Persons with deafblindness have the right to work on an equal basis with others, which includes the opportunity to gain a living through work that is freely chosen or accepted in the labour market. This includes the right to access technical and vocational training, equal opportunities for career advancement, opportunities for employment in the public sector, reasonable accommodation, and just and favourable conditions of work, such as equal remuneration for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, and protection from harassment[i].
However, the attitudes of employers, family members, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutes, local government officials organising livelihood programmes, and others are often the biggest barrier, as there are many misperceptions about the capabilities of persons with deafblindness and a lack of understanding of their communication requirements[ii]. Other barriers include lack of educational opportunities, transitioning from school to work, lack of opportunities for TVET, lack of reasonable accommodation or access to interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services, and forced retirement due to the acquisition of deafblindness[iii].
One respondent from WFDB’s survey noted that “the majority of people with deafblindness (in my country) work independently or in a family business or small business”. This is because TVET is often provided without access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters or teaching assistants, making it only accessible to persons with deafblindness who have a high degree of functioning in communication. Many rely on courses and programmes offered by NGOs, encouraging self-employment through communication skills, training in a specific trade, coaching, and/or seed money to set up income-generating activities[iv]. These programmes are often in the form of sheltered workshops (i.e., segregated programmes) that are not aimed at the formal job market. While persons with deafblindness should be supported in seeking self-employment if freely chosen, working in the informal sector should not be the only option for persons with deafblindness. This is because sheltered workshops isolate persons with disabilities from the rest of the workforce, rarely result in independence or social inclusion, and often do not provide marketable skills or fair wages[v].
The lack of legally recognising deafblindness, gaps in legislative and policy frameworks to ensure employers provide reasonable accommodations, and inadequate or non-existent interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services leads to the systematic exclusion of persons with deafblindness in work. Furthermore, barriers to accessing banking services (e.g., due to restrictions of legal capacity) may also prohibit access to employment that is not on a cash-only basis. [vi] In addition, some social protection systems eliminate the disability allowance if persons with disabilities receiving the benefit get a job. This is because social protection systems often do not distinguish between the effects of unemployment and the extra costs of having a disability (e.g., many employers do not provide reasonable accommodation for interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services, accessible transportation, assistive devices or technology, etc.)[vii].
Tax incentives and national quotas are an increasing trend to encourage employers to hire persons with disabilities but are unlikely to lead to the employment of persons with deafblindness, especially if other measures are not in place to support their employment. This is because some employers will hire them to claim the tax break and either not provide meaningful work or tell them to stay home due to stigma and the lack of reasonable accommodations and access to interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services[viii].
[i] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 27.
[iii] Ibid., p. 21.
[iv] Ibid., p. 23.
[v] Carter, Gill. “Lessons on deafblindness form research in East Africa”, DBI Review, Issue 63, April 2020, p. 52-54; Neumann, Erik. BBC World Service, “Sheltered Workshops for People with Disabilities: A Reliable Opportunity or an Outdated System?”, https://www.kuer.org/health-care/2019-04-08/sheltered-workshops-for-people-with-disabilities-a-reliable-opportunity-or-an-outdated-system, 8 April 2019.
[vii] Ibid., p. 19.
[viii] Ibid. p. 24.
Employers should be encouraged to support mainstream, waged employment of persons with deafblindness. This starts with education, and if persons with deafblindness do not receive a good education, they are unlikely to be prepared for work. Education builds the confidence, soft skills, and independence required for the workplace. Adolescents with deafblindness may require additional supports in education to understand how to transition from secondary school into work, and some adults with deafblindness may require remedial or adult education on communication methods, literacy, numeracy, basic skills, job-readiness, and secondary school qualifications[i]. Adolescents and adults with deafblindness are also likely to require rehabilitation services from a cross-disciplinary team across all aspects of independent living related to employment, such as support for communication, orientation, mobility, learning to use assistive devices and technologies, and vocational training. The rehabilitation support may vary for each individual (e.g., some may require advice on how to interview for a job or how to address issues or barriers in the workplace).
The key elements to supporting persons with deafblindness in work include:
Some persons with deafblindness may wish to run their own businesses, and this should be encouraged and supported if it is freely chosen. Entrepreneurial programmes aimed at self-employment should include business management skills, such as budgeting, procurement, record keeping, advertising, etc., and should be aimed at entrepreneurship in the formal economy rather than mere labour market participation. This also involves ensuring that information about self-employment is available in accessible formats[iii].
Some tips for employers to make their workplaces more inclusive of persons with deafblindness include:
In addition, because of technology’s increasing importance in the workplace, technology companies should take steps to make digital tools and equipment more accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, many computer-operating systems are not compatible with screen reading software programmes and often need to be uninstalled and replaced by another operating system. By adopting a more inclusive approach to technology innovation and development, persons with deafblindness can more easily use workplace technology.
[i] Ibid., p. 28. See the chapter on Inclusive Education for more information on remedial education of adults with deafblindness.
[ii] International Labour Organisation, Disability Inclusion Makes Good Business Sense, http://www.businessanddisability.org/, accessed June 2022; Light for the World, “Skills development for youth with deafblindness: fostering inclusion through skills training”, Disability Inclusion Insight Series No. 5, 2019; National Centre on Combined Vision and hearing Impairment / Deafblindness, Eikholt Annual Report, October 2021, p. 8; Pertoff, Jerry, “Transition from school or quality adult life for youth with deafblindness”, DBI Review, Issue No. 63, April 2020. p. 23-24; World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness, https://wfdb.eu/wfdb-report-2018/, September 2018, p. 24-28.
[iii] Kitching, John. “Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment by People with Disabilities”, Background Paper for the OECD Project on Inclusive Entrepreneurship, https://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/background-report-people-disabilities.pdf, 2014, p, 10 & 20; Sense International, Mwanaasha Case Study, https://senseinternational.org.uk/our-impact/mwanaasha-s-story/, accessed October 2021.
[iv] Pertoff, Jerry, “Transition from school or quality adult life for youth with deafblindness”, DBI Review, Issue No. 63, April 2020. p. 23-24; World Federation of the Deafblind, At risk of exclusion from CRPD and SDG implementation: Inequality and Persons with Deafblindness, https://wfdb.eu/wfdb-report-2018/, September 2018, p. 24-25.
OPDs and NGOs
Donors and Research Institutes