The rise of remote digital working is transforming employment prospects for people with disabilities

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May 02, 2021

  • A call to action for organisations to capitalise on the rise of remote ways of working, and  transform the employment prospects of People With Disabilities in the GCC.

  • The shift to remote working, combined with a focus on upskilling, could help break down some of the barriers that limit people with disabilities (PWD) participation in the workforce.

  • More than half of PWD of working age in industrialised countries are unemployed, rising to between 80% and 90% in developing countries.

  • PwC Middle East defined a concrete data centric, people centric and cyclical framework to support the sustainable inclusion of PWD in the workforce.

2nd May 2021: PwC Middle East launched a unique report that is integral to achieving work diversity in the region. The report titled Remote-Ability examines the current situation of people with disabilities (PWD), identifies the barriers to their effective participation and provides a set of steps and interventions that will support their inclusion in the labour market.

The report reveals that employment barriers for PWD in the GCC include societal prejudice, environmental barriers that obstruct mobility, institutional and regulatory policies that may discriminate against PWD, lack of skills and training and lack of access to digital opportunities.

However, the current shift to remote working combined with a focus on upskilling can break down some of the barriers that limit PWD’s participation in the workforce. PWD are an underestimated resource, with the right policy framework and a supportive environment, PWD have the potential to be productive members of the workforce and contribute to their country’s wealth.

The digital divide remains and even grows for people with disabilities, a large, frequently overlooked group who represent approximately 15% of the world's population, according to UN estimates. More than half of PWD of working age in industrialised countries are unemployed, rising to between 80% and 90% in developing countries[1]. It is important to note too that working age women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged in labour markets, on account of both their gender and their disability.

The most recent figures show the number of PWD in individual GCC countries ranges from 4.37% of the population in Saudi Arabia to between 1% and 3% for the other member states.[2]

There is a lack of concrete and consistent data showing the true scale of disabilities across the GCC. What is clear is that PWD faces severe labour market challenges throughout the GCC region.

Randa Bahsoun, Partner, New world. New skills. Leader at PwC Middle East, said: “Data drives every forward-thinking diversity strategy. We need to understand where we are as a region before taking the next steps.” 

Bahsoun added: “GCC countries are well placed to leverage technology in order to transform their labour market while increasing access for PWD and acting as models of best practice for other governments. For this approach to be successful, GCC leaders, policymakers, educators and stakeholders from the public, private and non-profit sectors should collaborate to institutionalise an inclusive ecosystem for people with disabilities, where they can be active and productive whilst ensuring their voices are heard along the way.”

Throughout the report PwC Middle East defines a concrete data centric, people centric and cyclical framework to support the sustainable inclusion of PWD in the workforce and unleash the immense, untapped wealth-creating potential that they have – for themselves, their families and their countries.

The framework is based on three enablers:

  • Access to consistent and coherent data: Governments should invest in building the capacity of the national statistics offices.

  • Effective partnerships: Multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral partnerships will support governments and other organisations to involve the PWD community, ensure a better and unified understanding of the PWD landscape and maximise the reach and impact of policy reforms and initiatives. 

  • Universal Design: New policies and initiatives should follow the principles of Universal Design so they are inclusive and accessible to PWD of both genders and all age groups, regardless of the level of their disability. 

and 4 interventions

  • Develop innovative and inclusive labour market data analytics: Use data and advanced analytics to enable data-driven and evidence-based decision making and policies, remove the unconscious human and societal biases against PWD and their capabilities and drive better understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.

  • Design inclusive, evidence-based labour market policies: Core PWD inclusion consists of embedding PWD challenges and barriers within the policy making process, identifying disability-specific indicators to assess, implement and monitor policies, and engaging with PWD representatives throughout the policy cycle. Policy support can take many forms, such as incentives for employers to subsidise wages, suitable accommodation for PWD and, most importantly, access to upskilling and lifelong learning.

  • Support lifelong upskilling journeys for PWD: It is a fundamental principle of social cohesion and economic growth that everyone deserves access to good quality vocational training, upskilling and reskilling. Inclusive upskilling is built around developing the skills of both PWDs and their potential employers and is enabled by an accessible design and strong regional partnerships. Supporting PWD in building their digital skills will not only make their skillset more relevant for today’s knowledge economy but also give them the ability to use more effectively the increasingly accessible assistive technologies that could support them in their everyday lives. 

  • Deploy increasingly accessible and affordable assistive technologies (AT): Assistive technologies (AT) are evolving quickly, unlocking new opportunities for social and labour market inclusion of PWD. Governments should identify the most promising ATs to assist the inclusion of PWD in the labour force and develop partnerships with large tech companies to embrace benefits of ATs. If used effectively and to their full potential, ATs could provide an alternative data source to gather accurate information on the current abilities and disabilities of PWD.

[1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ”Disability and Employment Factsheet”, November 2007.

[2] Disability in the Arab Region 2018, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia | Qatar Planning and Statistics Authority Report 2019 | Community Outreach in Oman 2017

Notes to the editors:

  • About the report: PwC carried out an exercise, using a business resilience model created by one of our global partners, FAETHM, an Australia based augmented analytics platform. The business resilience model is targeted at identifying jobs at-risk of being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. PwC’s and FAETHM’s analysis only provides suggestions for jobs that could potentially be performed by PWD with physical, mental or multiple disabilities such as wheelchair users, amputees, visually disabled, people with hearing disabilities and mild autism disorders. Nonetheless, it illustrates how public and private sector organisations can combine accurate, timely data on PWD with analytics to develop a data-enabled job-matching ecosystem that can support the hiring of PWD by identifying suitable jobs that meet their professional aspirations and the skills required by the employer.

  • PwC Middle East approach to building inclusive teams: Centered around enabling our people to be true to themselves, recognising individual contributions and giving our people opportunities to grow, all while making an impact in our communities..that’s how we’re approaching disability inclusiveness.

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