Home Economy Break Down Barriers … For PWDs To Access Jobs, Other Opportunities; Top US Official Tells Companies Investing in Africa

Break Down Barriers … For PWDs To Access Jobs, Other Opportunities; Top US Official Tells Companies Investing in Africa

by newsmanager

By: Linda Gbartie

MONROVIA: United States (US), Department of State’s Special Advisor on International Disability Rights, Sara Minkara, has called on companies to ensure that their investments in countries in Africa, including Liberia, are sustainable and accessible for persons with disabilities.

The top American official also urged African Nations to ensure that such accessibility is embedded in any investments that companies undertake on the African Continent and beyond.

She made the pronouncements on Thursday, May 2, 2024, during a Special Online Briefing with African Journalists.

The online press briefing was intended for Madam Minkara to discuss her recent travel to Kenya and efforts by the United States (US), Government to develop assistive technology, inclusive education, and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in Africa and the World at-large.

Madam Minkara who discussed the topic: ‘Disability Rights in Africa’ gave an overview in terms of her works in Kenya and other parts of Africa that she recently visited.

She leads the U.S. Government Foreign Policy on disability worldwide with her team, and they covered the globe, and approach disability and inclusion not just from a human rights lens but also from economic and value-based lens.

“A lot of times, if we take a step back and we think about disability narrative in our society, we’re still seeing that society from a point that we need to be taken care of and protected.

“I say us because, I am a person with a disability. I want us to shift to a point where we are seen as users, contributors, entrepreneurs, employers, employees-to the systems of society at large, and also be seen as people that will need to go online and be able to access online shopping, for instance, the e-commerce platforms.

“We need to be able to access the AI that’s coming out and becoming more part of our economies and systems at large. We need to be able to access physical technological infrastructure of communication and information accessibility,” she said.

She emphasized that is what brought them to Kenya.

“Last week, there was the AmCham Business Summit, which is held every year, in Nairobi, and it brought together corporate leaders, government leaders from across Africa.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Google and Microsoft, as well as others from Kenya and East African were in attendance.

“It was a place for us to talk about the importance of the AI and digitization and moving towards an Africa that’s (inaudible) building on to innovation and transforming our economies.

“ And our point of being there was to discuss on how do we ensure the disability lens is at the table; how do we ensure persons with disabilities voices are heard; and how do we ensure that we are tapping into the 16 percent of the world’s population which is the disability community?”

Madam Minkara: “We also had the chance to do some bilateral works in Kenya, working with the civil society community. We met with some government individuals and focused on a few Kenya-specific disability-related initiatives and bills and amendments. This is our third time to Africa in my current role.

“ We’ve been to Nigeria and Mozambique, and we were happy to be back on the continent last week. ultimately, our goal is we want all sectors, including the media sector, to be talking about disability innovation in tech, and inclusion, and that we’re talking about economic transformation within our societies,” she added.

According to Madam Minkara, assistive technology is super important, and it helps to break down barriers for persons with disabilities.

“I use a screen-reader software called JAWS that allows me to use my computer and access my computer which is really important because the more we move towards technology, the more we want to make sure that those are accessible to all. But on the other hand, the caveat is, if websites are not built accessible and websites are not built in a way to be able to work with screen-reader software, my screen-reader software is useless. So, how do we ensure that anything that we build is accessible and how do we use our mainstream technology in ways that allow for more opportunities to navigate. What I mean by that is: My iPhone right and any iPhones which is Android and other phones, I can easily open up, go into general settings, accessibility, and turn on voiceover, and that will allow me to be able to access my phone like anyone else; it’s just through touch screen. I touch and it reads back out. I’m not buying a special phone. I’m not buying extra things. It’s baked in. And that’s what’s really important, is how do we create technology out there that’s accessible for everyone. Right now, I go to a lot of new hotel rooms and there’s these touch screens that are not accessible to me, right? So, technology is really important, innovation is really important, but let’s make sure accessibility is baked in”.

Speaking on how can the U.S. use its experience to work with local partners in Africa to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in Africa while also respecting African cultures Madam Minkara mentioned that they have been in a 50-year journey of disability inclusion and there has been lot of progress but there’s a lot more work to be done as well as there’s a lot of learned lessons and great practices.

“There’s a lot of things that we can also learn from all over the world. And I think when we talk about disability inclusion, we need to ensure that we localize it to the local culture and context and that we ensure that everything is designed through the community. But one thing that is common anywhere in the world, in that whether depending doesn’t matter where, what culture, what country, what community. The one common thing is we as people with disabilities, have the desire to be seen, heard, and valued. We don’t want society to look at us and say, you need to be fixed; we want to break down; we want society to break down barriers and accessibility barriers for us so we can access the systems in society at large. That’s anywhere in the world. So when we’re designing programs, including inclusive employment, I want us to look at the system and say, how can we break down barriers. How can we make sure this space is more inclusive and accessible? It’s not just compliance; it’s actually breaking down barriers. And how do we ensure that every single person’s potential is being addressed, but also, how do we really in each community there are certain difficult conversations we might need to have, assumptions towards disability some assumptions in societies that were too costly, were a burden, were different, were incapable. We need to address those narratives as we are building solutions in the practices and the policies,” she noted.

Additionally, Madam Minkara highlighted that it is an issue that people do want to work on or would like to have a conversation on, but in a lot of spaces it’s not prioritized as such a lot of spaces people still seen PWDs as a point of charity needed to be taken care of.

She emphasized that a big part of their challenge has been actually disrupting the narrative and has actually been able to showcase countries, societies and policymakers that disability inclusion is a benefit to them and their work which is something they want to continue and believes that it helps everyone, innovation and the GDP.

The U. S. Official continued: “When you make a system accessible for persons with disabilities, it will benefit everyone. So that’s the narrative that we need to continue working on. And journalists can help to promote that narrative. If we’re talking about employment, let’s actually journey map and see the different barriers of persons with disabilities when it comes to employment, reaching out the application process, reaching out with the disability community, making sure the application process is accessible when a person is employed, then how do we make sure we break down barriers within the system so they can actually rise and be able to go up in leadership right. There’re many different layers of barriers. Let’s break that down. I want corporations to break that down. I’m not a fan of quotas because quotas are technical solutions to an adaptive problem. When we’re talking about investment, a lot of companies might come in into a community, a society and invest and right now there’s a lot of talk around sustainable investment. Well, let’s make sure it’s sustainable and accessible investment. Let’s make sure accessibility is baked into any investment that companies do”.

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