How Egyptians with Special Needs Could be a Driving Force for The Economy

Out of 10 million Egyptians living with special needs, it’s been estimated that only 2% have access to specialized care and education. This is obviously problematic in many ways, but the preconceived notion of people with special needs as a burden doesn’t just affect their quality of life, but also has many implications for the Egyptian economy.

“No country can afford to ignore 10% of its population as a workforce,” read a new research paper titled ‘Employing People with Disability in Egypt’, conducted by a group of researchers at the American University in Cairo.

There are several factors that deprive Egyptians with special needs of chances to make a living. Among them are lax implementations of laws concerning people with special needs, absence of basic healthcare, and for the physically disabled, a lack of accessibility to simply move around as most streets and buildings in Egypt are not designed to accommodate them.

The year 2018 constituted a turning point for Egyptians living with special needs. A new comprehensive law guaranteeing their rights was adopted by parliament, and a public awareness campaign was launched by the presidency to promote the cause of special needs.

That being said, there is yet a lot to be done. The government has long mandated a 5 percent of the total workforce in the public sector to be filled by those with special needs. But that percentage isn’t enough to accommodate 10 million workers. To break into the private sector, however, certain skills need to be acquired, which disabled people in Egypt generally don’t have a chance to acquire through specialized education.

Who is filling the gap?

It was in 2018 also that a unique, first-of-its-kind institution opened in Egypt. Hope Academy, which launched in Obour, a district on the outskirts of Cairo, is a private institution that combines education with vocational training to prepare its special needs students for the job market. It was launched by an Egyptian businessman whose son is living with severe mental disabilities.

The school teaches its students a number of vocations and organizes special visits to factories and companies that hire people of these particular skill sets.

Needless to say, this is a private school to which access is for those who can afford it, typically Egyptian families with higher-than-average incomes. But its significance comes in providing a working example for special-needs education that can be replicated.

So what should be done?

Aside from education and training, as well as much-needed government funding and initiatives to support them, the private sector is where the most efficient answer to the problem lies. 70% of Egyptians are employed by the private sector, mostly in micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). If the private sector were to comply with the 5% quota outlined by the law for people with disabilities, it could make a significant and positive change for their livelihoods.

However, such MSMEs generally don’t have established HR systems and aren’t closely monitored to ensure the law is abided by. But the story can’t begin there, it has to begin with education and training.

“Inclusion in education is an indispensable step towards further integration in life. A person with disability cannot be kept isolated during the educational journey then suddenly expect them to be included through employment […] it is also unfair to force a certain group (i.e. formal businesses) to withstand a cost the whole society should share,” concluded and recommended the research paper.

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