By Michael Rosenkrantz
“A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment made in a system to "accommodate" or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need. Accommodations can be religious, academic, or employment related and are often mandated by law. Each country has its own system of reasonable accommodations.
From April 2009-February 2012, I worked as a VSO volunteer for the Indian Government at the National Trust (NT), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in the field of developmental disabilities. NT was established by an Act of Parliament in 1999 and was led by Chairwoman Poonam Natarajan, whose only child had been born with multiple disabilities, and who is a very strong advocate for the rights of Persons with Disability as per the UN Convention. NT took a holistic approach towards working with Persons with Disability and had a range of schemes and programmes from early intervention and education, to housing, to vocational training, etc. in establishing a more inclusive society. Given the population of India and the fact that between 6-10% of any country’s population includes Persons with Disability, even though NT was working only with NGOs in the developmental disability field, the organisation still had a huge mandate. As I learned about physical disabilities, a person’s body might be impacted but typically their mind was fine. Even a person with intellectual disability was able, up to a point and depending on the severity, to perform certain job functions, but there might not have been “reasonable accommodation” enabling gainful employment.
Growing up in the US I was aware of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) through a plethora of curb cuts for wheelchairs, accessible buildings and reasonable accommodation in the workplace. This was all integrated and part of the culture. The ADA Title II provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subject to discrimination by any such entity.” The US Department of Justice defines a reasonable accommodation as "any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities."
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability states: “Reasonable accommodation” means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
During December 2012 the first “Career Expo for Persons with Disability” was held in Nepal. As I noted the many people lining up to provide their CVs, I saw a great interest in finding work. The overall question though was how many employers in Nepal provide “reasonable accommodation”?
As noted in the sidebar to this article, the National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (http://www.ncpedp.org/), whose Director Javed Abidi, an Ashoka Fellow, is a major advocate in India, there are numerous ways for a company to become disabled friendly. It does however take commitment from management to incorporate reasonable accommodation into the culture and to make it a priority to recruit, hire and train Persons with Disability.
I do my best to be an optimist. But in no way would I consider myself to be so Polyanna to think that reasonable accommodation will happen quickly in the workplace, especially given the huge issues that Nepal is facing. I do however feel that given the number of Persons with Disability in Nepal, who most likely are not working up to their potential, that this is wasted human resources. I was recently reminded of this as I was talking to a 25 year old FB friend who is a Person with Disability, with a BA degree, who told me that he doesn’t get out of the house much. This only begs the question, as to why a person with a BA degree is not in the workplace, making things better for the nation. Most likely this is about “reasonable accommodation”.
You can become a disabled-friendly company by following these simple rules:
1. Inculcating a positive attitude towards people with disabilities and following non-discriminatory employment practices.
2. Reserving a percentage of jobs at all appropriate levels for disabled persons.
3. Including disability in the Mission Statement of the company. Different departments (HRD, Finance, R&D, Administration, etc) should have clear cut objectives to support people with disabilities.
4. Formalising a policy to retain employment without reduction of rank of people who may become disabled.
5. Being accessible not only to people with mobility problems but also those with visual and hearing impairments, for example barrier-free buildings, ramps, adapted toilets, Braille symbols and auditory signals in lifts, signage, etc.
6. Providing appropriate aids/technology/attendants to support disabled employees in the workplace.
7. Extending certain extra benefits like providing transport to work, rights to special leave, additional medical allowance, etc, to people with disabilities/ partners of disabled persons/or parents of disabled children.
8. Not denying promotion to people with disabilities on grounds of disability.
9. Creating a safe working environment to prevent health hazards and accidents.
10. Conducting regular orientation programmes for all the staff members/workers to encourage positive relations between disabled and non-disabled employees.
11. Stocking the latest information in the library pertaining to disability.
12. Providing opportunity for training in skill development for disabled persons.
13. Furnishing credit and support to persons with disabilities and promoting self-employment.
14. Being a marketing outlet for the products made by disabled persons/disability NGOs.
15. Sub-contracting/outsourcing activities to people with disabilities.
16. Participating in awareness-raising campaigns to sensitise the public.
17. Acting as a role model to educate and motivate other employers to follow suit.
18. Providing consultancy services to NGOs working in the area of production, management, marketing, entrepreneurial skills, etc.
19. Funding/sponsoring/donating to NGOs which are working for the cause of disability.
20. Supporting the government to establish and maintain support systems for disabled persons.
 Michael Rosenkrantz is a VSO volunteer working in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). He also tries to advocate for Persons with Disability by raising awareness through wheelchair sports in Nepal.
 The 2011 India census trained enumerators to capture data on a very detailed question regarding Persons with Disability.