Developing Employment Policies for Persons with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Workers with disabilities are "grossly" underused in the work forces of Western nations, affecting not only the individuals, but the performance of national economies, according to a report issued recently by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The challenge to involve more disabled workers in the labor force affects many member countries similarly, although governments pursue significantly different policies to try to solve the problem. Some excerpts:

Increasing demands on the productivity of the labor force, accompanied by a decrease in the number of simple manufacturing jobs that have traditionally been offered to people with disabilities, might imply additional problems for the labor market participation of people with disabilities. On the other hand, changing demographic patterns leading to a possible future manpower shortage, and an expanding service sector with new job openings for people with disabilities, point to new possibilities for labor market integration.

A growing imbalance between expenditures on income maintenance schemes on the one hand, and vocational rehabilitation and employment schemes on the other, raises the question of whether resources would not be more effectively used in terms of the welfare of the individuals and the national economy if allocated to work-promoting measures rather than simply being used to pay compensation. To pave the way for a reallocation of resources, more research on the financial resources devoted to active and passive measures is called for, with a much sharper focus on the impacts and accountability of rehabilitation and employment measures.

The task of identifying and removing barriers and disincentives in moving from passive income support to employment is also of special importance. The "passivity trap" of many income support arrangements is a major hindrance for many people with disabilities to utilize their productive capabilities. The challenge is not only to remove the disincentives, but also to design a system of incentives for step-by-step progress toward employment and economic independence.

Legislative interventions to counteract discrimination against people with disabilities in the labor market and ensure equal access and equality of opportunity, such as the recent Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States, may prove to be a powerful instrument for ensuring access to the labor market for people with disabilities, and a valuable supplement to more direct employment-promoting programs. Legislation providing for quota arrangements in many countries also has contributed to a considerable number of persons with disabilities moving into open employment. …