Finding a job these days is a challenge for everyone, especially someone with a disability.
Nona Gudulidze, a 50-year-old nurse from Ambrolauri, was lucky. She got her job after a new multifunctional centre of social inclusion opened in her hometown with support from the United Nations Joint Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Fund.
Her life changed forever when a 2020 car accident left her in a wheelchair. Living in Georgia’s mountainous Racha region, she never imagined that she would be able to find work.
“I get to feel accomplished again and drive change for myself and others!” says Nona, taking up duties as the facility’s new librarian.
Unfortunately, finding any job seems impossible for the overwhelming majority of 126,002 persons registered as people with disabilities in Georgia.
“Employment of persons with disabilities is more an exception than a rule in Georgia. According to the 2022 UNPRPD situational Analysis, there had been 53 persons with disabilities employed in the public sector, out of whom only 37 per cent were women,” says Esma Gumberidze, a visually impaired human rights activist, a citizen journalist and a blogger.
According to Esma, programmes subsidise the salary for newly employed persons with disabilities, where the Ministry of Health funds up to half of the wages for a few months. However, the acceptance of persons with disabilities as employees is so low, and the environment often is so inaccessible that these programmes benefit only a few persons with disabilities.
“There is no quota system, where large employers would be obligated to hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities, a measure that proved effective in ensuring more persons with disabilities are employed on the open market. Social enterprises are also struggling, as they are forced to pay taxes at a commercial rate, which makes it harder for them to remain sustainable,” she notes.
A lack of basic services, accessible public infrastructure, widespread stigma and prejudice, and barriers to inclusive education aggravate the problem.
On a positive note, the social inclusion centres established in three regions of Georgia, including in Ambrolauri, with support from the UN’s Joint SDG Fund, undoubtedly respond to the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in Georgia. They provide adult persons with disabilities with space for professional skills development, equal employment opportunities and social activities.
In addition, the UN’s Joint SDG Fund-backed Joint Programme for Transforming Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) provided training in 17 municipalities to persons with disabilities in vulnerable employment situations to help them gain employment skills and generate new revenue streams. The Joint Programme also developed training modules for private sector employers on obligations on the rights of PwDs, including employment, reasonable accommodation and accessibility, and recommendations on establishing protected and accessible working places for persons with disabilities.
“Both the Labour Code of Georgia and the Law on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination have been amended to now include a provision, which defines the denial of reasonable accommodation as a form of discrimination,” points out Esma Gumberidze. The provision allows persons with disabilities who were denied employment due to the inaccessibility of the working environment to complain against a potential employer.
There is still a long way to go before disabled people are treated equitably in the labour market and have access to the work they want. But it must happen to help persons with disabilities gain a much-awaited chance to reclaim their professional and social lives that most people take for granted.
With USD 2 million received from the Joint SDG Fund and under the overall coordination of the UN RC Office in Georgia, the Joint Programme involved collaboration between UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women, WHO, and OHCHR, as well as the Government, civil society and organisations of people with disabilities.