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Debra Ruh

  Employability & Technology


The Disability Inclusion Initiative

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The Disability Inclusion Initiative Employment Sector (July 2009)

The Employment Sector of the International Labour Organization (ILO) aims to create opportunities for women and men, including those with disabilities, to secure decent employment and income. The Sector has recently launched a Disability Inclusion Initiative which reflects a renewed commitment within the ILO to address more systematically the inclusion of disabled persons, an estimated 650 million people globally, in its work.

Introduction - Different times, new challenges

The ILO has a long history of promoting the rights of disabled people related to training and employment opportunities and in providing technical inputs and interventions to implement those rights. The inclusion of disabled persons is enshrined in the ILO´s mandate for equal treatment and equal opportunity for disabled persons which forms the basis of ILO Convention concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) No. 159 and the accompanying Recommendation No. 168 (1983), the ILO Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace and many other ILO Conventions and Recommendations. This mandate has gained new strength with the coming into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

Over the years much of the disability-related work has been accomplished through the activities of disability specialists working on disability specific projects and activities but, increasingly, also through the gradual inclusion of disability into its ´mainstream´ activities.

To build on these successes, the Employment Sector is taking disability inclusion to a new level of engagement and pursuing disability inclusion in a more intentional, strategic and effective manner. This involves mainstreaming disabled persons and the disability perspective into all aspects of the work of the Sector and its major means of action - knowledge development and research, advocacy and technical cooperation.

What is disability inclusion?

Broadly, disability inclusion refers to promoting and ensuring the participation of people with disabilities in education, training and employment and all aspects of society AND providing the necessary supports and reasonable accommodations so that they can fully participate. Disability inclusion is more than just inviting disabled persons to the table; it is assuring that they can get to the table, that the barriers to participation are removed. Such barriers are physical (such as architectural and transport), information and communication (such as training formats and information dissemination methods), policy and legal (lack of laws and policies or their implementation); institutional (such as lack of capacity), and attitudinal (such as negative attitudes and stereotypes).

The ILO adheres to the social model of disability. According to the model, the disadvantages disabled persons face result from the interaction of social barriers with the person´s impairment. These barriers can interact with other social variables, such as gender, often making women with disabilities more disadvantaged than their male counterparts. Ensuring rights, removing barriers and including disabled women and men in the full spectrum of society will reduce such disadvantages. In the area of employment and training, this will mean making vocational training and employment systems and centres inclusive of disabled persons by assuring they can access such services, that staffs are trained to meet their needs and that specific services and supports are provided so that they can fully and equitably participate. In employment, their rights to non-discrimination and equal treatment and equal opportunities must be protected through national laws and policies and the programmes that implement them.

The Employment Sector Disability Inclusion Initiative

The Employment Sector´s Disability Inclusion Initiative specifically aims to:

  • increase the ability and confidence of staff to address disability issues;
  • foster and achieve the inclusion of the disability perspective and disabled women and men in all aspects of the Employment Sector´s work;
  • encourage and support a similar inclusion throughout the Organization.

Until full inclusion and equal opportunity and treatment become a reality, the twin-track approach is adopted. This means that in some cases, disability-specific programmes or initiatives are needed while also ensuring that disability perspectives are meaningfully included in mainstream services and activities of the Sector.

The Disability Team within the Skills and Employability Department has the primary responsibility in providing disability inclusion support and services to move the Disability Initiative forward. These supports include:

  • providing expert responses, information and tools for questions and technical activities related to disability;
  • providing coaching on how to include disability within knowledge development, advocacy and technical cooperation activities;
  • disseminating information about disability issues and new developments, including about training, capacity building and funding opportunities;
  • reviewing and providing guidance in the development of proposals, documents, tools and products;
  • developing networks of partner organizations, expert consultants, trained volunteers and interested interns to respond to requests for expert or human resource inputs to disability activities that go beyond the delivery capacity of the Disability Team.

For more information on ILO´s disability work, go to Or write: