Although Omotosho Oluwagbemisola currently works in an organization, this young lawyer in her 20s has a long tale to tell about her employment search. With hearing impairment, Gbemisola graduated from Joseph Ayo Babalola University with a law degree and was called to the bar in 2021. After that, she entered the Nigerian labour pool which was not so welcoming for a person with a disability in a country with a high unemployment rate.
According to Gbemisola, she got a lot of rejection because employers doubted her ability to carry out the expected work.
“I remember when I applied to a firm and I told them about my hearing impairment. They asked me how I will relate with clients and I explained myself with cogent points because I know what I can do and how I relate with people despite living with ear impairment. After my explanations, I was rejected. Instead of tears, I just smiled and left,’’ she explained.
At another time, Gbemisola was interviewed via Whatsapp, a social media platform. The interview was going on smoothly until she mentioned her condition and had to answer questions about it. She was ghosted.
Over the years, people living with disabilities have been excluded from society, directly or indirectly. They lack access to certain things, positions and opportunities that are often considered easy or normal for other people.
Gbemisola’s case is not isolated as others like her have been known to voice out their frustration at the system and employers who doubt their ability to deliver, hence failing to employ them.
In 2019, a Twitter User @okoro_voke took to the platform to make her plight known. Despite graduating with a second-class upper in Business Administration and going through with the mandatory Youth Service, the young lady in a wheelchair stated that one of the reasons she was yet to get a job was discrimination.
“The way people living with disability are treated in Nigeria is totally unfair, I graduated with a good result, and did my NYSC like every other Nigerian, but yet (sic) no job either because of accessibility or discrimination. We deserve better”.
In Osita Okon’s case, he was disqualified and bypassed for a position that he qualified for because he was blind.
A 2021 letter by the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN) called on all stakeholders in the Enugu State Government including the Chairman, of the Enugu State Local Government Service Commission to respect the civil service rules which was bypassed in the appointment of a head of the department. While the provision stated that where the position becomes vacant, it falls on the highest-ranking officer to head it, it was not followed. Rather than appointing Osita, the highest-ranking officer of the Nkanu-West Social Welfare Department at grade level 14, a much junior officer of grade level 9 was appointed to head the department, because “Mr. Osita Okon is blind.”
Unemployment Rate and Employer’s Doubt Vs Disability Law
According to statistics by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate hit a record high of 33.3 % in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020. This translates in figures to about 23.18 million people who did nothing or worked less than 20 hours a week. At present, estimations by Statistic is not very different from this, as unemployment is estimated to currently be 33%, a 0.5 raise from the projected figure of 32.5% in 2021.
On the other hand, the figures are much higher for people with disabilities. According to The Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), about 63 percent of adults with disabilities in Nigeria are unemployed and 30% of out-of-school children are those with disabilities.
While anyone could be unemployed or be a victim of violence and other things, people with disability are even at higher risk. They are discriminated against and excluded from opportunities, therefore can only apply for a few jobs. Due to their various impairments, they have even fewer chances at employment. Accessibility to a place of work is another factor that further complicates their job search.
Although signed into law, the Discrimination against persons with Disabilities (prohibition) Act is not as effective as expected. The bill is expected to “see corporate entities and individuals face sanctions if found guilty of discriminating against persons with impairments”. Till date however, little has been done on the implementation of all that it contains to promote the inclusion of people with disability and lessen discrimination.
Battling Employer’s Doubt
Over the years, Gbemisola has often had to prove herself to keep her position and fight off bullying. According to her, there are people with different areas of impediment, yet are determined to succeed in life and go after whatever they dream to be. Despite the limitations their impediment poses, they try to survive in the system.
“Not so long ago, I was bullied and got some kind of treatment from colleagues. Instead of keeping my mouth shut, I challenged the grounds. Because a person has a disability doesn’t mean the particular person is weak in other areas and that does not mean they can’t do anything,” she stated.
Gbemisola also called on employers to not allow a job seeker’s impediment to being the reason why they won’t employ them.
“People’s impediment should not be a reason you should limit them or consider them unsuitable for a position. It is not right. An employer may see me now and think that because I can’t hear, I can’t work. Whereas, I can talk and write. I can reason just like a sane human and can participate in teamwork. My impairment does not affect my ability to see or walk. Everyone’s case is unique and therefore should be accepted as such.”
Organizations like the Initiative for National Growth have been opening their doors to companies for partnerships to employ persons with disabilities. Serving as a channel, they are linking people with disabilities with organizations that wish to accept them as apprentices/interns/part-time/full staff.
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