A large majority of people with disabilities are either not employed, under-employed or earn lower wages (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1499; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 235; Heymann et al., 2014, pp. 4-5; Mitra, 2014, p. 269). A study of 15 developing countries found that in nine of them there was a statistically significant disability gap showing lower employment rates for people with disabilities (Mizunoya & Mitra, 2013, p. 32).
- Gender: The study of 15 developing countries also found that employment differences across disability status are more pronounced among males than females (Mizunoya & Mitra, 2013, p. 38). However, other studies suggest that women with disabilities have worse outcomes than men with disabilities in the labour market in both employment rates and wages (Heymann et al., 2014, p. 5; ESCAP, 2012, p. 19; Lamicchane, 2015, p. 248). A survey of 51 countries found that men with disabilities have an employment rate of 52.8 per cent compared with 64.9 per cent for men without; and for women the figures were 19.6 per cent and 29.9 per cent respectively (Mont, 2014, p. 23).
- Disability type: People with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or multiple disabilities have been found to be less likely than people with other disabilities to access the labour market (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1499; Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, pp. 35-36; Mizunoya & Mitra, 2013, p. 16; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 8). A study of Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh found that people with physical impairments were less likely to find jobs than people with hearing and visual impairments, even when they had longer periods of schooling (Lamicchane, 2015, p. 248).
A study of 55 countries found that during the economic crisis many people with disabilities lost their jobs and funding for employment support was cut, and recent evidence indicates that the disability employment gap has been widening (Fembek et al., 2013, pp. 15, 90; Heymann et al., 2014, p. 4).
Attempts to improve the livelihoods of people with disabilities have involved efforts to include them in social protection programmes and in the labour market (Rimmerman, 2013, pp. 82-82).
Barriers to participation in education and training place people with disabilities at a disadvantage in the job market (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 36; Fembek et al., 2013, p. 128; Mont, 2014, p. 25; Mitra, 2014, p. 275). In South Africa for example, the formal employment rate for people with disabilities is less than a third of that of people without disabilities (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 35). Young people with disabilities find it particularly hard to get apprenticeships or training (Groce & Kett, 2014, pp. 7-8).
Even when people with disabilities have the required skills, additional barriers may include: their social isolation limiting the development of networks; discriminatory attitudes and misconceptions by employers; workplace harassment; low expectations of their capabilities by individuals with disabilities and their families; inaccessible work environments and lack of accommodations; and discriminatory legislation (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, pp. 36-37; Mizunoya & Mitra, 2013, p. 29; WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 236, 239-240, 250; Heymann et al., 2014, p. 6; Mont, 2014, p. 25; Mitra, 2014, pp. 276-280; ESCAP, 2012, pp. 16-18). A study of disability and equity at work attributes much of the employment and income disadvantages faced by people with disabilities to discrimination, both explicit and implicit (Heymann et al., 2014, p. 6).
Tackling barriers to employment
Overcoming the labour market barriers experienced by people with disabilities requires a range of approaches, addressing constraints outside and inside the labour market (Heymann et al., 2014, p. 9; Mitra, 2014, p. 280). Labour market interventions include: anti-discrimination laws, hiring quotas, wage subsidies, vocational rehabilitation and accommodation in the workplace (Rimmerman, 2013, pp. 84-92; Fembek et al., 2013, p. 144; WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 235, 240-246; Mont, 2014, pp. 27-29; Mitra, 2014, pp. 284-293). The aim is to change attitudes in the workplace and amongst people with disabilities and their families (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 235; Mont, 2014, p. 32).
In developed countries, evidence shows that disability discrimination legislation has resulted in the most significant progress in workplace accommodations for people with disabilities, although they continue to experience disproportionally high rates of unemployment (Rimmerman, 2013, pp. 92, 125). The size of the informal economy and limited legal implementation capacity in some developing countries may limit the effectiveness of disability discrimination legislation there (Heymann et al., 2014, p. 12).
