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THIS MONTH, Disabilities Awareness Month, is to celebrate the achievements of persons with physical challenges. While people living with disabilities have the distinct privilege of being employed in many companies across the world, there still seems to be a timid approach to employing such persons in Barbados.

While many organisations may have a fear of causing harm to these individuals, this can be easily conquered if they comply with the Safety And Health At Work Act and provide a safe and healthy workplace for all. With advances in technology, there are many ways in which the disabled community can be cost-effectively accommodated in Barbadian companies.

As a constituent of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and specifically the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) we ascribe the following statement:

People with disabilities are not a homogeneous group. They may have a physical disability, a sensory, intellectual or mental disability. They may have had a disability from birth, or acquired this in their childhood or while in employment.

Their disability may have little impact on their ability to work and take part in society, or it may have a major impact, requiring considerable support and assistance. It is increasingly apparent that disabled people not only have a valuable contribution to make to the national economy but that their employment also reduces the cost of disability benefits and may reduce poverty.

There is a strong business case for employing people with disabilities since they are often qualified for a particular job. Employers may also gain by expanding the number of eligible workers through continuing the employment of those who become disabled, since valuable expertise acquired on the job and through work-related training is retained.

Locally, there is also legislative protection for persons with disability however, on the horizon in the form of the Discrimination In Employment Act, these individuals can have recourse in instances of discrimination in employment. This Act will limit any employer from refusing to suitably hire a person with a disability. If the disabled individual is competent to execute the job advertised, to refuse that individual on the grounds of their disability would be a punishable offence.

The International Labour Organisation Global Business and Disability Network (ILO GBDN) published the following guidelines in collaboration with employer’s confederation and business globally.

The Dos

• Learn where to find and recruit people with disabilities.

• Ensure that your applications and other company forms do not ask disability-related questions and that they are in formats that are accessible to all persons with disabilities.

• Consider having written job descriptions that identify the essential functions of the job.

• Provide reasonable workplace accommodations that the qualified applicant will need to compete for the job.

• Develop procedures for maintaining and protecting confidential medical records.

• Train supervisors on making reasonable workplace accommodations.

• Treat an individual with a disability the same way you would treat any applicant or employee, with dignity and respect.

• Understand that access includes not only environmental access but also making forms accessible to people with visual or cognitive disabilities and making alarms/signals accessible to people with hearing disabilities.

The Don’ts

• Don’t assume that persons with disabilities are unemployable.

• Don’t assume that persons with disabilities lack the necessary education and training for employment.

• Don’t ask if a person has a disability during an employment interview.

• Don’t assume that certain jobs are more suited to persons with disabilities.

• Don’t hire a person with a disability who is not qualified to perform the essential functions of the job even with a reasonable workplace accommodation.

• Don’t assume that the work environment will be unsafe if an employee has a disability.

• Don’t assume that reasonable workplace accommodations are expensive.

• Don’t speculate or try to imagine how you would perform a specific job if you had the applicant’s disability.

At the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, it is our belief that there are benefits to having a diverse workforce, as it encourages companies to be better prepared to meet the needs of all consumers, including consumers with disabilities.

Additionally, it has been proven that companies who hire persons with disabilities have higher levels of employee engagement due to their increased social support provided in the pursuit of equality and equity in employment.

It is also important that recruiters focus on the abilities of the candidates, and not their disability because inclusion makes business sense.

Melony James is a labour management and occupational safety and health adviser.