Domestic Economy

Economic Contribution of the Disabled Underestimated

Economic Contribution of  the Disabled UnderestimatedEconomic Contribution of  the Disabled Underestimated

People with disabilities suffer from discrimination throughout the world and are often excluded from the social, economic and political processes in their societies.

While exclusion of people with disabilities from society is acknowledged as unacceptable from a human rights and social justice perspective, perhaps not enough argument has been put forth regarding the costs of isolating these people and the implications for their families and society at large from an economic point of view.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1 billion or 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability, with the majority in developing countries.

Meanwhile, there are no accurate statistics on the number of the disabled in Iran. Unofficial reports put the number of disabled population at approximately 1.5 million.  But it defies logic that only about 2 percent of Iran’s population of nearly 80 million is disabled compared with the global average of 15 percent. The most logical explanation is a difference in definition.

Like most countries, Iran wrestles with the challenge of defining disabilities that entails eligibility for rights and benefits. The State Welfare Organization (SWO) is a government body that provides welfare benefits to those who qualify. The SWO defines only four types of disabilities: physical, hearing, visual, and mental.

After the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988), which produced a newly disabled population of at least 400,000 people, the government created a new category ‘janbaz’ – meaning those who volunteered to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their country. Later, the Janbazan Foundation was established to assist the war veterans.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability gives a broader definition of disability as “any long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder [a person’s] full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

  Disability Rights in Iran

The Iranian Constitution makes no broad reference to the rights of persons with disabilities, but a section on ‘Welfare Rights’ (approved in 1979 and amended in 1989) states that those with disability should benefit from the national social security system.

Disability Protection Act, passed in 2003, is Iran’s most progressive and comprehensive legislation concerning the disabled, providing them with legal protection in areas such as public building access, education, housing, and finance. Some sections relate to employment and inclusion of the disabled in the workforce. For example, organizations receiving state funding must hire three percent of their workforce from the general disabled population and 10 percent from war veterans with disabilities.

The law’s reach is broad, but there is no monitoring system to ensure compliance. For example, the law requires public buildings to be fully accessible; however in practice, little progress has been made. Similarly, public transportation is not accessible for the majority of people with disabilities.

Last week, head of the SWO, Anushiravan Mohseni, announced that the jobs reserved for disabled population in state organizations is set to increase to five percent from the current three percent, while acknowledging that “no individual with disability has been hired by government organizations over the past two years,” IRNA reported.

Various factors hinder the participation of people with disability in the labor force, including limited access to education and vocational training, discriminatory attitudes and misconceptions among employers, and physical barriers such as inaccessible work environment and lack of suitable accommodation.

  Employers Concerns

Employers’ attitudes continue to be a significant barrier to employment of people with disability. Studies testify to the ongoing prejudice and misconceptions about the quality of work that can be delivered by persons with disabilities. Government initiatives and programs to address employers’ concerns and encourage them to recruit people with disability are largely missing.  

Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Affairs, Ali Rabei, on Friday announced a new bill titled ‘subsidized support for employment of people with disability.’ The bill proposes incentives and subsidies to employers of people with disability. He also spoke of establishing an organization to support entrepreneurship among the disabled.

Low Productivity

A number of studies worldwide have tried to estimate the macro-economic costs – namely in the form of GDP losses – arising from the reduced productivity of the disabled.

The first known study to use this approach was undertaken in a report for the World Bank in 2000, which calculated that economic losses from lower productivity among people with disabilities across low and middle income countries amounted to between US$473.9-672.2 billion a year.

Also a research by the International Labor Office (ILO) in 2009 estimated that the economic costs of excluding people with disability from employment amount to approximately 3-7% of gross domestic product (GDP) for ten developing countries in Asia and Africa.

This is while investment in effective strategies for including the disabled in the labor market has been found to yield considerable returns to the society. For example, in Australia it was estimated that closing the gap between labor market participation rates and unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities by one-third would result in a cumulative $43 billion increase in GDP over the next decade.

  Social Assistance, Tax Revenues

It is also important to take into account the indirect benefits of promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in employment, such as reduced spending on social assistance programs and increased tax revenues from both individuals with disabilities and their caregivers.

Such budgetary increases attained through the addition of the disabled and their caregivers to the tax base could in turn help free up funds for other public projects.

In addition to raising awareness about the economic benefits of including people with disability in the active workforce, efforts to improve education and health services for people with disability can also help increase their participation in the economy. Failure to address such an important issue by relevant government authorities as well as by the society at large will undoubtedly work to prevent the tremendous potential of the disabled population from being unleashed.