Uganda: People With Disability Neglected

Published on 15th August 2011

Disability is not inability                     Photo courtsey
A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report estimates that 16% of Uganda’s 33 million people have disabilities. The report, entitled “the World population report” was launched by WHO in may 2011 and is designed to help countries tap the potentials of people with disabilities (PWDs) and promote their rights.

The real figures are likely to be higher –because many disabled people are hidden from society in inaccessible rural areas. Getting education is nearly impossible for all but those who come from the wealthiest sectors of society-schools are simply unable to cater for them. Even if the school is prepared to accept the child, the logistics of a child who can’t walk to school each day are generally insurmountable. About 70% of children with disability in Uganda are not getting an education because of their disability. However, education and training for persons with disabilities is sometimes made possible through various organizations. For PWDs, if getting education is difficult, getting a job is almost ten times difficult!

Even though the Income tax Act makes provision for a tax incentive for employers of 5% or more PWDs, persons with disabilities make up just 0.2% of the work force in the NGO, private sector and public sector. This is partly due to the massive shortages of low skilled jobs for which PWDs traditionally qualify for. The latest statistics from UBOS/URA show that employment is increasing more in the non-formal sector. There are many reasons for the high rates of unemployment amongst PWDs, however, one of them is the negative attitude and lack understanding of what disability entails.

Getting persons with disabilities into the workplace decreases the burden on social welfare, raises morale at the workplace and enables the country to increase tax revenue on employment income. However some firms which would like to incorporate persons with disabilities into their systems neither know what to do,  how disabled persons would fit into their work environment nor how they could be accommodated in a building designed to meet  the needs of the able bodied.

Part of the problem is that people have a stereotyped view of what disability means. The automatic assumption is that they will be employing a person in a wheelchair. But there are many conditions that qualify as disability, from deafness, autism, down syndrome to paraplegia. Diabetes and epilepsy also qualify as disabilities, and there is talk of obesity becoming included in the category as it is becoming a serious problem in developed and middle income countries.

Since disabled people have different needs, flexibility is required from the employer and the employee. A person who needs  to spend  a day in a week on a dialysis machine  for example,  might need to accept reduced pay if the company agrees to hire them on a four days a week basis. Persons with disability should be given tasks that they can perform to their best and be able to cope with modifications that can be made. The labor department in the ministry of Gender can play an important role in ensuring that both employers and employees understand and accommodate each other’s needs and expectations.

In terms of the Persons With Disabilities Act 2006, employers must reasonably accommodate the needs of disabled people to enable persons with disabilities from designated groups to have access to participate in or advance in their employment. This could involve modifying existing equipment or buying new equipment like specialized computer hardware, re-organizing work stations or changing assessment materials.

One of the greatest challenges physically disabled persons have is not being able to get around. Modified cars are expensive and public transport is not geared towards people with disability. So even when they do secure a job, they are often unable to get there. This pin-points to the need to provide accessible and affordable public transportation facilities to these categories of people.

The recruitment companies also need briefs on disabled candidate’s needs. This can help dispel unspoken issues that might exist or arise. Some associations and NGOs have coaches who go to the workplaces to regularly assess how the person is doing and to try to resolve any problems. Handicap International NUDIPU and UNAD are such NGOs in Uganda that are involved in this work.

People should focus on the abilities that disabled people have and what they can do but not what they can not do. The public service commission, the education service commission and other  Government bodies can make  a great contribution if they got vigorously involved in this process as the  constitution and other laws of Uganda actually mandates them  to do this work in the spirit of affirmative action provided in Article 32 and other relevant provision of the 1995 constitution. Actually, many public service employment regulations are discriminatory and unconstitutional in the sense that they have not been re-aligned to the spirit and intentions of the 1995 constitution as far as employment issues for PWDs are concerned.

Companies need  to  include  disabled  people on their  boards of directors, a move that would change perceptions of disabled people - many of whom are intellectually able - and would ensure  that company policies encourage the  employment of person with disabilities. Employers need to get creative when thinking about employing persons with disabilities. In jobs that involve extreme levels of concentration for example, a deaf person might be ideal as he is not easily distracted by on job conversations and chats.

It is easy to see how employing someone with Asperger’s could benefit a company, but because of their usual social behavior, colleagues need to be carefully briefed. They are never manipulative or devious and they do not lie or get involved in office politics. Their need for routine also ensures that they always arrive and leave on time.

By Alex Ndeezi

Member of Parliament representing person with disabilities of Central region.

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