OP-ED: Everyone Wins With Inclusive Employment

We are an odd couple, perhaps, a first-time ambassador in his 50s and a long-time advocate for persons with disabilities who just turned 30. But we share more than just a Harvard University degree.

For us, inclusion is personal. We believe that everyone needs to play a role in including persons with disabilities more fully in society.

Sara lost her sight at age seven and has witnessed the way that society marginalizes and undervalues persons with disabilities. The embassy sponsored Sara’s visit to Rwanda this month, just as the United States celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month, as the perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of inclusive practices, including employing persons living with disabilities.

The United States promotes the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society, including academic, economic, and civic activities.

We passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to ensure equal treatment under the law for all and reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. We believe that everyone should seek to ensure that all persons with disabilities have meaningful and equal access to the workforce and the economy.

Many countries, including Rwanda, have similar laws to prevent discrimination and promote inclusion, but these laws are often not well enforced, even back home.

There is an important role for government, civil society, and even individuals in ensuring that responsible agencies understand their obligations to their citizens and that agencies have the right resources to comply with these obligations.

Despite these protections, persons with disabilities face high unemployment rates. Last month in the United States, for example, the unemployment rate for persons with no disability was just 3.2 percent, but almost double that rate – 6.1 percent — for persons with disabilities. In some countries that rate can be as high as 90 percent, sadly.

Accessibility affords every individual the opportunity to benefit from the economy, and it also allows companies to benefit from the patronage of the whole population.

The World Bank estimates that about 15% of the world’s population has a disability – imagine the business potential of such a large segment of society! Including persons with disabilities in the workforce is critical to achieving broad-based economic growth and to creating an economy where everyone has a chance to thrive.

One study found that businesses generally see a net benefit from hiring an employee with a disability, even if they need to make accommodations. Benefits include lower staff turnover, improved customer service, and fewer accidents and errors. A report by Accenture proves the point – companies that proactively employ persons with disabilities have 28% higher revenues than companies that do not.

Rwanda is well-positioned to be at the forefront of inclusive employment trends.

In the U.S. presidential proclamation announcing National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we noted “automation and technology are changing the way in which work is organized and performed – and who can perform it. Many jobs will be open to new populations particularly individuals with disabilities.”

That’s especially true in Rwanda, as the labor force transitions from agriculture to more skills-based jobs–like assembling smartphones and drone delivery.

And while accessibility has a very important technical aspect, inclusive employment practices means that companies create a workplace environment where all persons, regardless of their physical or intellectual abilities, have a sense of belonging and value. In this way, all employees can fully contribute 100 percent of themselves to their companies.

We ask that you – whether as a good neighbor or as a hiring manager – vow to give this issue the high profile it deserves, as we work toward equal opportunity for all.

Here at the U.S. Embassy, we will continue our work to mainstream inclusion and to support the implementation of Rwanda’s laws on the protection of persons with disabilities and the socio-economic development of persons with disabilities.

Specific to inclusive employment, we will continue to support Rwanda’s special needs and inclusive education policy, to provide job training for youth with disabilities, and to empower organizations that advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities. We will also renew our commitment to prioritizing inclusion in our hiring practices.

And we will continue to bring American voices – like Sara – to Rwanda to educate and advocate for inclusive civic and social policies.

Together, we can make sure that everyone is included.

Ambassador Peter H. Vrooman (@USAmbRwanda) is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service and has served as the Ambassador of the United States of America to Rwanda since March 2018.

Sara Minkara (@MinkaraSara) is the CEO and founder of Empowerment Through Integration (@ETIntegration) and is visiting Rwanda through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affair’s U.S. Speakers Program.