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How to hire aid workers with disabilities

How to hire aid workers with disabilities

This is the final piece in a three-part series on development workers with disabilities.  Be sure to check out part 1 and part 2!

By Rebecca Berman

My previous two posts have discussed the lack of people with disabilities working in development and reasons this should change. Now, for the final step: how can we ensure more people with disabilities are included in the aid sector? While I’m not a human resources expert, these suggestions come from my experience in the hiring process.

1. If your organisation isn’t accessible, make it so!

As Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities states, signatories “recognize the importance of international cooperation and its promotion…Such measures could include… (a) Ensuring that international cooperation, including international development programmes, is inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities.” Publications like these are currently being disseminated that discuss how international programs can increase their accessibility:

As with any changes, it doesn’t happen overnight. But the plethora of resources available show it’s possible, and will be made possible, as long as people with disabilities are part of the process of increasing accessibility.

2. Budget for accessibility.

As budgeting concerns are sometimes a barrier to employment, disability accommodations must be considered in all organisations’ budgets. Grant makers should also encourage organisations to budget for accessibility in proposals, thus increasing the chances of programming including people with disabilities.

If accessibility is considered from the beginning, the cost factor won’t be a barrier to inclusion. It costs less to build an accessible building than to renovate an existing building to increase access, and the same is true for building websites. This concept can also be applied to development programming and budgeting.

I was once told by a large international affairs organisation that they couldn’t afford an interpreter, as it wasn’t in the budget, since “no one ever asked for an interpreter before”. I think situations like this tend to be self-perpetuating. If deaf people are discouraged from attending events, no one asks for an interpreter, and people don’t consider hiring interpreters. Like in the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he they will come.”

3. Remove discriminatory “health criteria” for hiring staff.

From a human resources perspective, this one is easier said than done. As stigma towards disabilities run deep, many organisations have well-ingrained policies barring people with disabilities from employment, intentionally or unintentionally. As we move away from a medical model of disability and toward a social model, we shouldn’t be perpetuating “disability shaming” hiring policies.

Reconsider hiring policies that may be well-intended but come across as discriminatory, especially those that only view disability as a medical problem. This may not be obvious to people without knowledge on disability issues, and is a good way to include people with disabilities in changing policy.

I could not be medically cleared for employment with a development agency until I purchased new hearing aids, which had nothing to do with my ability to perform the job. Audism policies like this deal with the old standard of inability. Similar issues occur for people with psycho-social disabilities, people who are blind and people with other disabilities, who face pre-existing stigmas that prevent them from being active participants in the workforce. Or, they go into “hiding,” going to lengths to make sure their disability isn’t “discovered.” This sometimes happens with disabilities that are “hidden,” such as learning disabilities.

4. Practice what you preach.

You’d think this would go without saying, but you would be surprised. It’s easy to write policy statements such as “We do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, disability…” However, does your organisation truly embody the principles of inclusion?

Still not convinced? As Weh Yeoh wrote here on WhyDev, “There are over 1 billion people in the world who must become our priority.” I would like to add, people with disabilities must not just be a priority as recipients of aid, but also as active agents of change. Now is the time to get started. Nothing about us without us.

Rebecca Berman is a Mosaic International Fellow in Tanzania, where she is coordinating an inclusive education program and supporting other initiatives for children and young adults with development and intellectual disabilities. She has previously worked with Handicap International and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and has provided self-advocacy training in the U.S., Kenya, Guatemala, India and Ghana. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter.

Featured image shows Australian volunteer Ben Clare, himself blind, training teachers and students to read in Braille in Samoa. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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