The labour ministry is concerned about the employment prospects of differently abled people, labour minister Nyeema Sangay Tshenpo said during the international conference on autism and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) in Thimphu on April 21.

During a panel discussion on the conference’s last day, Lyonpo said the ministry looks forward to supporting people with disabilities in any way it can.

During the three-day conference’s last panel discussion on creating employment opportunities and facilitating supported independent living for individuals with autism and other NDDs, the experts focused on what is needed to enable greater employment opportunities, decision-making and living as independently as possible with adequate support to ensure rights are not hampered.

Lyonpo said that a recent survey conducted on about 1,861 beneficiaries who have attended different school training programmes found that 3.7 percent of the beneficiaries have some form of disability.

Since its establishment in 2003, the labour ministry has looked into human resources and labour issues in the country.

“As such it was always the priority of the government and the ministry in particular to promote equity and access to employment and training without any form of discrimination,” he said.

The Labour and Employment Act, 2007 protects individuals from all forms of discrimination. Lyonpo said that the National Employment Policy 2013, was developed to accelerate employment growth, improve quality of working conditions and provide equal employment opportunities while addressing the requirement of producing adequately skilled workers aligned to the requirement of the job market.

“It also says that favourable employment conditions shall be provided for the employment of physically challenged persons,” Lyonpo said.

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training blueprint was launched to reform the current system. Among the four pillar strategies adopted for the reform, one pillar is about improving access.

“The ministry will address access, both in terms of intensive intake into vocational institutes as well as creating vocational programmes accessible to people with disabilities,” Lyonpo said.

One of the panelists, project director of the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, David Hoff, pointed out that expectation is the biggest challenge individuals with autism and NDDs face when looking for a job and when employed.

“Individuals with autism and other NDDs are capable of employment and capable of working in the mainstream workforce and that is a big part of it,” he said. “When we talk about what it means by employment, we are talking about employment like every other citizen.”

In the United States, he said people still struggle with employment but said that he had seen enough individual succeeding.

Director for Action for Autism in India, Merry Barua said there are many with autism spectrum disorder who are employed without having their employers knowing about the spectrum because of the stigma attached to the condition.

“If a person has a physical disability, people say how amazing it is for him or her to do what he can even with the disability,” she said. “But the minute employers find that a person has a mental condition, it becomes a social stigma.”

She said that attitude is most important when it comes to employing persons with autism and other NDDs.

Parents, teachers and professionals especially local leaders in villages play a crucial role in training persons with disabilities. She said, preparing a person with autism and other NDDs for a career begins at the primary school level.

The forum also discussed regional and global best practices and evidence based management of people living with autism and NDDs.

Dechen Tshomo