There has been a lack of rigorous impact evaluations of employment programmes for people with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries (Mont, 2014, p. 26). However, programmes targeting the context-specific employment challenges of people with disabilities are more likely to be successful in improving employment rates (Mitra, 2014). This would include making sure training fulfilled market demands (Mont, 2014, p. 30). Separate employment programmes for people with disabilities are less efficient and sustainable than including them in mainstream efforts (Mont, 2014, p. 36). It is recommended that employment policies consider issues such as awareness raising, inclusive education, inclusive healthcare, and accessible transport, and recognise that most livelihood generating activities are not in the formal sector (Mont, 2014, pp. 37-38; Mitra, 2014, p. 294). Programmes that address multiple constraints to employment are promising, although there is little available evidence on these (Mitra, 2014, p. 294). Social assistance can also have positive effects on employment for people with disabilities (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p.248).
An estimated 80 per cent of economically active people with disabilities in developing countries are self-employed, as this is often their only option (Leymat, 2012, p. 26; Groce et al., 2011, p. 1504; Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 37; Mizunoya & Mitra, 2013, p. 35). Self-employment is associated with job insecurity, and lack of pensions and other welfare benefits, while lack of education, skills training and access to finance schemes creates further challenges (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1504; Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, pp. iii, 37; Leymat, 2012, p. 26). In addition, stigma and prejudice towards people with disabilities may prevent customers using their service (e.g. in Southern Africa customers will not buy food from women with epilepsy, fearing that it is an infectious condition) (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1504).
Access to microfinance
Many microfinance institutions (MFIs) avoid clients with disabilities, who constitute less than one per cent of clients for most MFIs (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1505; Leymat, 2012, p. 28). This is often as a result of incorrect assumptions that people with disabilities will be unable to pay back the money borrowed (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1505; Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 37; Leymat, 2012, p. 29; Mont, 2014, p. 33). While some organisations of and for people with disabilities provide microfinance, they are often only able to reach relatively small numbers of people, and their programmes are often not self-sustainable (Leymat, 2012, pp. 33-34). People with disabilities may also feel they lack the financial skills to access these services (Leymat, 2012, p. 29).
Facilitating access to mainstream financial provision
A global survey looking at access to financial services for people with disabilities found that if they are given the opportunity to access financial services, ‘many are capable of successfully managing loans and businesses’ (Leymat, 2012, p. 25). It also found that the ‘most cost-efficient and sustainable way of providing financial services for disabled people is to facilitate their access to mainstream financial provision’ (Leymat, 2012, p. 30).
This has been done by: raising awareness among microfinance staff; establishing partnerships for cooperation between organisations of/for people with disabilities and microfinance institutions; promoting reasonable accommodation by adapting methodologies, product design, and accessibility; or simply by supporting people with disabilities to submit their loan applications (Leymat, 2012, pp. 30-33). Sensitisation of staff and outreach in a Ugandan microfinance institution doubled the number of clients with disabilities, for example (Heymann et al., 2014, p. 11). Savings schemes are currently one of the most effective ways people with disabilities can access microfinance (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1505; Leymat, 2012, p. 35).
The strong links between disability and poverty also increase the likelihood of turning to begging, to earn all or part of a living, in urban areas (Groce et al., 2014, pp. 1-3; Burns et al., 2014, pp. 29, 31). In some cultures begging is often considered ‘an acceptable way, and in some cases the only way, for people with disabilities to make a living outside the home’ (Groce et al., 2014, pp. 1, 4). A literature review found that people with disabilities decide to beg as a result of a lack of social networks; internalised social stigma; education and skills levels; limited employment prospects; social protection floors; and a downward spiral of poverty (Groce et al., 2014, pp. 4-7).
People with disabilities often contribute to their households by doing unpaid labour (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1504).
A growing number of countries have social protection programmes that either target people with disabilities or mainstream disability. Yet statistical and anecdotal evidence shows that many people with disabilities are not reached by social protection programmes, because of varied barriers (Rohwerder, 2014, p. 5). Much work is needed to address these (Mitra, 2005, p. 18; Palmer, 2013, p. 148). Begging by people with disabilities appears to be far less common in countries with established social protection systems (Groce et al., 2014, p. 7).
Social protection programmes risk strengthening dependency and segregation, and reducing incentives to work (Rimmerman, 2013, pp. 3-4; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p.248), although evidence supporting this in low- and middle-income countries is lacking so far (Mitra, 2009, p. 516). In addition, social protection programmes on their own will not eliminate the vulnerabilities people with disabilities face: complementary programmes are needed to create an enabling environment (Rohwerder, 2014, p. 9). Evidence on how safety nets affect people with disabilities is limited: more research is needed (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 11).
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