Serving Up Success for Disabled Job Seekers In Bangladesh
Amid the hustle and bustle of a busy Dhaka restaurant, Mohsina Begum Liza takes a customer’s order and explains that it will take 15 minutes for the food to be served. What sets this common scene apart is that it takes place in sign language. Liza can neither speak nor hear, yet she can understand what others say and her disability does not come in the way of her work.
With a hearing impairment from birth, 30-year-old Liza secured her job at the Angel Chef restaurant, an initiative of Parents Forum for Differently Abled (PFDA) - through perseverance and opportunity. The restaurant is based within a branch of the well-known Swapno retail chain and its customers are glad to drop in and grab a bite to eat.
ILO supported the three-month vocational training course offered by the PFDA, which provided Liza with the skills and confidence she needed to find a job. Through sign language Liza explains how she grew up being told that she couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that. Proving all her sceptics wrong, she has now learnt to bake, cook and serve dishes.
What has made a major difference to Liza and other persons with disabilities like her is not only the opportunity to receive training but also the growing interest from the private sector to hire them, as well as efforts to help change attitudes towards people with disabilities in the workplace.
With 56 outlets and 2,500 staff across Bangladesh, Swapno is one such company, which has come to see the business case for hiring disabled staff.
Sabbir Nasir, Executive Director, Swapno says, “I do not want to use the word ‘disabled’. To me these gifted people are differently abled. To date we have recruited 84 such staff. This has been a tremendous success, as their performance is much better than that of the average employee. We have now set a quota for differently abled persons to make up 10 percent of our workforce.”
Amongst Swapno’s staff is Jannatul Ferdous, a mother of two children. Despite having a hearing impairment, Jannatul has been working as a cashier for the past six months.
Following the death of her husband in 2016, Jannatul received vocational training from PDFA and soon found a job. “That was the beginning, as from then on my life changed. I’m not dependent on anybody and I can earn to support my family and the children’s education,” she says.
Supporting these efforts has been ILO’s Canadian-funded Bangladesh-Skills for Employment and Productivity (B-SEP) project .
The project facilitates workplace inclusion by building the capacity of vocational and technical institutes and by making training accessible to disadvantaged groups such as poor women, persons with disabilities, indigenous youth etc. It also promotes the training of disadvantaged women in non-traditional occupations.
With the support of B-SEP, out of 630 persons with disabilities trained, 205 people with neurodevelopment disorder have graduated from training courses run by PFDA. Of those, 174 have either been placed in jobs or become self-employed. Meanwhile, B-SEP has supported initiatives such as the launch in 2016 of the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network (BBDN) - a network of employers hiring or willing to hire persons with disabilities which has helped bridge the gap between the private sector and people with disabilities looking for work. To date the BBDN has 38 member companies and has helped some 191 people with disabilities throughout Bangladesh find work through job fairs and other activities.
Kishore Kumar Singh, Chief Technical Advisor of the B-SEP project explains, “Studies show ten percent of people in Bangladesh live with some kind of disability. ILO has worked actively in collaboration with the government and many partners to help create a policy environment as well as practical actions to provide people with disabilities access to training and jobs. Given the right opportunities these persons can get decent jobs, gain personal fulfilment and contribute to the society and economy.”