By Cheranka Mendis
Sri Lanka is considered a role model for equal opportunities in employment among both developed and developing countries with high sense of network and greater focus on employment for differently-abled people.
Director International Labour Organisation South East Asian Region Gotabhaya Dassanayake stated that the organisation had identified Sri Lanka as a model country for employment of differently-abled persons, with the number of projects successfully implemented and the number of differently-abled people now employed in a number of private business entities.
Speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) Network on Disability, Dassanayake said that the EFC works on awareness building, removing negative attitudes of employees, facilitating employable skill training, and placement of employment of differently-abled people has been a successful journey and that marginalisation of disability in the world of work has been minimised considerably.
“It is important that all sources of human talent are tapped enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the workplace. If not it is unhealthy for socio economic growth in the country,” Dassanayake said.
He stated that in Sri Lanka according to 2003 statistics, 53% of families incur extra costs due to disabled persons while 43% lost the possibility of earning more income due to disability. However, out of the total disabled population, 13% have found employment in the private sector.
The national policy on employment also encourages more private sector participation which would soon be filled with all member companies under the network increasing the disabled employment rate in the respective companies. As at now direct placement has exceeded 250 persons.
In order to encourage more direct hiring of people with disabilities, the EFC has felt that the Network should adopt a more proactive approach that made hiring easier. Going by an ILO suggestion, a job-fair for differently-abled job seekers, screened according to employer needs and trained in job searching, together with many employers who expressed an interest in hiring people with disabilities has been conducted in Colombo as well as in other parts of the country.
Keynote speaker Hari Ragavan from India listing out the prerequisites for employment asserted that computer literacy is the key tool that would create more employment for the disabled.
“Key fundamentals for job seekers are fluency in English, mobility — that is travel on your own with the minimum support of others, good qualifications which makes special significance as a competitor in the market, and computer adequacy which is important to skill yourself for employment,” Ragavan said.
He stated that days of the past where documents ruled and pushed differently-abled people further from finding employment are long gone. With computers, the gap that existed in employment of disabled was filled within a short time.
“Computers make people productive and dynamic. However it is also said that differently-abled people are more creative and innovative. And this is the drive that brings new ideas and creativity fostering innovation which is a must in today’s society.”
The AGM also bore witness to the handing over of certificates to 63 differently-abled persons who successfully completed a computer skill training course by the EFC network on disability. The training which started in August 2009 with 49 trainees soon rose to 56 by September last year and ended up at 63 persons by November. Fourteen persons are on the waiting list for the next training session.
Director General of EFC Ravi Peiris stated that the Network was launched in 2000 with the objective of facilitating employment and training opportunities in the private sector for disabled job seekers. The object of forming the Network was to have a link between the business community and the organisations dealing with disability issues to facilitate mainstreaming its work
“Initially, it was felt that the most important area to concentrate was to build awareness among the employers. A few seminars were held with the assistance of the ILO, mainly to raise awareness and dispel negative attitudes with regard to differently-abled people in employment. Development of a database of employable differently-abled persons has also been undertaken by the EFC, as there was hardly any information available to employers in this aspect,” Peiris said
A trainee speaks
NILUSHA Fernando, a trainee of the IT course, stated that the skill training she received at the EFC was an eye-opener that she too, like other differently-abled people, could work shoulder to shoulder with others.
Fernando, who lost her sight in the prime of her youth, stated that the computer skills for visually impaired gave her a new ray of hope for leading a useful life.
“I was teaching at an international school for 10 years when my eyesight started to drop. After a while the sight was too low for me to continue my teaching. I resigned and conducted a few classes from home but soon had to drop it too due to my weakening eyesight. Soon I could see nothing and my whole life changed into a never-ending dark gloom. At a time when I was depressed and feeling helpless, this skill training course came as a life saver. I realised that I too could work with others.” She is today a receptionist at John Keells Limited. She won a certificate as one of the highest scorers at the Microsoft Word examination. She received two Braille books on MS Word and computer concept from her lecturer Mani Gunawardena and a CD with the modules and extra learning to help further her knowledge. All other certificate holders also received the same prizes.