Why tackling disability discrimination is key to employment projects

Edith Kagoya, June 2021

We know that discrimination is a huge barrier for young jobseekers with disabilities.

So, as part of our employment project Connecting the Dots in Uganda, we trialled a new approach to boosting employment rates by focusing on behaviour change – influencing communities, families and the private sector to act more positively toward people with disabilities.

We identified two key beliefs that we wanted to encourage:

  • To see young people as equal economic actors
  • To see young people as valued members of the community.

We set about creating a range of activities with their families, local employers and communities to increase awareness and acceptance of youth with disabilities.

Here’s how we did it.

A young woman working at a sewing machine.

Connecting the Dots

The development programme has provided vocational training courses for people with disabilities, helping to transform attitudes in the community.

About the programme
Edith with Atugonza, one of the graduates of the Connecting the Dots programme.
Edith with Atugonza, one of the graduates of the Connecting the Dots programme.

Showcasing young peoples skills

We organised careers fairs that brought communities together to raise awareness around the talents and capabilities of the young people. The events enabled them to display their skills, products and services to potential employers and customers, and offered valuable experience engaging with them.

Employers who had already hired young people with disabilities shared positive testimonies about their work, which helped boost their credibility among other businesses. Other activities at the fair included motivational speeches, team-building exercises and performances by local musicians – all aimed at making the event fun and celebratory.

Importantly, fairs like these provide a safe and supportive environment for young people to build up their confidence talking to potential employers and customers. They also enable young people to interact and learn from each other – helping them to foster a sense of community and expand their professional networks.

A Masindi district official and the Sightsavers programme manager hand over a motor repair tool kit to Sharif at the careers fair.
Sharif, a trainee mechanic, received a toolbox at the careers fair in Masindi, Uganda.
Two people performing outside at a careers fair.
A local artist entertains guests with one of the project participants at a careers fair in Masindi.

Increasing disability representation

To challenge negative perceptions of disability, we wanted to increase the presence of young people with disabilities in a positive way. One successful way we did this was through ‘market activation’, where market stalls were set up in markets and auction markets for young people to display and sell their products or services.

This enabled them to ‘learn by doing’ – testing and improving their skills in marketing and negotiation through direct contact with community members, customers and potential employers. This helped to build their confidence, as well as demonstrating to the community and local employers that they are skilled, productive members of society.

Taking a community approach

To improve the sustainability of the project, we wanted to ensure that the young people had the ongoing support of their families as they embarked on their new employment journeys. We ran sessions in local communities to educate and involve families in the project and answer any questions they had around their child’s employment. We found these useful forums for discovering any issues at home that were preventing the young person from being successful in their new role, so we could ensure any concerns were addressed.

Through the sessions, we saw an increased commitment and understanding around disability rights from families. In Uganda, there is a common misconception that having a disability means you are unable to work. By engaging directly with families and demonstrating to them the benefits of young people with disabilities being in employment, we helped to counter those negative attitudes.

A woman holding a megaphone.
Brenda holding a megaphone to advertise her products at a local market.
A meeting between families of the project participants in Hoima, Uganda.

Bringing businesses on board

It was vital that the project engaged and partnered with local businesses to challenge any negative perceptions they had about hiring people with disabilities. We held informal sessions, often over breakfast, where local employers could hear about the skills and abilities of young people with disabilities from them directly. We invited a range of businesses big and small, alongside financial institutions such as banks, to encourage them (people with disabilities often struggle to access services such as loans on an equal basis).

By inviting one young person who was successfully employed and another who was still jobhunting to speak at the sessions, we could show employers the strengths and abilities of the young people while also highlighting the challenges they face finding employment. The meetings ended with employers making a written commitment to support young people with disabilities to access employment.

To give employers even more insight, we arranged visits to workplaces where they could see the young people at work.

Isaac sits outside his mechanics.

The business owner training young people with disabilities

Meet Isaac, the garage owner training young people with disabilities to be mechanics as part of Connecting the Dots.

Isaac's story
Monica Friday takes a lesson from her instructor, Julius Peter Eperu, on the first day of her plumbing course at the Nile Vocational Training Institute in Hoima.
Monica takes a lesson from her instructor, Julius Peter Eperu, on the first day of her plumbing course at the Nile Vocational Training Institute in Hoima, Uganda.

The results

Before the project, participants told us that awareness about disability was generally low. Misconceptions about disability were widespread, including that disability was communicable from person to person and that having a disability was a curse. People with disabilities were often perceived as weak and unable to work, learn or produce high-quality products.

After the project, we saw young people receive more support and acceptance from their families and communities. We witnessed their confidence growing, and more of them began to seize opportunities for their personal growth. Some participants have become involved in local politics, using their voice to advocate for disability rights. Through employment, they have gained more economic independence and women are now learning skills previously seen as reserved for men only.

The businesses that attended our breakfast meetings reported that their attitudes toward employing young people with disabilities had shifted – they are now more willing to bring them on board and ensure they are supported. In a questionnaire at the end of the project, they all reported a greater belief in the ability of disabled people to contribute as equals in the workplace.

Increased awareness of disability rights through the project has led to positive changes in the wider community. People with disabilities are being given the rights to own property and land for the first time and accessing more mainstream services such as schools and savings groups.

The project has demonstrated to us that behaviour change tactics are a valuable addition to employment programmes. By tackling discrimination, we help to remove barriers for people with disabilities, improving the opportunities for young people to reach their potential. To find out more, read our learning brief for the project.

The EU logo and the National Lottery Community Fund logo.

The European Commission has funded the economic empowerment programme since 2012, and additional funding was awarded in August 2017 by the National Lottery Community Fund. This generous support has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of young people with disabilities in Uganda.


Sightsavers logo.Edith Kagoya
Edith is the programme manager for Sightsavers’ Uganda country office. She directly managed the Connecting the Dots programme.

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