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How companies that respect and support rights of persons with disabilities can benefit from inclusion

By Elizabeth Ombati | February 24th 2018

For many persons with disabilities to make a choice, on for example where to shop, where to eat, where to hold a meeting, which vehicle to use, which airline to use, which product to buy and numerous other transactional scenarios, it boils down to pertinent issues of how such businesses or companies respect and support the rights of persons with disabilities. Successful businesses, organisations and companies have to realise that to reap maximum benefits from their services; they have to take into consideration the various needs of persons with disabilities either as employees, suppliers or customers.

The Guide for Business on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by UN Global Compact and International Labour Organization notes that many companies have policies, practices and initiatives in place that seek to respect and support the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities as employees, customers and suppliers. Some of the measures are required by law, but many go beyond legal requirements recognising the human rights and business case for inclusion.

In its 2017 annual report, the communications company Safaricom noted that approximately 1.4 per cent of its workforce are persons with disabilities and that they were working towards closing the year at 2 per cent. Safaricom has embarked on a programme to bring on board 20 visually impaired people as they work towards achieving a target of 5 per cent by 2020. The company has also trained more than 350 people in sign language across the country. This is just but one company that is widely known to respect and support rights of persons with disabilities. How many more Kenyan companies are willing to embrace this route?

The guide for business on the rights of persons with disabilities further indicates that companies that have embarked on the journey of including persons with disabilities have benefitted from being perceived as corporate leaders and also better reflect the demographics of the communities where they operate. Another competitive advantage that companies can gain by including people with disabilities is increased engagement and retention of their entire workforce.

It is critical to note that Kenya is party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which forms part of the laws of Kenya.  The CRPD is strongly based on a non-discrimination approach which therefore means that all businesses, companies, and organizations adopt a no-discrimination approach in their interactions with employees, clients and suppliers who include persons with disabilities.

A key impact of the adoption of the CRPD is the expectation from persons with disabilities that their rights be respected as citizens, employees, suppliers, customers and generally, as members of society. With this increasing awareness, businesses have to adapt their policies and practices to ensure they are not only meeting these basic expectations but also advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.

Companies provide a key contribution to the achievement of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and it is crucial that in their policies and plans they have clear roadmaps on how they are including persons with disabilities.

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In July 2017, the Kenya Institute of Management launched the 2017 Diversity and Inclusion report which scrutinized the level of diversity in boards and senior management of listed companies across a number of parameters which included gender, age and profession. The parameters used however did not include disability which was a big miss. It would be crucial to know the percentage of persons with disabilities in boards and senior management of various companies. This is because until diversity and inclusion policies are endorsed at the senior most levels of companies, a lot may not change in as far as inclusion of persons with disabilities is concerned.

As a point of concern, companies have to be wary of approaching persons with disabilities from a charity perspective. In this sense, many businesses or companies may dedicate funds to corporate social responsibility where they engage in ‘helping the needy’. In as much as this is welcome, it may foster stereotypes that persons with disabilities are charity cases who need help. Rather, companies and businesses have to be at the forefront of fostering the respect for human rights for persons with disabilities.

Elizabeth Ombati is a disability rights advocate

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