Persons with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts must be made to ensure that they are not left behind and discriminated against, but assisted.
This in essence is part of the recommendations found in a report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) entitled, “The Consequences of COVID-19 on Livelihoods in Barbados”, which was comprised based on the results of a telephone survey. The nationally representative survey of Barbados was conducted between May and June 2020. The main objective was to quantify the early consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and those carrying out the survey found significant labour market disruptions, with relatively more severe consequences among low-income households.
Now we have heard in the past, advocates of the disabled community suggesting that a significant number of persons living with disabilities were being kept out of the workforce by the fear and prejudice displayed by employers. While there has been much work done to sensitise employers to the benefits that can accrue if they provide employment to individuals in the disabled community, stigma and discrimination still appears to play a part in the general hiring process and so, a number of people with disabilities are still finding themselves out of work. Given the present pandemic and its impact on the labour market, we may find that when it comes to the laying off of workers or the rehiring of them, the disabled may find that they are disproportionately affected. They may be the first to go and the last to get rehired in some instances.
However, we must not leave them out in our deliberations about the impact of the pandemic and we must find ways to engage and assist them. From what we have heard in the past, the majority of disabled persons who are willing and able to work, want jobs so they can be taken off of welfare, allowed to make a contribution to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and possibly pay some taxes.
So business owners, where possible, should be open-minded and should open their doors to the disabled, allowing them access even to various internship programmes, so that they can gain valuable on-the-job experience and vital work-related skills. Perhaps this is one way in which employers can let go some of their fears, as they allow persons with disabilities to work at their establishments for a short period of time, to ascertain whether or not they will be a good fit for the job.
As noted earlier, for people with disabilities, the pandemic presents a few challenges to securing and maintaining employment. However, let us consider that individuals with special needs can make an important contribution to the business community, once given the opportunity. Indeed, with the right assistance and backing, they too may be able to start up their own business as well and make a contribution to our economy. The point is, we cannot just push them aside and focus on the able-bodied alone, but we must find ways to include them and assist them, so they too can emerge stronger from this pandemic.