PwC report calls for more inclusion for people with disabilities

31 May 2021 5 min. read
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People with disabilities face a number of employment barriers, including societal prejudice, environmental obstructions, institutional discrimination and a lack of training opportunities. However, according to a new report, while the home working of Covid-19 has presented a further challenge to inclusivity of those with disabilities, it could also be an opportunity for employers to better engage them in the future.

Recent years have seen the nations of the GCC introduce a range of policies to better support citizens with disabilities – recognising the need to improve educational and social outcomes. Yet while some progress has been made, the bulk of the evidence suggests that there are still a number of obstacles in the region when it comes to engaging those with disabilities in the workplace, including poor awareness, diagnostic shortfalls to detect and classify disabilities, and a lack of supporting infrastructure.

Now, a new report by PwC examining the situation has found that while the current coronavirus pandemic presents a number of stumbling blocks for diversity and inclusion efforts in the GCC, it also presents a chance to better adapt the world of work for the needs of people with disabilities.

Labour participation rates of PWD in the GCC

The study from PwC’s Middle East team states that people with disabilities are an underestimated resource – and that with the right policy framework and a supportive environment, they could be key contributors to their country’s wealth, while suggesting that the current shift to remote working can break down some of the barriers that limit their participation in the workforce – but only if combined with a focus on upskilling.

The most recent figures show that the number of people with disabilities in GCC countries ranges from 4.37% of the population in Saudi Arabia, to between 1% and 3% for the other member states – however, there is a lack of concrete and consistent data showing the true scale of disabilities across the GCC.

According to UN estimates, the overlooked group represents approximately 15% of the world's population, so the number in the GCC is likely higher than reflected at present.

Whatever the number of people with disabilities in the GCC really is, it is clear that they face severe labour market challenges. Again, the UN estimates that more than half of people with disabilities of working age in industrialised countries are unemployed, rising to between 80% and 90% in developing countries. On top of this, working age women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged in labour markets, as they face discrimination due to their gender and their disability.

Rate of illiteracy and no-schooling in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar

A workforce opportunity
With this in mind, as working from home increasingly being introduced into the long-term business model of many firms, there is a chance for GCC businesses to tap into this large and under-utilised source of labour, while circumnavigating some of the environmental barriers that might have prevented them from doing so before. This is still easier said than done, though, as governments and businesses will need to offer up support to educate and include staff with disabilities working from home.

At present, there is a huge need to help the GCC’s disabled community access life-changing skills which could see them enter the workforce. Across Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, PwC found that the rate of illiteracy and received no schooling stood at more than a quarter among those with disabilities – and was highest in Saudi Arabia, where it applied to almost one-third.

Women were especially disadvantaged across all three nations, but again suffered worst in Saudi Arabia, where almost half of all women with disabilities had not received schooling and were illiterate.

Randa Bahsoun, Partner at PwC Middle East, said, “GCC countries are well placed to leverage technology in order to transform their labour market while increasing access for people with disabilities and acting as models of best practice for other governments.”

Key steps for the integration of PWD in the labour market policy cycle

For this approach to be successful, Bahsoun said “leaders, policymakers, educators and stakeholders from the public, private and non-profit sectors should collaborate to institutionalise an inclusive ecosystem for people with disabilities, where they can be active and productive whilst ensuring their voices are heard along the way.”

Through the report PwC Middle East has defined a concrete data centric, people centric and cyclical framework to support the sustainable inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. This framework centres on three key enablers. First, governments need to invest in building the capacity of national statistics offices, so they can better understand who needs support.

This data must then be put to work by multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral partnerships to support governments involve the disabled community. Finally, this will need to see new policies and initiatives developed to support people with disabilities across all demographics, and regardless of the level of their disability.