There’s a question that young people with disabilities deal with every day when entering the workforce: “How can I find and keep a job?” It’s one I’m looking at right now, as are many of my friends and not just in the U.S., but worldwide. I had the privilege of doing some international disability rights work in Pakistan a year and a half ago, and again in Syria this past August… and it was one of the questions I was asked frequently in those countries .
Every time, I gave an explanation of the American Vocational Rehab system, employment agencies, workplace accommodations, and non-discrimination clauses, and how they can help. The people, schools and Centers for Independent Living I worked with, especially in Pakistan, were very interested in learning more about the support networks in place for persons with disabilities because they want to form similar networks of their own.
These networks are certainly necessary, as only 44% of working age people with disabilities of working age are employed worldwide, and according to the newly minted World Health Organization Report on Disability, the number for Pakistan is somewhere around 38%. Competitive employment opportunities for young people with disabilities are challenging to find. This is where I think the U.S. could be a powerful force internationally, since we have a support system in place for people with disabilities.
While many countries are moving forward in helping change circumstances for people with disabilities (for example Pakistan has a burgeoning Center for Independent Living movement, and some organizations like NOWPDP and Inclusive Society Pakistan are coming forward to help persons with disabilities), many youth still face obstacles in getting a quality education, finding professional development opportunities, and securing a job.
In an effort to combat this problem, I have started a non-profit program dedicated to assisting youth leaders with disabilities in Pakistan find work and become self advocates. In my time in Pakistan, I also spoke to schools, and lectured a class of graduate students in Disability and Development classes on the growth of the American disability movement, and its growth and impact on policy. Though I am at the Office of Disability Employment Policy now, I look forward to resuming my international work when I can, especially after learning what I have at ODEP.
I’ve learned how to be a self confident professional, how to understand context and read a situation, and also how to look at the challenges of securing employment for everyone. It’s not easy for anyone, but people with disabilities can’t be excluded from the same opportunities as their peers. I think the U.S. could help serve as an example to other countries with their policy development; because we all face obstacles and because the United States has, or is developing, solutions to these problems. Sharing our processes with other countries could be part of a great learning experience. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
Editor’s Note: The author, Hamza Jaka will be a sophomore at UC Berkeley this fall, studying Linguistics. He currently works as an intern for the Office of Disability Employment Policy, through the American Association of People with Disabilities summer internship program. Aside from his work as an AAPD intern at DOL, he works in the fields of Youth Development and Leadership with Kids As Self Advocates and World Enabled.