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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.