Employment in Panama for People with Disabilities

I found a very interesting article by Luis Fernando Astorga Gatiens about employment for people with disabilities in Panama……

Panama: Opportunities Expand for Disabled Persons to Obtain Employment By Luis Fernando Astorga Gatjens ( lferag@racsa.co.cr) with UIT information provided by Edith Castillo Duarte ( ecastillo@prensa.com)

In December 2002, President of Panama Mireya Mocoso signed Executive Decree No. 88 modifying Law No. 42, to strengthen the foundations of equal opportunities for persons with disabilities, particularly in the area of access to work.

The Law outlines a series of initiatives directed to provide equal opportunities for persons with disabilities across the country.

Alba Tejada de Rolla, Minister of Labor of Panama, has recognized on many occasions that even though Law No.42 was approved, persons with disabilities still confront discrimination in diverse spheres of society including access to work.

This isthmus country, known worldwide because of the channel which allows ships to move back and forth between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, has a population of 4 million inhabitants. According to the World Health Organization and the Panamerican World Health Organization, about 400,000 would be persons with disabilities.

Unfortunately, Panama does not have specific statistical studies documenting how many persons have disabilities and what type of disabilities.

Obstacles Until quite recently, there was virtually no accessibility for persons with disabilities in public institutions or private buildings, including places of commercial activity. This affected particularly persons using wheelchairs. Authorities of the government of Panama recognize that this situation is being improved yet there is a lot to be done.

Negative attitudes still prevail against persons with disabilities, including widespread sentiments of underestimation, so in general, the society of Panama is not yet convinced about the performance capacity of individuals with disability in the work place.

State agencies and private companies hire very few workers with disabilities. The society of Panama has not become aware of the meaning of work for persons with disabilities. Access to work, also opens doors to personal development, and access to social participation.

It is felt that the previous government did not make major advances in work opportunities. Private enterprises have not demonstrated much acceptance of hiring initiatives regarding persons with disabilities.

Legal impetus to move forward This Executive Decree No.88 will greatly contribute to eliminating the existing gap regarding the fulfillment of the laws protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and the reality under which this important sector of the population lives. The Decree is directed at strengthening access to work opportunities of persons with disabilities in the country.

On December 3, 2002 President of Panamá Mirweya Mosoco, presented the document to Fanny Wong, the representative of persons of persons with disabilities. Fanny Wong was accompanied by Fausto Pérez, the Director of the Disability Section of the Ministry of Youth, Women, Childhood, and Family (Ministerio de la Juventud, la Mujer, la Niñez y la Familia).

President Mireya Moscoso expressed her satisfaction regarding the new decree and reminded the audience that there are thousands of Panamanian families with a member with a disability. She stressed: “all of them are human beings and even though they have their limitations they offer us their abilities, because they are examples of living perseverance, struggle, self improvement, and above all, love for the country.”

She stated she was very much aware of the need and the responsibility regarding meeting the urgent needs of the population with disability, and working to create the conditions that would allow them participate in society and to allow them to exercise their human rights fully. These rights must be protected and respected.

The President also commented that persons with disabilities have traveled a long and difficult journey before society recognized their valor, their particular needs and the importance of creating the social conditions needed to reduce the disadvantages they have to confront.

She also emphasized that her government’s work with the disability population is not just a legal matter, that of complying with pertinent regulations, but there is an underlying belief in the contents and implications of such articles and regulations.

Joint work For its part, the National Director on Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Youth, Fausto Pérez, indicated: “we are reaching a very special date, it is a step forward toward making a new society. We are opening wiindows of hope, because the Executive Decree No. 88 that modifies the Law No. 42 and strengthens the operative aspects pertaining the full exercise of disability rights, which means awareness and commitment.

Fanny Wong, representing persons with disabilities, expressed that this occasion constitutes the achievement of a long waited and worked for goal. Progress is being made to enable persons with disabilities to perform their duties and exercise their rights within the framework of equal opportunities. This will improve the contribution of the disability community to strengthening the country.

The approved document is the result of work performed by the ad-hoc Commission of the Ministry of the Family. This commission was created to follow up on the legal dispositions pertaining to work opportunities for persons with disabilities.