Beyond inclusive employment – Equal opportunities for people with disabilities

02 Dec 2016

Creating an inclusive society for people living with disabilities is not a simple process, just as disability is not a simple matter – it takes on endless forms and impacts everyone differently. To some a disability will be a minor annoyance, ‘something extra thing to think about’, while for others disabilities can be a major hurdle. Imagine for an instant that you cannot use any washroom, apart from the one in your house – not at work, at a theatre or a cinema, nor even at a hospital. This is not easy to d.

But for Natalya it’s a reality, a fact of life, something she needs to consider when planning her schedule. “The lack of bathrooms with disabled access is a delicate problem from people with disabilities,” she shared with UNDP in 2014. “I know a lot of people with disabilities who on the day that they need to leave the house, will not eat or drink. For me the biggest problem is lack of access.”

Access is just one matter related to rights for people with disabilities – a multifaceted concern involving infrastructure, social attitudes, laws, education, ‘agency’ and self-expression. Education is also a major battlefield in the struggle for equal rights for people with disabilities. There are tangible obstacles to contend with – staircases that bar access and insufficient resources – and intangible social frameworks that dictate what people with disabilities can and can’t do.

The workplace follows suite. Disabilities don’t need to be mentioned on a CV, but a mathematical mind, a social connector or a master organizer can be betrayed by society’s perception of their wheelchair.

Ultimately, people with disabilities can experience a lack of ‘agency’, a concept developed by Human Development’s founder Amartya Sen, to be a person’s ability to be an agent of change and growth in their society. “Nothing about us, without us” is a popular refrain in this area of work, where people with disabilities need to influence decision-making, be a player in society, and access the basic decencies of life. The adequate bathroom Natalya and her peers require easily comes to mind.

UNDP Uzbekistan has for years dedicated itself to this field within Uzbekistan – in close cooperation with several national NGOs headed by and working for people with disabilities.

A decent life needs a source of income, and a means of leading a productive and fulfilling life. The ACCESS and IESP projects, operating in total from 2008 to 2014, made this part of their mission. From 2008 to 2010 alone, these projects helped triple the employment of people living with disabilities. The ‘Improving Quality of Social Service Delivery for Persons with Disabilities and Lonely Elderly People’ project (2014-16) was successful in ensuring that people who have never been able to work, will still live happy lives.

The IESP project also worked closely with NGOs to design a National Action Plan to ratify the UNCRPD. Not only was this an international recommendation, but it put people living with disabilities in charge of promoting their peer’s agency – among other things, the work arranged conferences and workshops, the convention’s translation into Uzbek, and analysis of legislation that will hopefully lead to the convention’s ratification. It is notable the ratification of UNCRPD was indicated in National Action Plan on follow-up to accepted recommendations of UPR and Treaty Bodies, signed by the Minister of Justice in November 2014.

Now at the end of 2016, many more steps are being taken. The SDGs are in the process of adaption to Uzbekistan’s requirements, and disability features prominently in six of the goals (1, 4, 8, 10, 11 and 16) and the 2016-2020 UNDAF will continue making disability a national priority.

It’s also significant that 2016’s electoral process will be the first in national history that ballot papers will be printed in braille. Abdukayum Abdunabiev, chairman of the Association of the Blind and someone who himself tackles with visual impairment, calls this achievement “in accordance with the principles of fairness, transparency and openness, with the creation of the necessary conditions to ensure that all citizens are able to freely express their will.”

We can hope it’s a sign of continued change.

Since 1992, the United Nations celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) annually on 3 December around the world. The theme for this year’s International Day is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”, highlighting the role of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in building a more inclusive and equitable world for the elderly and persons with disabilities. 

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