Italian Organization Empowers Liberia Labour Congress on Disabled People’s Accessibility, Inclusion Issues

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MONROVIA – The Association Friends of Raoul Follereau (AIFO), an Italian organization into human rights and empowerment for persons with disabilities, has lent financial support to the Liberia Labour Congress (LLC) for a one-day interactive Workshop on issues of “accessibility” and “inclusion” into public workplaces. The venue was the compound of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, 13th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia, on May 30, 2021.

Founded in 1961, AIFO established an operations office in 1997. Its humanitarian debut in Liberia was through a community-based rehabilitation approach on leprosy, and later established a business setup program being run disabled people into oil palm and rice production in Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh Counties.

The title of the Workshop was “Inclusiveness and Accessibility at the Work Place”

During her Opening Remark, AIFO’s representative, and the Project Manager of the Coordinated Action on Disability in Liberia (CAD-L), Madam Rebecca Stubberfield, said: “Disabled people shouldn’t only be remembered for attending programs, but they should be empowered for entrepreneurship and self-reliance.”

Other partners of the Project, Madam Stubberfield added, include:  National Commission on Disabilities (NCD), National Union of Organization for the Disabled (NUOD), and the Alliance on Disabilities in Liberia (ADL); and support came from the Swedish International Development Association (SIDA) through AIFO

“This workshop is an inception phase of a five-year project on awareness and advocacy for work-related issues with persons living with disabilities in Liberia,” Madam Stubberfield disclosed.

Giving the Overview of the Workshop, Madam Ophelia Carpenter, Deputy Secretary General of the Liberia Labour Congress (LCC), said ensuring PWD’ inclusion into the public and private sector is one of the Congress’s priority areas of advocacy.

“The Liberia Labour Congress is working with AIFO because AIFO is into issues of work with persons living with disabilities,” Madam Carpenter announced.       

A Plenary Discussion was held, under the topc: “Why is Inclusion at the Work Place Importance?”

The Plenarians included: Madam Naomi B. Harris, president of National Union of Organization for the Disabled (NUOD);   Madam Ricardia Dennis, Executive Director of Nation Commission on Disabilities (NCD); Madam Morgana May-Cole of Liberia Labour Congress; and Madam Edwina T.N. Carr, Vice President, Civil Servants Association.

“The importance of a work place also means the place is welcoming, safe, and provides opportunities for the disabled person,” Mr. Harris said.

On her part, Madam Dennis (physically challenged) said the Liberian Government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is a proof of its commitment to PWDs-related rights, but noted that many employment-related psychological barriers are still in the way of disabled persons in Liberia.

“Exclusion of persons living with disabilities from employment pushes them into the street to beg, because they feel that’s the only way of survival,” Madam Dennis said

She said employer’s separation of disabled employee from another with no disability—when the two have the same qualification— is another form of exclusion.

“These psychological barriers should be removed for the disabled employee to feel the completeness of inclusion in the public work place,” added Madam Dennis.

At the end of her deliberation, the current Madam Dennis said economic empowerment of PWDs by the Government and employers in the private sector will enable the PWDs to contribute to development of the Country. She said, before taking up Government’s job, NCD, she was into a private business and prospered financially, and later migrated into the Governmental sector through acceptance of  Presidential appointment as head of NCD.

“When I was into business, I prospered hugely and I gave money to persons with no disability, to start their personal business,” the now-Government official informed participants at the Workshop.

Madam Stubberfield, of CAD-L, said the accessibility of her work place makes her feel comfortable there.

“Imagine a disabled employee, like me, working at a place that is not disability-friendly, in terms of absence of mobility aids like ram,” she said.

On the first presentation, titled “The Role of the Liberia Business Association”, Mr. Gregory Willicor, representing LIBA’s president, Mr. James M. Strother, advised members of Liberia’s disability community to leave the mindset of solely relying on complaining about their plights or on begging.

“The Government doesn’t have money to be throwing here or there. Disabled people should create self-employment. You can begin with a home-business, if taking your business around will cause pains,” he advised.

He said LIBA is prepared to work with the disability community through writing of business proposals to be sent to local or foreign business-promotion institutions.

Mr. Willocor said LIBA organizes a regular Trade Fair through which disabled business persons can showcase the products or services.

He spoke on the topic “Congregating Disability in the Liberian Business Sector”

The LIBA’s delegation also had Mr. Lawrence Cole and Mr. Dominic Nimely,  a used car dealer and Chairman of LIBA’s Trade and Commerce Department.

Mr. Cole promised sponsorship of a Talk-Show, over three radio stations, to members of the disability community for discussion of their issues.

Making a brief remark after his representative had used the time allotted to the Association, LIBA’s president said the problem in the non-governmental sector is from lack of collaboration among ourselves in the business sector.

“In Ghana and Nigeria, for examples, people in the business sector speak to the Government through the Country’s Business Association. But the situation is different in Liberia: individual members from different corners to the Government for the business community,” he said.

Speaking for the Government of Liberia, the Assistant Minister of Justice for Codification, Mr. Abraham B. Mitchell, said only unity among disabled people will engender realization of members’ common dream of getting the Government’s attention for solution of their common problems. His topic was “Inclusiveness and Physical Accessibility at the Work Place”

“The society is divided into groups of persons, and each group should fight for its right-based place in the society,” Mr. Mitchell reminded his hosts.

On example of the power of “Organization”, he gave example on Vietnam during World’s War. “It was organization that made Vietnam, a tiny Country, to defeat America and France,” he said.

 He advised the disabled community to be organized in one voice in their advocacy, and that the formed organization should engage all the three branches of Government.

During the questions or comments segment, some participants shared personal stories.

“I sell bread near a High school’s campus on Airfield Shortcut Road in Sinkor, but most of the students don’t buy from me because of my disability. Some say, if they eat my bread, they will become disabled as I am,” said Ms. Deboriah S. Foko (physically challenged), a college drop, and graduate from a catering school.

The Secretary General of NUOD, a male (physically challenged), said he was the first importer of new tyres for cars into Libria, but corruption from Custom Brokers and Liberia Revenue Authority’s agents in the Port against him caused discouragement for the business.

Madam Madam Meima H. Bettie (visually impaired), a caterer, said she’s addressed as a “beggar” most times when she’s at a store to buy her baking materials.

The Workshop concluded with “Ways Forward” (Recommendations) from disabled participants. They were four: Establish a Secretariat, Draw out a National Action Plan on Disability, Advocacy on implementation of recommendations at Workshops, and job training for PWDs with inexperience.

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