Employability for all: how the nation is missing on youths living with disabilities

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Job creation and access to employability are certainly two of the most defining issues for Nepal, upon which the future of millions of youths depends. Will the nation be able to generate more equal opportunities with an estimated yearly economic growth of 5 percent? Will the fate of millions of youths forced to migrate as low skills labourers to the Gulf and Malaysia change? Will they find new job opportunities at home?  How many of them, if adequately equipped and supported, could become engines of economic growth by turning themselves into entrepreneurs and contributing to national growth by creating jobs, providing new service and re-energising the manufacturing sector?


Able and willing to work

Creating job opportunities for the youths while, at the same time, setting enabling conditions for them to start new ventures are key factors for a prosperous nation. Initiatives are not lacking but they are scattered and uncoordinated. Strikingly, but not surprisingly, all of them do not target a specific and neglected demographic group: youths living with disabilities. Data shows that 95 percent of these youths are fully unemployed and have considerably fewer chances than any average youth in finding employment. Reflecting on this data, it is easy to imagine why most youths living with disabilities just dream of a government job.

Working for the government, regardless of the low salary, seems to be, for youths living with disabilities, the only way out of inescapable marginalisation. It is not only about being able to sustain yourself but more about a sense of self-confidence and positive attitude you develop by being able to lead a meaningful and productive life. Having a job, or even better, being in a position to start something that could help create more employment is really a boost in the way we think of ourselves in relation to society at large. But most importantly, it is also paramount to change the perceptions of society towards us.

Youths living with disabilities should have the same chances as other youths. In recent years, many international development organisations have started ‘inclusive’ internship programmes for youths from disadvantaged communities. It is high time that not only development organisations but also the private sector started thinking more seriously about youths living with disabilities.

We should all break psychological, mental, and attitudinal taboos that lead us to think that youths living with disabilities, either physical or developmental, must simply be taken care of through a welfare approach. While some of them and their families might rightly be in need of extra financial and other support, an area where the state can certainly do much more for the vast majority of youths with disabilities are as potentially active economic agents.

They just deserve a practical translation of the concept of  ‘reasonable accommodation’ that ensures the adjustments of certain working conditions to meet the specific needs of persons living with disabilities. Business people also need to understand and break free from biases against disabilities as ethical business is also about inclusion.

Personally I get quite frustrated when, together with my colleagues and volunteers, we hear stories from our friends living with disabilities about the bleak prospects that the future holds for them. I wish I knew of some ambitious professional and life projects; I wish their dreams were not confined to the only possibilities of working as a teacher or low-level government officers.

Yet, we certainly need to remain positive. Out there, there are incredible stories, like the ones of Nabina Gyawali and Sarita Lamichane, with whom I was lucky to work with. Nabina is currently in the US, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship while Sarita recently came back from Kantari, the social entrepreneurship school.


Inspiring figures

Sarita wants to start a new NGO that promotes livelihood opportunities for women with visual impairment. Both Nabina and Sarita are blind but do not lack the ambition to be change makers. Fortunately, they are not the only ones in Nepal. An Army Major, Pawan Ghimire, who became blind during the civil war, started the Cricket Association of Blind, leading Nepal to be at the vanguard of blind cricket globally. Yet, he could not find the funding to send the national blind cricket team to the world championship held in South Africa last year.

To be honest, it is not that nothing has been happening. A job fair was organised in 2013 by the  National Disabled Federation Nepal, National Deaf Federation Nepal (NDFN), and Asscoiation of International Ngos in Nepal. It was an outstanding success in terms of participation and awareness creation. Yet I wonder how many found a job through that mega event. Probably a few or none, as good intentions do not always materialise into positive outcomes.


All about inclusion

Still, it was a first and important step towards a more inclusive job market for all. The problem is that we need much more determination, willingness, and the power of coordination and networking to step up efforts to create job opportunities for youths living with disabilities.

More recently, NDFN organised a ‘Meet the Employers’ event with the support of Handicap International and MYRIGHT. ENGAGE, a national non-profit, believes that inclusive volunteering, when volunteering can be also delivered by youths with disabilities, can be a first important step towards employability and entrepreneurship. For this reasons, we had a stall at the event. At the event, we met amazing young professionals, who despite their disabilities, were willing to volunteer and make a difference.

For example, Salina Shrestha, already active as a board member of Sangai Hami and a counselor by profession, has started doing pro bono work for us, helping rolling out our new revised leadership component. Sristi KC, an amazing young activist, once said, “I have no sight but I have a life vision. ”

How long will take society in its entirety, including the private sector and development partners, to realise the economic opportunities in employing youths with disabilities?

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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