Disability inclusion in furniture sector

by Tanzina Nitol

‘I didn’t like school at all. My parents and the neighbourhood tried to get me involved but I never went because the other children made fun of me and I didn’t like to study.’

ASHRAFUL, the third son of a poor mason, is now 20 years old. As a youngster he spent his time like millions of other rural-based boys, playing, running and skipping around the village, without a care in the world. Yet tragedy struck when Ashraful was just four years old, a sudden fever crippling him for life. No longer able to walk, he felt he was a burden for his family and developed an inferiority complex. When the time came for him to go to school, a deep depression set in.
Ashraful’s family tried to enrol him in schools in the neighbourhood but was unable to provide the guidance and encouragement needed to overcome the emotional and psychological barriers he faced. After some years, his parents gave up. Luckily last year, a teacher of one of the neighbourhood schools, also affiliated with the Amar Jyoti foundation which supports persons with disabilities, informed him about Akhtar Furniture Academy’s training programme.
Akhtar Furniture Ltd is one of the leading furniture manufacturers in Bangladesh. To help meet their need for skilled labour, the company set up its own training academy which ILO has supported to become compliant with the National Technical Vocational Quality Framework standards. The centre now provides accredited training in carpentry, lacquer polishing, wood working/machine operation and upholstery.
‘Since my family couldn’t make ends meet, I agreed to train there. I was especially motivated by the promise of a permanent job.’
First Ashraful enrolled in the upholstery unit but did not do well. Fortunately, the trainers were sensitive and flexible. They gave him a second chance in the lacquer polishing unit. This worked out well as he was great at polishing and enjoyed the work. He completed the training in 2015 and is now working full-time, receiving a salary of Tk 6,000 a month. Akhtar The furniture academy also gave him a wheelchair so that he can now move around by himself. Both Ashraful and his guardians are happy with this progress.
‘I am now confident that I can do any job. I may not have legs, but I have skills. Now I can help others in my community and I am respected by all!’
The Akhtar Furniture Academy has already trained 40 people with disabilities. The academy trainers say that they had not considered hiring people with disabilities previously, but through their association with ILO, they learned of disability inclusion and decided to make it work. They were happy with the results as they found this group of people tended to be more focused on work and very productive. Though the cost is sometimes slightly higher, as adjustments may have to be made for people with disabilities, they feel the benefits outweigh the costs, not just from a humanitarian perspective but also in business terms. Now they are taking the initiative to employ more people with disabilities in their factory and have made it part of their policy to include 5 per cent persons with disabilities in each of their training batches.
In some developed countries, persons with disabilities can more easily find jobs as workplaces are disability accessible. For Bangladesh, this requires a shift in the mindsets of employers. Businesses need to start recognising the benefits of disability inclusion which experienced employers are saying leads to a win-win situation and makes perfect business sense. This should not be seen as ‘charity’ or ‘CSR’ but rather as equitable access for people with disabilities as they exercise their right to obtain decent work.
Other companies ought to follow the bright example of Akhtar Furniture to improve their productivity and promote inclusive growth.

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