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Unlocking the potential of youth with disabilities by strengthening labour market participation


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By Kasun Satanarachchi

Persons with Disabilities are an integral component of the population. The 2011 census carried out by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) records indicate that 8.7% of the total population are Persons with Disabilities. However, there were serious concerns regarding the definition and criteria for identifying a Person with Disability during the census. 

Under Section 18 of the Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act no. 28 of 1996, a disabled person is defined as ‘anyone, as a result of any deficiency in their physical or mental capabilities, whether congenital or not, is unable by themselves to ensure, wholly or partly, the necessities of life’. 

Even though disability is an evolving concept, the legislative definition of Persons with Disabilities emphasises their dependency and highlighting insensitivity towards disability. Thus, policy pronouncements notwithstanding, persons with intellectual disabilities and those with severe disabilities are frequently denied their most fundamental human rights and participation in society.

Persons with Disabilities have been consistently marginalised in Sri Lankaand are often denied opportunities to participate effectively in the public realm. This denial stems from the idyllic view of the able-bodied common man which has led to the State allocating its resources and revamping the existing structure. However, viewing from the lens of an average disabled person, this necessarily amounts to the denial of fundamental rights of Persons with Disabilities; alluding to archaic cultures and attitudes that perceive disability as a penance for past sins and a burden.

This thought has influenced dominant charity-based discourses on matters relating to Persons with Disabilities. The attitudinal barriers play a major role in stagnation of policies and regulations. They further frustrate the accessibility, inclusivity and participation of Persons with Disabilities in different spheres such as employment. 

Despite Sri Lanka recognising that every person has a right to earn a living, this also includes persons with difficulties. Several policies and legislation to support persons with disabilities have been enacted or adapted in the last 25 years. These include:Rehabilitation of the Visually Handicapped Trust Fund, Act No.9 of 1992, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, No.28 of 1996; and the National Policy on Disability for Sri Lanka of 2003.

Additionally, the supreme source of the law Sri Lankan Constitution Under Article 12 that deals with fundamental rights, in the anti-discrimination Clauses (2) and (3), people with disabilities are not mentioned as a separate group. They are recognised as being within clause (1), which states that; “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the Law In addition, Clause (4) allows for “special provision being made by law, subordinate legislation or executive action, for the advancement of women, children or disabled persons.”

The Public Administration Circular No.27/88 of August 18, 1988 instructs all ministries, departments and corporations to allocate 3% of job opportunities to Persons with Disabilities, however, there is neither evidence of this implementation for evaluation nor are their lessons learnt. Consequently, Persons with Disabilities have perceived that this circular was not implemented as planned with expected progress. 

To date, some of the public services do not adhere to this allocation in an equal manner as there are no Parliamentary Acts to enforce this provision with more legal status. One observation is that there is a lack of awareness and understanding of Persons with Disabilities on “how and where” to report such incidents. 

Employment in the private sector is limited and available only to a small percentage of individuals with disabilities. This is a consequence of negative attitudes of employers, especially due to the lack of sensitivity and practical understanding, of the skills and abilities of people who are disabled, and needs and rights to mainstream persons with disabilities into employment. 

Entrepreneurs with disabilities are also prone to exploitation and possible failure because of the poor standard of education received. Such people may be left with no option but to work for themselves. There are also serious concerns regarding vocational training systems for people with disabilities due to a mismatch between job demands and skills development. Furthermore, insufficient sign language instructors and the unavailability of training in Braille is yet another barrier to enter the workforce.

Furthermore, women with disabilities face higher difficulties in obtaining a job than their male counterparts. This situation can be addressed by fully implementing the International Labour Organization’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention No. 159 (1955). 

The primary goal of ILO is to promote equal opportunities for women and men, including those with disabilities, to obtain decent work. The ILO defines decent work as productive work on conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. People with disabilities, irrespective of where they live, want and need the same things as everyone else: a home, good health, and a full life, including the chance for decent work and to enjoy the resulting financial, social and psychological benefits.

If the policymakers and enactors really think about social integration and leaving no one behind, then, sustainable development comes in to play to do so. Where disabled youth havethe right to be independent and lead a life with dignity and self-respect. To leave no on behind the country should be economically self-sufficient. To reach self-sufficiency in the economy, employment rates need to be high.

There must be an enabled environment for disabled talents to work. For this to come to light,existing policies and administrative circulars should be implemented to the fullest capacity. As a disabled youth myself, the community that I belong to, dislikes being dependent on others. Hence, as a country that considers employment as a right for all, there needs to be more inclusive systems to ensure we leave no one behind. 

[The writer is an independent disabled rights advocate. He is a blogger of National Youth Model United Nations (NYMUN) and a former member of the Sri Lanka Youth Parliament. Kasun is equipped with an LLB and is the focal point of Sri Lanka for youth networks for Disabled People International. Kasun was awarded a Best Novice 

Delegate award at the NYMUN 

conference in 2016.]

(Disclaimer: UNLOCKED is a space for Sri Lankan youth to express their views and opinions on development with the aim of creating positive change in the world. The views expressed in the blogs are solely those of the authors. UNDP Sri Lanka and Daily FT does not represent or endorse the views expressed in these blogs. Read more about the UNLOCKED initiative www.lk.undp.org.)


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