The ILO and Disability

Three employees are standing next to each other in a factory. The employee in the middle is a physically disabled person with no arms.

Decent work is the ILO’s primary goal for everyone, including people with disabilities. Decent work means productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, dignity and human security. Access to decent work for the estimated 1 billion disabled persons --- a full 15 per cent of the population --- is particularly difficult. While many people with disabilities have become part of the economic mainstream as productive employees, successful entrepreneurs and satisfied customers, the majority have been excluded because of various barriers that include negative attitudes, inaccessible environments and insufficient or ineffective laws and policies.  

The ILO’s work on disability dates back to 1925, just a few years after the founding of the Organization. The first international instrument containing provisions relating to the vocational rehabilitation of disabled workers was adopted by the International Labour Conference. Since then, concerns about workers with disabilities continues to run like a thread through ILO Conventions and Recommendations, with all International Labour Standards implicitly applying to them, and some protecting their rights specifically.

In 1955, a dedicated Recommendation addressing vocational rehabilitation for persons with disabilities was adopted. For the more than 50 years since then, the ILO has worked to promote skills development and employment opportunities for people with disabilities based on the principles of equal opportunity and equal treatment enshrined in this Recommendation.  In 1983, a Convention was adopted on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons), No. 159 along with its accompanying Recommendation 168 to further encourage government action on the issue of employment promotion and equality for persons with disabilities in skills training and employment. Similarly, the principles of equal treatment and equal opportunities became the underlying principles in the  ILO Code of practice for managing disability in the workplace (2002), a voluntary code for employers.  The ILO also actively supports the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which includes specific rights and protections, including those related to skills training and employment. It calls the provision of reasonable accommodation so that people with disabilities can fully participate in the complete sphere of social and economic life, including work.

In addition to its advocacy efforts, the ILO promotes equal opportunities for disabled persons in training and employment through: (1) research and knowledge development, such as by identifying examples of good practices; (2) building capacity in response to specific requests and through courses, including those offered at the ILO International Training Centre in Turin, Italy; and (3) technical cooperation services through projects and partnerships.

The ILO’s Disability Team within the Conditions of Work and Equality Department works actively throughout the Organization and with its social partners to ensure that disabled persons and the disability perspective are included in all its work. At the country level, it encourages governments to develop and implement effective policies and laws, in collaboration with workers and employers, as well as disabled persons organizations to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities.  

The ILO Global Business and Disability Network, a collaboration between the Disability Team and Bureau for Employers’ Activities, is a recent initiative emerging from needs expressed by multinational companies and ILO employers’ organizations to learn how to more effectively address the inclusion of disabled persons in the workplace.

To learn more about the ILO’s extensive disability activities and publications, go to the ILO's Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities web site.


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