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Employing Young People with Disabilities in Zambia

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has launched an innovative new pilot program to improve access to vocational training and employment for young people with disabilities in Zambia. ILO has been working with the Zambian government since 2012 to make training institutions more inclusive, and this new program will augment that effort.

Zambia currently has 300 vocational training institutions serving over 33,600 students, but ability-based discrimination during enrollment has lead to high levels of exclusion and unemployment for many young people. ILO hopes this program will change that.

“The program will give young people with disabilities the skills they need to enter the open labor market,” the report read.

ILO currently audits training institutions against international standards to identify barriers to entry, ease of campus accessibility and adaptability of curricula for students with special needs. Recommendations are then made to the colleges to make improvements.

Instructors also undergo disability awareness training that includes not only insight into the physical limitations of students but also ways in which students are hindered by societal attitudes and stigma. Instructors are then supported in finding ways to overcome these obstacles.

Under the new pilot program, 20 teachers at five training institutions will take courses on how to build inclusive educational environments, and they will become certified to train other teachers, creating a sustainable education model. Training for new teachers will also be redesigned to include disability inclusion from the outset.

Partner colleges have embraced these efforts. “Our goal is to be a fully inclusive vocational training institution within three to five years,” said Samuel Mayo, Chief Executive of Lusaka Technical and Business College.

But discrimination continues beyond education into working life in Zambia, where over 45 percent of young people with disabilities are unemployed. Employers hesitate to hire these candidates because they incorrectly assume there will be costs associated with doing so. They might also assume that these candidates will require complicated special accommodations, which has also proven to be untrue.

In response, ILO held a roundtable discussion on the business-case benefits of hiring qualified candidates regardless of ability. The event brought in 50 representatives from private companies and launched the formation of the Zambia Business and Disability Network, which now works to build capacity for inclusive hiring practices among employers.

While the organization works primarily with business leaders to foster inclusive workplace attitudes, it has also partnered with hiring agencies to develop skills and confidence for candidates of all abilities.

ILO is confident that this program’s sustainable model will allow it to have a broader impact outside of Zambia. “By being both a source and a catalyst of knowledge-sharing and innovation, the ILO program is helping countries around the world achieve better results for men and women with disabilities,” they say.

Ron Minard

Sources: ILO, UN, WHO
Photo: Flickr