Failure to adequately support people with disabilities in the workplace must end

Failure to adequately support people with disabilities in the workplace must end, says Employers for Change and Chambers Ireland.

Ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Friday, Employers for Change and Chambers Ireland are calling on Government to rapidly remove barriers to the workplace and create wider business opportunities for persons living with a disability in Ireland. Particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisations say that a focused effort is needed across the policy landscape to make employment and entrepreneurship more inclusive and accessible for all.

The 2016 census found that 1 in 7 people in Ireland was living with a disability. In that same census it was recorded that only 36.5% of people with a disability (aged between 20 and 64) were in employment, half as many as their non-disabled peers. More recently, a report from the National Disability Authority and the ESRI demonstrated that, by comparison with other EU countries, Ireland does not perform well with the fourth-lowest employment rate for people with disabilities.

Speaking today, Director for Employers for Change at the Open Doors Initiative Christabelle Feeney said: “As concerns grow about Ireland’s economic recovery and how we can get back on our feet, we must not allow the most marginalised in society to be left on the periphery.

“Employment is not only a means to earn a living but also important for the social inclusion of people with disabilities and other marginalised members of society. Employment can provide a sense of belonging and community to those who otherwise feel disconnected.

“There are over one billion people with disabilities globally and when we take family and friends into consideration, the spending power of the disabled community is almost €11.5 trillion. So, there also is a fundamental business need for employers to engage and include this community if they are to have longevity post-pandemic.”

Also speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said: “Political and business leaders make important choices that determine how people can live their lives. By working together, business and government can ensure the right conditions are in place to empower people with disabilities to achieve greater inclusion in the workforce, and participation in the workplace, over the coming years.

“The national Remote Working Strategy, published earlier this year, is an ambitious vision for the future of work but it fails to tackle the root cause of exclusion from the workplace. A national flexible working policy would provide greater supports for quality of life, inclusion, and guidance for employers to implement necessary reasonable accommodations for employees from all walks of life.

“Such a strategy must be paired with a flexible working framework to help guide employers towards the introduction of flexible working policies. It is imperative that both businesses and employees are supported by forward-thinking, government-led working policies in the post-pandemic era.”

The two organisations also say additional support is needed through grants for home and workplace adaptations, disability awareness training and company policies focused on inclusion.

In addition, they have called for accessibility to become a fundamental consideration in planning decisions and infrastructure proposals. This includes in the workplace, at remote working hubs, across public transport and in public-facing premises.

“We need to ensure the culture change that is taking place during the pandemic is carried forward to positively impact people with a disability and achieve greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce. This is no longer a choice, it is a necessity if we are to achieve a fair and inclusive society,” said Feeney and Talbot.

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