Marcia H Rioux is Research Professor at York University in Toronto, where she is affiliated with Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI). She was recently in Kathmandu to meet with private sector employers, and to discuss how to promote access to opportunities in the labour force for people with disabilities.
Excerpts from her conversation with Ashutosh Tiwari:
Nepali Times: How did you get involved with the Nepali private sector employers to hire people with disabilities?
Marcia H. Rioux: We have a global project that looks at disability rights from the lens of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Within that broader scope of monitoring rights, we thought it would be interesting to look at a specific theme, poverty and employment, which are two major issues facing people with disabilities.
We chose to work in Nepal because a regional program on rights that we conducted with National Federation of the Disabled-Nepal (NFDN) showed that there was already a lot of cross-disability work -- an existing organisational environment for people with various disabilities to come and work together on a common platform -- going on here. To that, we thought we would add scope, capacity, themes and technical skills so that there would be a wider awareness about disability rights being like any other movement.
Given Nepal’s demography, employers can easily fill positions with the available pool of regular job applicants. Do they then not balk at the prospect of hiring people with disabilities?
Employers are reluctant to hire people with disabilities. Most of them have no experience and no understanding. Some of them try, but fail. Earlier, we used to train people with disabilities to look for jobs. But when those jobs did not work out, they lost courage, confidence and motivation. We then learnt that we needed to work closely with the employers too.
In Nepal’s case, there is a huge out-migration of people, which reduces the number of available employees. As such, workers with disabilities are more likely to provide a stable labour market. From the meetings I’ve had with Nepali businesses, it’s clear that they know this but need assistance.
Hence, through our Nepal outreach work, we will work with them on issues related to recruiting and training, workplace safety, performance and productivity, and general adaptation.
The act of hiring people with disabilities is seen to be closer to doing charity than running a business. Is there a business case to be made here?
The business case is obvious. You change your consumer market. Businesses have long gone after women, children, the elderly, the ethnic minorities and so on. But people with disabilities remain the largest untapped market that’s available to businesses. From studies, we know that people with disabilities always go to companies and businesses that are disable-friendly, both as employees and customers.
Take the case of this barbecue restaurant (Baje Ko Sekuwa in Battisputali). Because a customer who uses wheelchair asked them to put in a ramp for his wedding reception, they saw a consumer market they did not notice before and they complied. For a minimal cost, this restaurant is likely to increase its business.
For other Nepali companies that do businesses globally, letting your buyers know that you have progressive employment practices, which include hiring employees or serving customers with disabilities, makes them more likely to source goods and services from you.
You’ve visited a few companies. What are some of the examples you’ve seen of Nepali businesses’ hiring people with disabilities?
We saw that the pharmaceutical company, Deurali Janata has hired 15 people with disabilities. Most of them come from the surrounding community. This has addressed two problems -- employment and transport– while strengthening the company’s ties to local communities. The company has also hired a sign language interpreter who helps the disabled workers understand instructions and attend meetings. Bakery Café chains have long been famous for employing many people with disabilities. Four Season Travel and Tours is working with tourism product developers and with consumers with disabilities abroad to make Nepal their travel destination.
These examples are neither about charity nor corporate social responsibility. The people with disabilities hired at or served by those companies form the core part of the business.
No right of passage, Sulaiman Daud
Differently-abled, Naresh Newar
Different, but able, Bhrikuti Rai