Breaking barriers for persons with disability in Ethiopia

Our social inclusion project is offering people with disabilities equal opportunities to showcase their knowledge and skills, ability to learn, work and be gainfully employed in Ethiopia. Through this initiative, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) works to make the services of persons with physical disabilities more visible to employers through internships and ensuring their rights are respected.

It is commonly thought that people with physical disabilities cannot perform effectively in the workplace. Social isolation and discrimination have limited their employment opportunities and thus organizations are losing out on qualified talent. Despite having university qualifications in specific fields of study and the potential to perform required tasks, people with disabilities are often denied employment opportunities.

"Many of us are qualified and striving to work but are not given the chance. We can improve this situation in the country," says Tilahun Bedada, the ICRC's Social Inclusion Officer in Addis Ababa. Tilahun who is visually impaired is thriving at work and has won the hearts and minds of many for championing disability awareness through the social inclusion project.

A lack of understanding about the valuable contribution of disability inclusion in the workplace means people with disabilities are employed at a much lower rate than their peers without disabilities. The ICRC social inclusion program is addressing this issue by raising awareness and facilitating internship opportunities for university graduates with disabilities in private companies, the civil service system, and non-governmental organizations across the country.

"I went for two years without a job because of my disability," says 28-year-old Debalke Abi who graduated from university with a degree in Amharic Literature in 2021. Like any man his age, he had dreamt of a brilliant career and endless opportunities but has faced numerous challenges finding a job because of his disability.

At 13, Debalke was diagnosed with polio, a condition that disabled his right leg. His condition was seen in the community as "punishment from God". Eventually he received care and crutches to ease his mobility at the Dessie physical rehabilitation center in Amhara which is supported by the ICRC.

"I applied to teach in a school, when I arrived for the interview, people on the panel looked at me with shock when they found out that I am disabled," he recalls. "Later they told me the job would be too challenging for me with my disability. That really knocked me down and I did not apply for any job again."

The ICRC supported Debalke's job search and accompanied him to secure a three-month internship at Kombolcha Revenue Office where he was later employed permanently in August as a data recording officer. During the internship, ICRC covered his transport and other expenses.

"As an intern, he contributed very innovative ideas and paid attention to detail. He did not allow his disability to hamper his desire to advance in life. He is a pleasure to work with," explains Fikirte Geto, his manager.

Debalke says the internship was a rare opportunity to gain practical experience, immerse himself in working culture, build his confidence, show his value to the employer and to make invaluable contributions to the projects he worked on.
"Employment for a disabled person like me is more than just the pay. It is about self-confidence, an inspiration that goes beyond me to my community," he says.

In order to complete the process of rehabilitation and to make meaningful outcomes of clinical service, the ICRC's social inclusion project – which inscribes within a wider physical rehabilitation program - collaborates with physical rehabilitation centers and prepares persons with disabilities for formal employment. A total of 225 people with disabilities have benefited from this project.