Annah Natukunda | Palladium - Nov 26 2019
Hiring Persons with Disabilities is Good for Business: Lessons from Uganda

Source: NU-TEC MD

Businesses that actively seek to hire persons with disabilities (PWD) outperform businesses that do not, according to a recent study. Companies are finding that hiring PWDs increases their diversity of thought to find better solutions to business challenges and improves their understanding of a wider customer base. But according to some estimates, in developed countries 40-50% of PWD are unemployed. This number is between 80-90% in developing countries. While helping PWDs access employment opportunities is just the right thing to do, it’s also good for businesses’ bottom lines.

In Uganda, the Northern Uganda Transforming the Economy through Climate-Smart Agribusiness Market Development (NU-TEC MD) project is working to increase PWD employment with agribusinesses.

How to Include Persons with Disabilities

Here’s what private sector companies can do to effectively include PWDs:

  • Identify a disability focussed initiative that fully understands how to work with PWDs and are committed to supporting the growth of the organisation
  • Integrate disability inclusion in company policies on human resources, governance and future business strategies
  • Nominate a “disability inclusion focus person” to ensure that this is implemented (for small and medium scale companies, this role can go to the company head)
  • Conduct training on disability awareness and inclusion for staff and partners where possible, and as part of this dispel myths regarding working with PWDs
  • Make provisions to facilitate PWDs in invitations to business events, product promotions, internal trainings, meetings, and make technology cater to the needs of PWDs
Walter Odyek, owner of Oasis Ltd. loads grain from a smallholder farmer. Source: NU-TEC MD
Walter Odyek, owner of Oasis Ltd. loads grain from a smallholder farmer. Source: NU-TEC MD

Farmers with Disabilities in Uganda

Persons with disabilities make up over 12% of Uganda’s population. There are legislation and policies promoting disabilities in the workplace, but – just like most countries across the globe - PWDs still struggle to find employment. There’s a lack of understanding of PWD needs, inadequate workplace adaptation, or simply employer discrimination. To address these challenges, NU-TEC MD partners with agribusinesses to implement new business models that are more inclusive and connects the businesses to Light for the World, an international charity that trains the government, private sector, and development programs how to open their doors to PWDs. To date, 18 agribusinesses in northern Uganda have attended these trainings.

Oasis Agribusiness (U) Ltd is one agribusiness that is now working with 86 farmers with disabilities in the Alebtong District in northern Uganda. The owner, Walter Odyek, sells high-quality rice seed to farmers with disabilities and then trains them on good agronomy practices – which they pass along to other farmers. At harvest time, Oasis buys the rice crops from the farmers. This model scales Odyek’s business, improves the quality of the crops, and employs PWDs while enabling them to also be leader figures in their communities.

Access to Technology

Access to technology is another way that businesses can expand their reach and include PWDs. Most businesses in Uganda rely on phone calls that are not accessible for deaf people; other businesses have built SMS platforms that aren’t accessible to the blind.

Oasis Agribusiness (U) Ltd has developed an SMS platform to share market information with smallholder farmers, including the hearing-impaired farmers. The company is now working to improve the platform to include voice SMS for the blind.

“Farmers with disabilities can engage productively in agriculture when supported with appropriate technologies,” says Odyek. “They can ably access markets and produce high quality and more volumes even than able-bodied persons. Right now, they are leading in terms of acreage and output.”

Companies like Oasis show that recruiting PWDs is better for business, and help show PWDs as economic players, fast-tracking their inclusion within more workplaces and broader society.

Palladium implements NU-TEC MD Project, which is funded with UK aid from the British people.