“Only when everyone is included in society will we be able to move forward”
This year, Handicap International (HI) launched the “Idmag” project in Egypt, where the organisation is advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. The project’s manager, Kazem Hemeida, explains why this sort of initiative is so important.
Kazem at the Noor Al Sabah information and referral centre. | © Elisa Fourt / HI
What’s your work environment like?
Egypt’s a vast country. The capital is one of the most populated cities in the world. Some 20 million people live in Cairo and its suburbs. More than half the population lives in a neighbourhood with densely-populated streets and limited access to social services. These neighbourhoods are underserved and residents find it hard to access the public facilities. It makes economic inclusion more difficult. This is particularly true for people with disabilities, who are marginalised and often live in precarious conditions.
How many people are in this situation?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 8 to 12 million people with disabilities in Egypt. The country has ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities but meeting their needs is going to be an uphill struggle. For example, a lot of employers get around the minimum 5% quota for disabled workers by paying them to stay at home. And that’s just one example of the obstacles faced by Egyptians with disabilities. They’re discriminated against, sometimes underpaid or have to work in environments they can’t access. This all limits the chances Egyptian people with disabilities should have to play a role in the economy and society.
How does HI meet their needs?
We recently launched the “Idmag” (“Inclusion” in Arabic) project in a working-class area of Cairo. It’s the first project of its kind in Egypt. Until now, most organisations met disabled people’s needs by simply paying them rather than encouraging them to find a decent job, earn a living and play a role in society. We want to make sure everyone has equal access to employment, and to encourage people with disabilities to find their place in the work force. We’re trying to create an environment conducive to the employment of people with disabilities. This includes setting up information and referral centres where we assess skills and help people look for work. We also put them in touch with potential employers, who we encourage to hire more people with disabilities by challenging their prejudices and showing them the benefits of inclusion.
How do you encourage companies to adopt a more inclusive approach?
We present them with cases of people with disabilities in the workplace and show them practical examples of what inclusion is and how it can succeed. We also provide disability and accessibility training and show employers how they can make their company inclusive. We regularly reward businesses that follow our approach after they’ve taken one of our training courses. We also form partnerships with chambers of industry and organisations of business leaders to expand our professional network. We then refer people with disabilities who are looking for work to this network.
Why do you think inclusion is a challenge we need to tackle today?
There are a lot of major changes ahead - internationally and locally. Whether you’re a government, business or civil society organisation, you’re going to need to cooperate and make the most of our diversity. This way, we can rise to the challenges of our time while building a fairer, more equal world for everyone. People with disabilities have drive and creativity. They deserve to fulfil their potential as much as anyone else. Only when everyone is included in society and has the same opportunities and chances will we be able to move forward.