Empowering persons with disabilities | Sunday Observer

Empowering persons with disabilities

Manique Gunaratne
Manique Gunaratne

Around 1.6 million Sri Lankans are persons with disabilities of which around 57 percent are women who need to be empowered to better their chances of being employed said Senior Trainer of the ICT Training Centre at the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) Manique Gunaratne.

Speaking at the ‘Awards Ceremony 2017’ of the ICT Training Centre of the EFC for persons with disabilities who had completed training in IT, language and soft skills last week, she said there is ample room for more empowerment of persons with disabilities in the country to make them stand on their feet, better their lives and contribute to the economic development of the country.

“The ICT Training Centre will launch a program next year to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities to boost their IT, language and soft skills to equip them for a working environment and make them equally capable as people with non disabilities,” Gunaratne said.

She said the education level of women with disabilities in Sri Lanka is low since parents are reluctant to send their daughters to schools which impedes access to vocational training and to be empowered to gain employment.

“EFC has taken on the role of empowering persons with disabilities to develop their leadership qualities so that they will be included in the decision making process at family, organisation, national and international level,” Gunaratne said.

IT skills empower them to get on in work places well as those with non disabilities. Language skills gear them for work in the private sector which needs more of this skill than the public sector and soft skills provides and edge at employment.

The Network on Disability of the EFC since its inauguration in 1999 has taken steps in the field of ICT training, language skills and economic empowerment. The ICT Training Centre set up in 2009 with the aid of the International Labour Organization is the nucleus of the Network on Disabilities. Its objective is to develop the employability skills of persons with diverse disabilities making special consideration for women and girls with disabilities.

The ICT Training Centre also focuses on job seeking and job keeping skills while paying attention to developing employability skills of persons with disabilities.

ILO Country Director Simrin Singh said the ILO, in its mandate to promote decent work explicitly promotes equal opportunities for vulnerable groups. Convention 159 looks at disability as a condition of occupational disadvantage, which can and should be overcome through a number of policy measures, regulations, programs and services.

“The main principles that need attention are equality of opportunity, equality of treatment, mainstreaming of training and employment opportunities, community participation and a consultative process,” Singh said.

The ILO recommendation 168, on vocational rehabilitation and employment provides direction on training as a tool to provide suitable employment that helps integration or re-integration of people with disabilities in society.

“The ILO has also adopted a code of practice on managing disability in the workplace. The code starts from the premise that women and men with disabilities, with the right skills, in the right job, with necessary support, are capable and reliable employees, an asset in the workplace,” the ILO Country Chief said.

She said if disabled men and women are to get into jobs, we must remove the physical and structural barriers that keep them from doing so. We must even do more than that. We must search for ways to integrate job seekers with disabilities into competitive employment, wherever that is possible.

The Disability Code promoted by the EFC can be considered as a pioneering and an enabling foundation to cope and direct human resource development policy and practice to the betterment in the employment of people with disabilities.

However, Singh said much more needs to be done, there are many more people with disabilities who are willing and able to work and are still unemployed. Often this is because there are still widespread perceptions among employers that people with disabilities are unable to work and they are therefore unwilling to give them the opportunity.

“As we all know among the people with disabilities, many can and want to work, yet they are frequently excluded. As a result, many of them and their families live in poverty, and their potential contribution is lost - to their families, to employers and the society as a whole,” Singh said.

The Training Centre fully equipped with devices and software specially designed for persons with disabilities, also collaborates with Curtin University of Technology in Australia and SLIIT (Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology) Malabe.

The ICT Training Centre receiving the CISCO Academy status in 2014 is the latest feather in its cap.

Manique Gunratne, being visually impaired herself has over the years trained a large number of persons with disabilities with the aim of putting them on a better footing for employment. Gunaratne is the Vice Chairperson for the South Asian Disability Forum.

EFC Director General/CEO Kanishka Weerasinghe said the aim of the Network is to link it with the business community.