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