Making business better for persons with disabilities

At first the companies weren’t that interested. Employing people with disabilities is often seen as complicated, and especially so in countries where there are already many other barriers to social inclusion. But when the employers saw that it could be done and it would be good for their business they were determined to carry on. From China to Bangladesh, a recent meeting at the International Labour Organization Headquarters showcased the range of initiatives that have been taken by and with the private sector in low- and middle-income countries. In turns out that employing persons with disabilities brings benefits in technology companies, garments factories and many more contexts around the world.  To begin with it seems almost impossible. First off, many employers might not believe disabled people can do the jobs at all, let alone well. Even if you know this not to be the case, the context of social exclusion and inaccessibility makes it hard for disabled people to find work.

But many companies are finding practical solutions. With a bit of creativity and often in partnership with disability organizations, the private sector is opening pathways for disabled people into work. Disabled people are able to do the work, and they contribute to important changes in the workplace. Often employing disabled people is a chance for employers to improve workflow and responsiveness within the organization. As a result, they see better retention of staff and higher morale, too. Innovations in this area are seen positively by clients and are also a chance for companies to make an important contribution nationally and internationally.

What is something that Accenture, L’Oréal and The Standard Bank all have in common? They are all among the high-profile companies that have signed an ILO Charter on promoting and including persons with disabilities across their global workforces. The Global Business and Disability Network offers a platform where businesses can share and learn from each other.The ILO is supporting these efforts across the world, linking global and national companies in countries from Costa Rica to Ethiopia to China. There’s a lot more to be done. The disability sector and disability services need to better prepare disabled people to be able to contribute to the workforce. More employers across the world need to be able to see and understand the benefits and reasons to take action on employing disabled people.

The upcoming conference in 2017 organized by Zero Project offers an important opportunity to take this work forward. The Zero Project will identify and showcase practices and policies that have supported employment of people with disabilities. For disability practitioners this is a chance to see what’s worked and what remains to be done. For employers this is a chance to learn from each other and show how what’s good for their business is also good for the world.


Peter Fremlin is a consultant working on disability inclusion. Stefan Tromel is Senior Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organization

“Transfer international commitments into national policies!”

Habitat III will take place in wonderful city of Quito Ecuador from 17th to 20th October this year. This is going to be one of the most important global forums to follow up the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda. The conference is going to result in a new global framework: the New Urban Agenda and this will give us the future direction of urbanization across the world.

We have been contributing to this process leading to Habitat III by organizing the Nairobi conference which took place last year; we also collaborated with the UN Habitat Secretariat to organize a number of events and panel discussions relating to disability inclusion and urban development. We are also collecting good practices with the Zero Project with all of you and with the Secretariat to advance the accessible and disability inclusive urban agenda, so that we can compile the information, compile all the progress that has been made in in terms of promoting an accessible and inclusive urban agenda. From the policy standpoint this issue of disability inclusion and accessibility has been codified in major international instruments and General Assembly resolutions and other international commitments.

For example the convention itself the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities establishes accessibility as a precondition for persons with disabilities to enjoy all the human rights and to meaningfully participate in society and development. This has been reiterated again at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on disability and development that took place in 2013.

The International Committee recognized that accessibility is one of the top priority issues for any aspect of inclusive development. The 2030 Development Agenda itself, especially its Goal 11 of the Development Targets, refer to disability and accessibility.

The key question before us is: How can we transfer those international commitments into national and urban policy and practices to ensure that that development is inclusive of all people including persons with disabilities?

The UN has been actively promoting inclusive development as an integral part of its original mandate in the field of disability, including in urban contexts. But our studies have found that the barriers or lack of accessibility have been a major obstacle to the achievement of inclusive and sustainable development.

The upcoming Habitat III conference will be able to do offer us a great and very unique opportunity to fill the gap between commitment and practice. The outcome document of Habitat III will be drafted by the PrepCom (Preparatory Committees) on the basis of inputs from regional and thematic consultations as well as contributions from the policy units. The preparatory conference will be convened in Mai, June and July in 2016 to draft the outcome document. The outcome, the final agreement will take place at the third PrepCom meeting in Jakarta/Indonesia from 25th to 27th July 2016.

I would just like to mention that there will be consultations with major groups and stakeholders in the coming months and please also keep yourselves updated in terms of when those major groups and stakeholders consultations take place through Habitat III website.

We are now at that critical and historical moment when Habitat III is to discuss and develop a new global agenda for the next two decades. Let us work together to make sure that any aspect of the process leading to the Habitat III conference will be accessible and also will be inclusive.

In other words: Persons with disabilities and their partners in promoting accessibility and inclusive development should be an integral part of the mainstream discussion of the international community as to how we can create an inclusive and accessible environment for new urban development agenda. I look forward to working with you very closely and I hope that we will be able to make a difference such as in the Sendai framework and that we will be celebrating yet another success by early 2017.


Akiko Ito is the Chief of the Secretariat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the Division for Social Policy and Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA/DSPD).

This commentary is taken from the video statement given by Ms. Ito at the Zero Project Conference in Vienna, February 10, 2016.

“Why money should follow the child”

My first job, as a young Residential Social Worker in Sheffield, Northern England, involved supporting very young mothers and babies to stay together.   It brought amazing satisfaction to see how it was possible for 14 and 15-year-olds to become good mothers. It was by no means ideal, but once the babies had arrived, it was much better that they could stay with their mums, so long as they could cope.

The harrowing scenes I witnessed two years later in post-Ceaușescu Romania – the appalling harm to children separated from mothers and families and brought up in grim orphanages – will remain with me forever.

