In recent decades, the exclusion of many people with disabilities from society has been recognized as a human rights issue, resulting from social barriers rather than the individual’s inability to participate. This transition from a social welfare perspective to a rights-based approach has brought about a focus on improving access to education and skills training, reflected in legislation all over the world.
Regionally, the Declaration on Employment and Poverty in Africa1, 2004, commits African Union (AU) members to ensure equal opportunities for disabled persons by implementing the African Decade of Disabled Persons and, to that end, developing policies and national programmes that
favour full participation of persons with disabilities and their families in social, political and economic development. The Plan of Action for the implementation of the commitments made in this Declaration prioritizes the targeting and empowering of vulnerable groups such as persons with
disabilities, through education, skills training entrepreneurship, among other recommended actions.
The move away from a social welfare or charity approach is reflected in ILO’s Convention concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons (No. 159) of 1983, now ratified by 78 countries. Convention No. 159 requires States to develop a national policy concerning vocational
rehabilitation and employment of persons with disabilities based on the principles of equality of opportunity and equal treatment, and to promote community involvement and mainstreaming where possible. Zambia ratified ILO Convention No. 159 in 1989 and has made progress in developing
rights-based legislation concerning disabled persons with the adoption of the Person with Disabilities Act of 1996.
In addition, impetus for a rights-based approach and full inclusion of disabled persons in society has gained momentum worldwide with the decision by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to develop a Convention to Protect and Promote the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, a process which is currently underway.2 Representatives of Zambia have also taken part in the
negotiations of this Convention.
Given the emerging trend towards a rights-based approach to disability issues in Zambia, and the support provided to this by the AU Declaration in the broader context of Africa, it is timely to examine legal provisions concerning the training and employment of disabled persons and their implementation, and to identify steps which may be needed to improve opportunities for disabled persons seeking to acquire marketable skills, find a decent job or set up a viable business.
A workshop, ‘People with disabilities: Pathways to decent work’, held on 9-10
May 2006 in Lusaka, Zambia, provided an opportunity to commence such a
review. The workshop is linked to two ILO projects in Zambia. One of these
projects, Promoting the employability and employment of people with disabilities through effective legislation, funded by the Government of Ireland, seeks to promote training and employment opportunities for disabled people by supporting selected national governments to enhance the effectiveness of existing laws and policies or to develop new laws reflecting a rights-based approach.
The second project, Strategies for skills acquisition and work for persons with
disabilities in Southern Africa, funded by the Government of Flanders, aims to
enhance skills acquisition by disabled persons by identifying effective strategies to provide vocational skills and real work opportunities to youth and adults with disabilities by governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Disabled Persons’ Organizations (DPOs) and Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programmes. An exploratory survey on skills acquisition by people with disabilities commissioned by the ILO was conducted by Zambia Federation of the Disabled (ZAFOD) as part of this project. The survey findings were discussed during the workshop.