x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 October 2017

Disabled in Oman face job discrimination

Sometimes employers are blunt almost to the point of cruelty when the disabled apply for jobs.

Maryam Al Hammadi has seen many of her former schoolmates getting jobs but three years after graduating from high school, she is still looking.

When she was ten, Ms Hammadi was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a spinal condition, and has used a wheelchair ever since. Now 21, she has kept a list of all the jobs she has applied for. She was rejected every time.

“In the last three years there have been 16 of them, but I don’t give up. One day I am going to prove to them that being in a wheelchair will not stop me from working and contributing effectively,” she told the National.

But not all disabled youngsters have the same determination. Some lose the fight and give up. A 23-year old woman with a similar condition committed suicide last month in Muscat after trying for four years to get a job, without success.

“A job for my sister Rahaf was not about earning money. It was about being part of something and feeling useful. All the job rejections she had — that experience tormented her. Unfortunately, it was too much in the end. She took her life last month,” her brother Khalaf Al Khair, said.

Sometimes employers are blunt almost to the point of cruelty when the disabled apply for jobs. Adil Al Ghuraibi, 24, had infantile paralysis - also known as polio - as a child, which left him with weak leg muscles so he walks with crutches. Two years ago, he gained a diploma in marketing.

“I worked for three months as marketing assistant then they let me go. When I asked them why, they told me I cannot chase customers or keep up with them with my disability. They were that cruel,” he said.

But Mr Ghuraibi is determined to to prove that his disability does not stop him contributing positively in the workplace. Last month, he went back to college to study accounting, which he says will not require him to go out in search of customers.

Haneen Al Hatmi, 23, could not believe her luck when a supermarket chain wanted to interview her for a cashier's job in August. After trying for a year, this was her lucky break, she hoped.But she left in tears when she was told she did not fit the job description because she has a stammer.

“Supermarket cashiers do not always need to talk to customers. They just receive the cash and give the change back. They rejected me because I was the odd one out because all other applicants could speak properly,” Miss Hatmi told the National.

Last month, the chairman of the Oman Association for the Disabled (OAD), Yahya Al Amri, told delegates in a workshop that disability is not yet fully embraced by all the members of the public.

“We need to work together to make sure disabled people get equal job opportunities at all levels and this must be a priority to all of us,” Mr Al Amri said.

Figures from the manpower ministry show 236,729 Omanis are working in the private sector but less than one percent of them are disabled. OAD statistics show more than 11,000 Omanis of working age have some form of disability.

“We are backed by official figures and that proves we are not doing enough to get the disabled working. All the public awareness campaigns in all the regions, in schools, women's associations, football stadiums, universities and so on are fruitless because the private sector is not taking this issue seriously,” said Khalid Al Samhani, a wheelchair-bound disability campaigner who also owns a grocery shop in Shinas in the Al Batnah region.

A spokesman from the ministry of manpower said that by law, the disabled should make up two per cent of the total workforce in private companies. But the ministry never checks on compliance and the law is not enforced.

“We encourage the disabled to make complaints if they are unfairly rejected by companies but not many of them do that. Those who do, we investigate and many times we force the companies to take them. We are very strict about it,” a spokesman from the ministry said. There are, however, no other official penalties for either private or public sector companies who discriminate against the disabled.

Employers say the disabled are not rejected because of their disabilities but because they do not fit the requirements of the jobs for which they apply.

“For example, marketing is about moving around the whole day or customer services talking to customers. We need staff who can do those tasks," Taher Al Khanjari, managing director of Tasneem Designs, told the National. "However, we do consider their disabilities and try to accommodate them when we can.”