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Developing employment policies for persons with disabilities.

Workers with disabilities are "grossly" underused in the work forces of Western nations, affecting not only the individuals, but the performance of national economies, according to a report issued recently by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The challenge to involve more disabled workers in the labor force affects many member countries similarly, although governments pursue significantly different policies to try to solve the problem. Some excerpts:

Increasing demands on the productivity of the labor force, accompanied by a decrease in the number of simple manufacturing jobs that have traditionally been offered to people with disabilities, might imply additional problems for the labor market participation of people with disabilities. On the other hand, changing demographic patterns leading to a possible future manpower shortage, and an expanding service sector with new job openings for people with disabilities, point to new possibilities for labor market integration.

A growing imbalance between expenditures on income maintenance schemes on the one hand, and vocational rehabilitation and employment schemes on the other, raises the question of whether resources would not be more effectively used in terms of the welfare of the individuals and the national economy if allocated to work-promoting measures rather than simply being used to pay compensation. To pave the way for a reallocation of resources, more research on the financial resources devoted to active and passive measures is called for, with a much sharper focus on the impacts and accountability of rehabilitation and employment measures.

The task of identifying and removing barriers and disincentives in moving from passive income support to employment is also of special importance. The "passivity trap" of many income support arrangements is a major hindrance for many people with disabilities to utilize their productive capabilities. The challenge is not only to remove the disincentives, but also to design a system of incentives for step-by-step progress toward employment and economic independence.

Legislative interventions to counteract discrimination against people with disabilities in the labor market and ensure equal access and equality of opportunity, such as the recent Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States, may prove to be a powerful instrument for ensuring access to the labor market for people with disabilities, and a valuable supplement to more direct employment-promoting programs. Legislation providing for quota arrangements in many countries also has contributed to a considerable number of persons with disabilities moving into open employment.

Regarding vocational rehabilitation, employment training, and employment-promoting programs, it is important that these programs are designed to consider the disability and potential of the individual. A "menu" or range of measures is necessary to be able to tailor the vocational rehabilitation plan to the needs and possibilities of the individual. A promising development is the tendency for a mainstreaming of services and more concentration on onthe-job training. In accordance with the principles of normalization and integration, many countries have made provisions to facilitate the participation of individuals with disabilities in ordinary training programs. The challenge is to find a better balance between integration into overall measures serving the nondisabled population and measures specifically targeted at the needs of people with disabilities.

While most countries have developed a comprehensive sheltered and segregated sector for employment of people with disabilities, recent trends point to greater emphasis on arrangements to bridge the gap between sheltered and ordinary employment. This tendency is reinforced by ideological trends (the principles of normalization and integration) and by criticisms of the functioning of the sheltered sector in many countries. These programs provide more direct inroads to ordinary working life through on-the-job training and intensive followup services milored to the needs of the individual.

The main conclusion to be drawn from this report is that policies for the employment of people with disabilities have an important role to play in that the group concerned is significant (and unlikely to diminish in size in the future) and the resources at present devoted to their needs are considerable. While the present state-of-the-art does not enable firm conclusions to be drawn about the effectiveness of present policy approaches in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities, the experience gained and the contrasts between the different approaches followed in [OECD] countries underline the importance of continuing to monitor developments in this area.

"Employment Policies for People with Disabilities," the eighth in a series, Labor Market and Social Policy Occasional Papers, is available from the Directorate for Education, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs; 2, rue AndrePascal, 75775 Paris Cedex 16, France.
COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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