These are the deeply human and personal experiences which inspired me on my career path to work to end the institutionalisation of children.

I wonder sometimes, though, what my young self would say if she knew I would spend a great deal of my time, more than 20 years on, thinking and talking about money. I don’t think she would – or, at that stage, could – have understood.

Working in more than 20 nations I have come to realise that money, and financial management, are fundamental to successful reform that moves support to children away from institutions and so-called orphanages, to services supporting families to stay together in the community.

I understand now that the institutionalisation of children is not only extremely harmful to the development and life chances of children, but is also considerably more expensive than community-based services. This is bad economics in the present and the future, particularly in terms of the cost to societies in the longer term.

There is indeed a myth that ending institutionalisation for children in lower-income countries is not possible because these countries cannot afford the change. But evidence shows institutional care is both harmful and expensive wherever it is applied, whereas community-based services provide better outcomes and are more cost effective. Research in Russia shows that institutional care is six times more expensive than providing social services to vulnerable families or voluntary kinship carers. In both Sudan and Cambodia – from my experience and that of dedicated champions working on the ground – family-based care costs 10% of an institutional placement.

It is important to remember, however, that cost-effective does not mean cost saving.

Deinstitutionalisation is significantly cheaper for most children, in most cases, but highly specialised care for a small number of children and young people with complex needs, disabilities and behaviours can be expensive. Overall, DI is no more expensive than an institutionalised system and leads to far better outcomes for children and young people.

If any country proves the argument that reform is affordable, whatever the size of the budget, it is Moldova, by far Europe’s poorest nation. With Lumos’ help, Moldova created financial regulations to ensure that money saved from closing institutions – many of them grim ‘residential special schools’ – was reinvested in support for disabled children in mainstream schools. Over five years more than 4,500 children have moved from institutions to live at home and attend local, mainstream schools, where they are accepted as part of the community and are supported to learn and develop to their full potential.

Countries still running institutionalised care systems fall into two broad categories –the first where the State generally controls funding; the second where orphanages are predominantly privately funded.

The impact on children is similar. The needs of the system – the buildings, staff and continued survival of the status quo – take precedence over the individual needs of children and families. Children from families living in extreme poverty or those with disabilities can get drawn into orphanages as the only possible source of services. Where there is an orphanage built, children will come. The children follow the money; whereas in a deinstitutionalised system the reverse is true.

Georgette Mulheir is the Chief Executive Officer at Lumos Foundation, founded by the famous author J. K. Rowling (“Harry Potter”). For over 20 years she has worked around the world on large-scale programmes to transform the lives of thousands of vulnerable children and their families. She has pioneered a model of deinstitutionalisation now followed in many countries, has advised governments and the European Commission on the reform of services for children and families and is the author of four books related to children’s rights.

This commentary is a shortened version of her blog entry at:


“Many countries still do not even know how many of their citizens are persons with disabilities”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs, is an encouraging milestone for disability. Contrary to the MDGs, the Millenium Development Goals, this new Agenda highlights the importance of leaving no one behind and includes seven targets explicitly referring to persons with disabilities. These targets focus on education, employment, empowerment and participation. They also focus on capacity-building and availability of data disaggregated by disability.

Disaggregated data is very important. As statisticians are fond of saying, in order to count, you must first be counted. Even though data on disability has been increasingly available in recent years, the quality and quantity is still insufficient. The good news is that methodologies and relevant UN principles and guidance for collecting disaggregated data have already been developed. Much more progress can be achieved by building on those methodologies and principles and applying them at the national level.

For example many countries still do not even know how many of their citizens are persons with disabilities. Or how many of their children with disabilities do not attend school. Or how many of their citizens with disabilities lack access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

These statistics are critical for empowerment and accessibility; and for monitoring implementation of the SDGs. Member States should work with organisations representing persons with disabilities to develop appropriate national monitoring frameworks and national development plans. Capacity building at the country level will be needed to produce the necessary data and to train policy makers on how to use data in policy making.

Another critical factor for implementation is strong political will at the national level, backed by evidence-based policy making. It is important for Governments to translate the strong commitments made at the international level, into concrete policies at the national level. Adopting and enforcing robust policies that are disability sensitive and responsive; improving accessibility and ensuring equal opportunities; and raising public awareness on persons with disabilities as actors and contributors to development, not passive recipients of charity, are all critical.

One of the most comprehensive SDG targets, as far as disability is concerned, is target 10.2 which calls for social, economic and political empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Both education and access to ICT for persons with disabilities will be essential to achieve inclusion and empowerment.

The SDG education targets focus on ensuring equal access to education for persons with disabilities as well as education facilities which are sensitive for students with disabilities.

In addition, the SDG target on accessible transport is also relevant for students with disabilities. It is known that many children and youth with disabilities cannot attend school due to lack of accessible transport.

The SDG target 9.c also calling for significantly increase access to ICT also applies to persons with disabilities.

Communication is key to raising public awareness, of the SDGs in general and of disability specific SDGs. In this regard, organisations such as The Zero Project are essential. Your mission statement of working for a world with zero barriers is shared by us at the United Nations. Many other civil society organisations and national governments also share this vision. It is important for all of us to work in partnership to build a global coalition with strong messages that can engage people the world over in implementing a truly inclusive global agenda.

Daniela Bas is Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) is part of the United Nations Secretariat and is responsible for the follow-up to the major United Nations Summits and Conferences, as well as services to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the Second and Third Committees of the United Nations General Assembly