Disability, Unemployment and ‘Reasonable Accommodation’
“As economic prosperity has returned to our country, people with disabilities have been left behind when it comes to employment… It is time to build workplaces that welcome and reflect the rich diversity of life experiences and abilities that are at the heart of our country.”
On Monday, 7th October 2019, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission hosted a conference entitled ‘Achieving Equality at Work: Reasonable Accommodation in Practice’, marking World Day for Decent Work. In a press release on the event, IHREC outlined the central issue of discrimination in employment as “persistent, pernicious and prevalent in Ireland’s workplaces and recruitment practices, and needs to be seriously and collaboratively tackled by all those with a stake in our labour market.” The conference featured many speakers from governmental and advocacy groups and topics including ‘Re-Imagining Recruitment’ and ‘Creating a Culture of Inclusion’.
Discussing the concept of ‘reasonable workplace accommodation’ on RTÉ’s Drivetime, IHREC’s Chief Commissioner Emily Logan stated: “Reasonable accommodation is written into Irish equality law. And what it means is, as an employer, you’ve an obligation to consider flexible ways of accommodating people with disabilities. It can be the physical environment. It can be providing assistive technology or additional equipment. But what we have heard this morning is that many employers are willing but they don’t know how to do it.”
Ms Logan also discussed the Reasonable Accommodation Fund, available through the DEASP which can help employers take appropriate measures to enable those with disabilities or impairments to have equal access in the workplace.
In the same RTÉ radio interview, Senior Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organisation Stefan Trömel also discussed the issue: “(…) there’s still a lack of awareness on this very important concept of reasonable accommodation. I think employers, even if they’re committed to disability inclusion, which many of them are, they’re still struggling to understand exactly how they can make the workplace more accessible for people with disabilities. I think what is important is that public authorities provide the required technical assistance. The denial of reasonable accommodation is considered as a form of discrimination, but that’s not enough.”
On September 30th, the Irish Wheelchair Association WorkAbility Summit 2019 was held in Croke Park, emphasising the benefits of employing people with disabilities as part of a diverse and inclusive workforce. In an Independent.ie article on the event entitled ‘People with disabilities ‘left behind’ in workforce’, Rosemary Keogh, CEO of the IWA, is quoted as stating that “People with disabilities are caught in a permanent recession, when it comes to finding work.”
In the same article, Ms Keogh also states: “As economic prosperity has returned to our country, people with disabilities have been left behind when it comes to employment… It is time to build workplaces that welcome and reflect the rich diversity of life experiences and abilities that are at the heart of our country.”
The IWA Summit’s primary message was a call for firms and employers to see the unique talents and capabilities in those who have disabilities, and to hire for diversity and inclusion.
Considering that as well as governmental recognition of the issues, there are employment schemes and funding available for accommodating people with disabilities, the most prominent issue would seem to be that of awareness-raising, and in keeping employers informed of available solutions. Conferences and events such as those held by IHREC and the Irish Wheelchair Association, not only represent solidarity for those with disabilities, but also represent the need to bring more awareness to those who don’t understand the barriers disabled people face in workplace environments. Also, they highlight the need to bring these issues to the forefront of our national dialogue about employment and employment rights.