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Delivering employment to the disabled

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Wednesday, 22 November 2006

I would like to explore what is essential for the societal inclusion and employment of people with disabilities in western societies, like Australia. What measures that can be imposed on people with disabilities to more fully deliver the basic human rights of societal inclusion and employment?

In the contemporary era, pragmatic social democracy is best represented in the Australian context by the work of Hugh Stretton. This is challenged by the emergence of neo-liberalism and the third way. Neo-liberalism is a political economic theory and practice that emerged in the 1960s, and has increased in prominence at the policy level since the 1980s.

The aim of neo-liberalism is to put into question all collective structures capable of obstructing the logic of the pure market. Neo-liberalism aims to achieve progress by combining the operation of a free market with measures of social justice that will, at least in theory, also contribute to economic growth.


Emerging out of pragmatic social democracy and neo-liberalism, the third way is a political model that its supporters argue encapsulates the best of both old left and new right politics. At the same time, however, central to the third way is its support of the neo-liberal faith in the market, in particular, the idea that unfettered markets will benefit all of society.

UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is a strong advocate of the third way theory. He argues that people get out of the system what they put into it, based on a supposedly neutral concept of individual merit.

Most third way and neo-liberal sympathisers conclude that a merit-based system will tend to increase the social mobility of the socially excluded. Social mobility is, in theory, supposed to spawn a new era in equal opportunity, one that offers all people every chance to fulfil their own potential.

However, in reality, such a merit-based system only offers shifting patterns of inequality, unfairly exalting the rich, while condemning the poor to false hopes of individualised social mobility. That is, social democracy promotes societal change, whereas the third way and proponents of meritocracy focus on the individual.

Many forms of social exclusion related to disability are emerging from the value system and policy prescriptions of a market driven economy. The political economy, that is provided by a market driven economy, is a fundamental source of the problems faced by people with disabilities, which to a large degree are manifestations of problems directly related to prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes.

The market driven system puts profits before people and this claim is exacerbated in the case of the employment of people with disabilities, as many employers characteristically assume that they will encounter lowered productivity and higher costs in employing a worker with disabilities.


Affirmative action for people with disabilities

Affirmative action is a political and policy approach which allows for positive steps to be taken to promote equal employment opportunity for socially defined groups who have been subjected to structural discrimination, according to factors such as gender, disability, age, and race. Affirmative action legislation stipulates that active steps be taken to promote equal opportunity in a more pro-active way than antidiscrimination legislation which seeks to eliminate unequal treatment as experienced by individuals.

The goal of affirmative action is to eliminate disadvantages for which the sufferers of employment discrimination cannot legitimately be held responsible. Affirmative action programs seek to hold societies accountable for structural discrimination impacting on socially defined groups, by requiring employers to take active steps to provide equal employment opportunities for groups subjected to discrimination in employment.

Frank Stilwell and other advocates of affirmative action argue that it is about more than just a redistribution of income, it is about life chances. People with disabilities, in many cases because of unjustified stereotypes, are often excluded from these life chances. Legally enforceable affirmative action for people with disabilities can mandate that positions be filled by a certain percentage of prospective employees with disabilities.

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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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