Who is a disabled person?
In terms of Zimbabwe labour law, a “disabled person” is defined under section 2 of the Disabled Person Act, Cap 17:01 as a person with a physical, mental or sensory disability, including a visual, hearing or speech functional disability, which leads to physical, cultural or social barriers inhibiting him/her from participating at an equal level with other members of society in activeness, undertakings or fields of employment that are open to other members of society. Section 9 of the Act, prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in employment.
What challenges do disabled persons face in the job market?
Most people with disabilities in Zimbabwe are not accorded equal access to job opportunities. According to study by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH), only two percent of people with disabilities are employed in The public sector, and overall less than seven percent of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe are in employment. A further eight percent are self-employed, while 29 percent are involved in farming activities for sustenance. Nineteen percent are said to be studying.
Why is the employment of disabled persons a challenge in Zimbabwe?
The high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities in Zimbabwe is due mainly to their lack of qualifications and discrimination from employers. Lack of qualifications often result when people with disabilities, especially females, are denied access to school. Those who do attend school do often not receive informed career guidance, and are not aware of appropriate career opportunities.
Why do employers discriminate against disabled persons?
Employers perceive employing disabled persons as costly and are thus reluctant to employ them. In general employers do not take measures to facilitate a working environment appropriate for people with disabilities – such as wheelchair-friendly spaces, for example - as this will cost them.
How do employers discriminate against people with disabilities?
Through lack of awareness among employers about appropriate environments for people with disabilities. As a result most workplaces in Zimbabwe are inaccessible to people with disabilities . For example, they lack ramps, wide doors and hallways for those that are wheelchair bound. Many escalators in buildings do not work. Office setups are not structured in ways that accommodate people with disabilities. As another example - appropriate equipment is lacking such as basic software that is required if people with visual impairments are to use computers.
What challenges do disabled persons face when they are employed?
They are generally given low grade jobs and are usually looked down upon by their employers as they think they cannot cope with the tasks at hand. The disabled also have to contend with discrimination and verbal abuse from their colleagues. There is a strong stigma attached to disability and some able-bodied people superstitiously believe that they can be “contaminated” by the disabled. This also complicates work relations when it comes to information sharing and communication with colleagues, for example between people with visual or hearing impairments.
Is it all doom and gloom? Personal tax credit.
No! In the absence of stigma, relations with colleagues can be very good. Some students from institutions for the disabled have secured formal employment or have become self –employed. Some are employed as social workers or by NGOs working in the area of helping the disabled. Some employers even employ disabled persons in order to enjoy tax benefits. According to the current tax rates disabled persons, including blind persons, enjoy a personal credit of USD 75 per month.
Is there scope for improving the conditions of the disabled in the workplace?
- There is a need to provide career guidance at all levels of education, from primary to tertiary level, for people with disabilities.
- There is a need to remove discrimination against people with disabilities in workplaces by educating employers on appropriate workplace environments. There should also compulsory quotas for employers in relation to the disabled.
- Government must ensure that organisations comply with legal requirements to ensure that employment settings are user-friendly to people with disabilities, through installations of ramps, rails, accessible elevators etc.
- Tax thresholds of tax liability should be linked to activation of the above measures.
- The award of central and local government contracts should be tied to the fulfilment of the above.