Sunday, October 25, 2009

Turkey says disability employment remains low because of societal prejudice

From Today's Zaman in Turkey:

Even though Turkey took a major step with the Disability Act which was put into force in July 2005, aiming to solve employment problems experienced by disabled people along with a number of other issues, increasing the number of disabled people in the labor force as well as their employment skills still remains a challenge.

According to the latest report issued by the Prime Ministry's Directorate for the Disabled (ÖZİDA) in cooperation with the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) in 2002, 12.29 percent of the overall population -- approximately 8.5 million people -- is disabled, which includes physically, visually, hearing and mentally handicapped people as well as people with chronic diseases. However, only a 21.71 percent of disabled people, excluding those with chronic diseases, are in the labor force.

The Labor Law and the Regulation on the Employment of Disabled People states that employers in the private sector employing more than 50 employees in their workplace must ensure that at least 3 percent of their employees are disabled. This figure is 4 percent for public institutions. If they do not meet this quota they have to pay a fine of TL 1,519 per month, which is collected in a levy fund and used for projects focusing on vocational training, rehabilitation and employment for disabled people. In order to encourage companies to hire more disabled people, the Treasury also pays half of the insurance premiums for every disabled person hired in addition to the mandatory number.

However, despite all these incentives, employers are still reluctant to hire disabled workers. The total amount in levy fund was TL 4.8 million according to 2005 figures.

“The general tendency of people is to stay as far away as possible from disabled people,” Professor Fikret Adaman, Boğaziçi University’s technology and education laboratory for people with visual disabilities (GETEM) deputy coordinator, says in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman. According to Adaman, the amount of fine levied cannot ensure the integration of disabled into the labor force and social life. The implementation of the law still remains a challenge, a great number of employers either prefer to go around the law or to even pay the fine, he explains.

“There is a general exclusionist structure for disabled people in Turkey and providing some monetary aid to those people or having a day to celebrate disabled people once a year or these quota restrictions can’t cure this problem. We need to conduct long-term and comprehensive projects to resolve this question,” Adaman says.

According to research conducted by the ÖZİDA, which covered 124 private workplaces that employ less than the required ratio of disabled people despite the fact that they are required to employ disabled workers under the quota system as they have more than 50 employees, 53 percent of employers cited the lack of productivity and low skill levels of disabled people as their reasons for not following the law. Of these employers, 11.3 percent believed that disabled people are incapacitated and 8.5 percent stated that the work performed in their workplaces is not suitable for disabled people.

“There is a severe lack of knowledge concerning disabled people in society,” Professor Zeynep Aycan of Koç University and the chairwoman of the Turkish Psychological Association (TPD) says, attributing the reluctance of employers to hire disabled workers to their poor knowledge as to which fields people with disabilities can work successfully. “For instance, a lot of visually impaired people are employed as perfume testers and wine connoisseurs abroad thanks to their improved senses of smell and taste,” Aycan states, adding that those people can also work in all types of computer-based jobs with the support of software programs.

Referring to the prejudices of employers, Aycan says: “Even after hiring disabled workers, they don’t know how to act. They think about whether it is needed to rearrange the system to make it simpler for the disabled, or think that it is not necessary to conduct a performance evaluation, believing that the disabled person will fail to work efficiently anyhow.”

In regards to the low participation rate of disabled people in labor force, apart from the average low education level most of the disabled, Aycan says even well-educated disabled people often lack of self-esteem. This should be resolved through psychological assistance, she adds.

In Turkey, 36.37 percent of all disabled people are illiterate, significantly higher than the rate in the overall population, 15.51 percent. Only 2.42 percent of people with disabilities have undertaken higher education. To address the inadequacy in education along with the lack of vocational knowledge and skills among the disabled population, a number of vocational rehabilitation centers were opened under the Regulation on Private Rehabilitation Centers chapter of the Disability Act with the aim to increase the qualifications of disabled people and make them employable.

However, the employment of mentally disabled people still remains at very low levels. In this regard, sheltered workshops have become widespread under the same law with the aim of providing vocational and life skills training and employment for disabled people who are difficult to place in the regular labor market. Municipalities are obliged to set up sheltered workshops.

“It is a place where they feel better by acquiring different skills,” says Arzu Dayıoğlu, the director of Fatih Municipality’s sheltered workshop. The average age of the 30 people who attend the workshop is 18. Most of the people who attend the workshop are mentally disabled, she says, adding that they do simple assembling jobs through which they can earn a small amount of money.

A Web site has recently been created to bring together job-seeking disabled people and companies looking for disabled employees. While aiming to promote the employment of disabled people, Turkey’s first and only human resources Web portal for the disabled --, meaning career without disabilities -- aims to provide equal opportunities for the disabled, who usually face obstacles in the business world. Offering high-quality accessibility software technology specific to every disabled group, the site enables companies to access the best applicants as quickly as possible. According to data provided by the site’s general manager, Hasibe Kızıltaş, the site has the CV’s of more than 4,000 disabled people.

“Being employed plays a critical role in resolving a number of difficulties handicapped people face in their daily and social life. That is why disabled people need to be employed more when compared to others,” Kızıltaş said, adding that the site enables companies to hire qualified disabled workers.

According to the 2008 statistics of the Turkish Employment Organization (İŞKUR), the number of disabled people employed in public sector is 11,286 in a total of 1,126 workplaces that are obliged to hire disabled workers under the law. The figure is 55,077 in 13,268 private firms. As of the end of 2008, the number of disabled people looking for employment was 96,533.