Ladies and Gentlemen,
The marginalization faced by some social groups has prevented them from playing a role in advancing development, and from benefiting from its gains. If we are to ensure that no one is left behind, our approach must include persons with disabilities, who constitute 10 per cent of the population in the Arab region.
Persons with disabilities are a diverse group, including adults and children, women and men, each with different talents, abilities and experiences. Consequently, the barriers that prevent their participation in various fields present a loss for us all.
In terms of labour inclusion, for example, current data indicate that the employment rates of persons with disabilities are much lower than those of persons without disabilities. This discrepancy cannot be explained by an inability or unwillingness to work. In reality, various cultural and organizational factors in the work environment prevent their integration into the workforce.
One of the main obstacles to integrating persons with disabilities into the labour market is misconceptions and stereotypes about their ability to work and their capacity to be productive. People with disabilities live with these negative stereotypes every day. However, these assumptions are often found among employers who have never employed persons with disabilities. As indicated by a survey of employers who hire persons with disabilities, 75 per cent confirmed that the productivity of persons with disabilities is equivalent to that of their colleagues, and that the presence of persons with disabilities positively affects the workplace.
Women with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination in the labour market, as reflected by the significant disparities between the employment rates of women and men with disabilities. In some Arab countries, the employment rate of women with disabilities does not exceed 25 per cent, compared with 50 to 75 per cent for men with disabilities.
Moreover, many institutions in both the public and private sectors lack amenities that facilitate access for persons with disabilities, which leads us to ask: How can persons with disabilities work in an institution that they cannot easily access?
This highlights the entrenched misconception among many employers that preparing the workplace for employees with disabilities is costly. However, in our surveys, we found that one third of organizations stated that setting up the workplace for persons with disabilities did not incur an additional cost, while another third reported that the cost of workplace modifications ranged between $100 and $500. In this context, we emphasize here the importance of a universal design that starts from the planning stage. Considering this design approach ensures that the costs of modifications are reduced in the long run.
Removing barriers, especially negative stereotypes about people with disabilities, is a collective responsibility. We must begin with ourselves, as we all have the power to effect positive change.
ESCWA is committed to integrating a disability perspective internally in its offices and in its operations, programmes and projects. We launched the ESCWA Disability Inclusion Policy in 2021, which identifies the main concepts, guiding principles and institutional structure to achieve greater inclusion of persons with disabilities within the organization. The policy also guides our action programme to support Arab countries in implementing policies and programmes for the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and mainstreaming their rights in other sectoral strategies and policies.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is not just another occasion to mark, but rather an urgent call to integrate this population group so that it can become a productive and effective force in societies, free from all types of discrimination and stereotypes. This issue concerns us all because it is our collective responsibility to transform our societies into open and inclusive places for all individuals.