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Since the 1970s, the disadvantages faced by disabled persons, their social exclusion and discrimination against them have been increasingly perceived to constitute human rights issues, rather than matters to be dealt with exclusively through social welfare measures.

The shift from a social welfare approach to one based on human rights is reflected in the legislation on the statute books in a growing number of countries around the world, and in international and national human rights instruments. While progress has been made, much remains to
be done to ensure that national legislation concerning the training and employment of persons with disabilities and other relevant legislation is amended to guarantee their rights as citizens, and that this legislation is effectively implemented.

The ILO Technical Consultation “Employment of People with Disabilities: A Human Rights Approach” was held from 23 to 25 September 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of an ILO project “Promoting the Employability and Employment of People with Disabilities through Effective Legislation”. This project, funded by the Government of Ireland, is being implemented by the ILO in eight countries of East and Southern Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia, as well as several countries of Asia – China, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam. The ILO project aims at enhancing the capacity of national
governments in these countries to implement effective legislation concerning the employment and training of people with disabilities.

The Technical Consultation brought together representatives of governments, employers, workers and disabled persons from the eight participating countries, as well as parliamentarians representing persons with disabilities. A delegation from a ninth country – Namibia – attended as observer.

The meeting, which marked the start of Phase 2 of the project, examined the training and employment of persons with disabilities from a human rights perspective, drawing on ILO Conventions and other international human rights instruments, as well as exemplary legislation at national level. Key
elements of a rights-based approach are contained in ILO Conventions concerning employment in general and persons with disabilities in particular. Of particular relevance are the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) and the Vocational Rehabilitation and
Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, 1983 (No. 159) that are based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equal treatment and non-discrimination.

Through a combination of formal presentations and working group sessions, participants had the opportunity to learn from other members of their own delegations, as well as those from other countries, and to become familiar with the main elements of rights-based disability laws and policies.

The Consultation was a contribution to the objectives and activities of the Continental Plan of Action of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (1999-2009). This Plan of Action calls upon Member States of the African Union to review and amend all legislation that impacts negatively on the lives of people with disabilities, pass and promulgate enabling disability-related legislation aiming at equal opportunity, and amend constitutional bills of rights to include a non-discriminatory clause on the basis of disability. It also calls on member States to protect and promote the human rights of people with disabilities.1 The Consultation also contributed to the
targets and objectives set out in the Declaration on Employment and Poverty in Africa, adopted at the African Union 3rd Extraordinary Session, Ouagadougou, September 2004.

Following the Consultation, project support will be provided to participant countries, in the form of national-level technical guidance upon request, a training programme on disability-related laws and policies, and support to a media campaign to challenge negative images of disabled persons at work.