companies opening up to the disabled
Sri Lankan companies are trying to
overcome mental barriers against disability and are
opening their doors to the disabled, says the Employers
Federation of Ceylon (EFC).
In fact, the demand is exceeding the
supply right now. “Employers are willing to provide
employment for disabled people but they are facing difficulties
finding disabled people,” said Meghamali Aluwihare,
the Coordinator of the EFC’s Disability Network,
at the network’s Annual General Meeting on Wednesday.
The EFC says the willingness to hire
disabled persons is more to do with good business sense
than charity. Disabled people, if found work that suits
them, tend to show a single minded dedication to their
work that employers often don’t get from normal
employees. Companies that have made the mental and physical
adjustments to accommodate disabled persons at their
workplaces have found this out. The good results are
also prompting others and 7 more companies joined the
EFC’s Disability Network between July and September
Currently 21 companies in total have
joined the Network to open their workplaces to the disabled.
This is actually not very much given that the EFC has
a membership of 500 companies, but the EFC says the
reaction so far is encouraging, given traditional attitudes.
Sri Lanka’s garment factories
for example are learning to expand their mind space
to accommodate people with disabilities – this
despite the huge production pressures the industry is
“In our factory we have 12 disabled
people, mostly people who can’t hear or can’t
talk. They work mainly in the finishing department doing
packing and fixing buttons,” says Factory Manager
of Favourite Garments Ratmalana, Kanishka Perera.
The garment factory says it is willing
to recruit another 10 - 15 disabled persons for identified
jobs and considers it a solid investment in human resource.
“Garment sector work is a rush
job, always having production targets. So there are
limits to what a disabled person can do. But when they
are given something they can do, they do it better,
because they are not distracted so much like normal
people. So we have to first find the types of work suitable
for them,” says Perera.
Companies like Polytex Garments and
Shadowline, a company in the MAS Group, have also started
hiring disabled people.
“We hired three people who are
deaf. Initially we were a bit scared whether the other
workers will accept them. But we selected a very concerned
technical officer to put them under.
Now all the other workers also look
after them. In fact, although we hired all three to
iron, we found that two were fantastic sewing machine
operators and they are now sewing,” says Sunil
Meewewa, Assistant Manager, Human Resources, Shadowline.
Shadowline is looking to make room for two more disabled
people in their factory. Poliytex Garments of Ekala
has also hired three disabled persons with hearing and
Other garment producers like Hirdaramani
are looking to hire the disabled. These companies say
they do not discriminate the disabled in anyway and
that disabled workers are paid the same salaries and
incentives as normal workers.
All the companies say absenteeism
and employee turnover is lower among disabled employees.
Sri Lanka’s disabled are
generally treated as an invisible population and
even national statistics are sketchy. Officially,
1.8% of the population is supposed to be disabled
but the actual number is estimated at much higher.
“The National Census data
says 1.8% of the total population is disabled
but we in the field think this is a gross under
statement. Through our programmes we estimate
that 4% to 5% of the population is disabled,”
says Dr Padmini Mendis, an advisor in disability
Unemployment among the disabled
is an extremely high 84% - also reflecting Sri
Lankan society’s attitudes towards the disabled.
However, the Disability Network’s
formula of training and placement seems to be
working. The Network provides training for the
disabled and organises job fairs. It also provides
training for companies on how to deal with disabled
people that are often highly sensitive because
of bad social experiences. A voluntary code that
sets down guidelines for companies - including
non-discriminatory salaries for the disabled -
was launched in July this year.
The Network has found jobs for
around 175 disabled persons and is trying to expand
its services by linking up with JobsNet, the national
body set up to link job seekers with companies.
“We did a radio campaign
last month with JobsNet, asking disabled people
looking for jobs, to register with JobsNet. Very
soon we will devise a system where companies will
let us know the vacancies they have and what types
of disabled persons they can absorb,” said
The Disability Network says
it is open to any company interested in joining
it and not just members of the EFC.