About 200 academics and experts from Taiwan and abroad gathered in Taipei yesterday for an international conference to promote work opportunities for disabled people around the world.
The annual Workability International Conference, hosted by Taiwan’s Eden Social Welfare Foundation this year, has attracted participants from 22 countries, including the US, Japan, India and Pakistan.
“The aim of this conference is not only to raise public awareness about the rights of people with disabilities, but also to use our diverse cultural backgrounds and various fields of expertise to seek strategies to create a more open and accessible society,” foundation chairperson Joan Lo said at the opening of the conference.
Patrick Maher, president of Workability International — the world’s largest organization to provide work and employment services to disabled people — said the best way to give people with disabilities an opportunity for social inclusion was to give them employment.
He commended Taiwan’s efforts to employ 68,000 people with disabilities, and said “it’s wonderful news” to see Taiwan’s legislature improving the work environment for the country’s disabled citizens.
Maher said some countries in Europe have passed laws stipulating that shelter workshops should employ people with disabilities “for productive business purposes, not for tokenism,” and that could be an area in which countries seeking to improve their policies on the disabled, such as Taiwan, could consider.
The three-day conference will include keynote speeches and forums that allow participants to discuss their experiences promoting employment for disabled people in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. At the opening ceremony, Eden officials called on the Taiwanese government to quickly sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a UN human rights instrument passed in December 2006, to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Several people with disabilities from Taiwan printed their hand and foot prints on a large foam board to symbolize their support for the call.
Government statistics show that 26.5 percent of people with disabilities in Taiwan were employed in 2009, while 75 percent of people without disabilities were employed, according to the foundation. The foundation said a survey of 27 countries conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2010 showed that people with disabilities in these countries had an average employment rate of 44 percent, while 75 percent of those without disabilities were employed.