Abuse and neglect: how to protect disabled persons from workplace harm?

Headshot of Fentahun Ayele

Fentahun Alemu is a regional safeguarding expert in an INGO and freelancer consultant on safeguarding. He has more than 12 years of experience working in areas of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning and is experienced in the mentoring and coaching of civil society organisations (CSOs) on safeguarding policy development and practice.  

Broadly speaking, safeguarding means preventing harm to people in development and humanitarian assistance delivery. Persons with disabilities are a major segment of the community, who are prone to many abuses and exploitation.

Apart from sexual abuse and other harm, persons with disabilities commonly experience emotional abuse and neglect. However, since the community’s perception of abuse is linked mainly to sexual abuse only, most people don’t pay attention to the use of inappropriate words or derogatory naming of persons with disabilities, which causes emotional abuse.

In the course of work with persons with disabilities, people might knowingly or unknowingly use inappropriate words, which often results in emotional and verbal abuse. To prevent this, it’s important to pay attention to the following:

  1. Understand the local context and culture
  2. Identify inappropriate words that are used to describe persons with disabilities. In Amharic, avoid words such as “ayn yelelew” (to refer to a blind person) and use instead “ayne siwer”. Rather than referring to a person with physical disability as “qorata or egir/egi yelelew” use “ye akal gudat yalew”. There are more words in both positive and negative categories to refer to persons with different types of disabilities. Keep searching and share with colleagues the appropriate terminologies as often as you can. For instance, one of the positive words to describe persons with disabilities is "persons with special needs"
  3. Raise awareness / induct staffs about the words which are prohibited to use

  4. Include a statement that prohibits the use of inappropriate words in the staff code of conduct.

Another abuse of persons with disabilities is neglect. When offices are constructed or when organizing trainings, the needs of persons with disabilities are often ignored. For instance, organizations do not assign sign language interpreters for the deaf and script/screen readers for the blind at the time when training is organised for persons with disabilities. Thus, they are not able to get access to the services and information, which further exposes them to abuse.  

Thus, an organization which exercises safeguarding should provide an inclusive service which is accessible to persons with disabilities. As one staff in an organization working with disability said it correctly, “safeguarding makes employees to be disciplined and cautious in the use of words during communicating with persons with disabilities”.

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