in the northern part of the country, the Hai Phong-born man is now teaching deaf students at the Central Teacher’s College in Ha Noi. However, he remembered his schooling was “really tough, three to five times harder than normal people”. He only completed secondary school at the age of 26 and finished college last August.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), literacy rates for people with disabilities are only 73 per cent in urban areas and 63 per cent in the countryside, well below the national rate of 95 per cent.

Vice chairwoman of Hanoi Deaf People Association Vu Thuy Linh said it’s important to develop special curricula and teaching materials for children with impairments so that their education can start at an early age, allowing them to have a normal development.

Meanwhile, for the ILO specialist Murray, there is no single way to help people with disabilities in Viet Nam achieve more and better employment.

“There needs to be widespread consultation in planning the action to be taken, particularly with employers and representatives of persons with disabilities, trade unions and service providers,” she said.

An important first step is the explicit promotion of employment opportunities for this disadvantaged groups, including laws, policies and their effective implementation.

Persons with disabilities should be given access to training in skills that are in demand in the labour market and support in looking for jobs, said Murray, whereas employers should be encouraged to provide opportunities and reasonable environment to enable workers with impairments get and carry out their jobs.

“And of course, where people with disabilities wish to set up their own businesses, they should be supported through training in business skills and access to business development services,” she added.

The most important thing, however, according to Ms Oanh, is that society should believe in them and provide them with opportunities. “It’s time to change the social attitudes towards people with disabilities!”

On the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, the ILO, the Irish Embassy and the Irish AIDS announced six research grants worth nearly US$6,000 to students of the Hanoi Law University. The grants will support undergraduate and postgraduate research projects on the Law on Disability starting in 2013.
The organizations have also supported the teaching of the law since the start of 2012. The assistance, which will finish next year, totals $10,000.