Increasing Employment of People with Disabilities in Asia: Beyond Employment Legislation and Quotas

Governments in Asia have long grappled with the issue of how to promote the greater inclusion of people with disabilities in society. Providing increased opportunities for employment has been a common focus for governments across the region, which have introduced a variety of measures including employment legislation, quotas and incentives to support this goal. But how successful have these approaches been, and what is it really going to take to bring about a significant shift in the employment of people with disabilities?

With an estimated 650 million people with disabilities in the region, promoting the social inclusion of people with disabilities is an issue that governments across Asia are rightly concerned about. Whilst countries such as China and Japan have long had disability employment quotas, India’s more recent introduction of the Rights for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016 with its broader definition of what constitutes disability and new demands on employers, is further evidence of the increased reliance on the corporate sector to play a role. (As companies seek to keep on top of their employer obligations, Community Business’ latest publication, the Disability in Asia Country Brief for India provides a valuable overview and is intended to be the first in a series to inform companies on how to approach disability in different markets in Asia.)

The table below provides an overview of the approach being adopted in key markets across Asia and highlights that China, India and Japan have all opted for disability employment quotas of some form to drive change. While positive in their intent and effective in encouraging companies to at least put the employment of people with disabilities on their corporate agenda, the unfortunate reality is that the employment rate of people with disabilities still remains dismally low in these markets. Indeed, despite having a quota in place since 2008, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), reports that only 9 million of the country’s estimated 85 million disabled citizens are in employment.

It is clear that the introduction of such mandates is not enough to bring about the desired change. Fundamental challenges – including deep cultural stigma, poor supporting infrastructure and lack of availability of disabled talent - mean that even the best-intentioned companies can struggle to comply with what is required. The result is that many companies simply pay the fine, create fraudulent data (in the case of Japan) or resort to work-arounds such as guakao (in China). Hardly the desired outcome or behaviours that such policies are designed to drive.

Greater investment and commitment to addressing the underlying barriers to the employment of people with disabilities are clearly required. A greater focus on capability building, improvements to transport and infrastructure and a move to further the use of assistive technologies will allow those with disabilities to live more mobile and independent lives, thus removing traditional barriers to employment. Yet, as many observe, it will take more than governments and policies to bring about a fundamental shift in culture and practice. Here the corporate sector, with its ability to solve complex problems, disrupt thinking and make bold choices, has a powerful role to play.   

Several companies across the region have already shown that this is possible. With their flagship programme to employ people with autism, SAP have signaled new ways of viewing and harnessing the potential of those with disabilities. Moving beyond philanthropic gestures, they have recognised the unique skills that such individuals can bring to their organisation and taken the lead in introducing bold and progressive programmes to harness their contribution. In a specially recorded video interview with Community Business, V. R. Ferose, Senior Vice President, Head of Globalisation Services at SAP, shared his personal motivation for challenging thinking about the capability of people with autism and how his bold actions led SAP to announce its commitment to one percent of its global workforce being individuals on the autism spectrum.

In the last month, Community Business has recognised several companies that have made strides in their disability inclusion efforts: at the DIAN Decade Awards, hosted on 12 November in Hong Kong, Shell were awarded the D&I in Asia Pioneering Initiative Award for their Workplace Accessibility programme; and, earlier this week, on 26 November, we hosted the D&I in India Best Practice Awards, where IBM were awarded the 2018 Disability Confidence Award for their holistic approach to inclusion, and Dell EMC were recognised for the ‘True Ability Network’ in the 2018 Employee Network Award category.

Beyond legal compliance and quotas, perhaps what will ultimately accelerate and prioritise the disability inclusion agenda in Asia, is the recognition by companies that disability is not just about a distinct group or ‘other people’ – it potentially impacts us all. Acquired disabilities, long-term health conditions and mental health issues can impact anybody at any time. Being able to respond to and accommodate the changing and individual needs of employees will become key to business continuity and success. In taking proactive steps to create supportive, accessible and inclusive workplace environments for current employees, companies will be more attuned and better positioned to attract and recruit external candidates with disabilities – creating a virtuous circle and a potential for a step change in the employment of people with disabilities.

It is also important to recognise the wider ripple caused by disability inclusion in the workplace. It is not just the individual whose life is changed by the opportunity to contribute, rather the economic impact can extend to the individual’s family and to the wider community. At Community Business, we believe in harnessing the power of business to drive social change. Disability inclusion is a great example of how employers can lead the way. By going above and beyond to make disability inclusion a priority and foster a truly inclusive and sensitive culture, companies across Asia can buck the current trend of avoidance and help employees with disabilities and their families, as well as their business as a whole, to thrive.  

Employment Quota or Government Incentives
China implemented the quota system in 2008, requiring public and private employers to reserve no less than 1.5% of job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Employers who do not meet the quota must pay a fine to the Disabled Person’s Employment Security Fund.
Phenomenon of “guakao has arisen. Companies employ disabled people without giving them actual work to complete.
Other companies report paying the fine rather than complying with the quota.  Some justify this by saying that finding candidates is a challenge
Hong Kong

Governmental Incentives

The Labour Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government has a Selective Placement Division which provides employment services to job seekers with disabilities. Job vacancies from interested employers are posted and candidates are provided with employment counseling and guidance.
The Government’s Workplace Orientation and Placement Scheme provides employers with monthly allowances for 9 months to facilitate the recruitment of employees with disabilities. 
The Social Welfare Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government provides one-off subsidies capped at HK$20,000 to companies to purchase assistive devices or make workplace accommodations for employees who have disabilities.   
Unemployment rates for disabled people in Hong Kong remain high. 
Jobs posted on the Selective Placement Division tend to be administrative or blue collar and may not be suitable for candidates who are degree holders.


Governmental Employment Quota

In 2017, the quota was raised from 3 to 4% in government jobs and educational institutions from 4 to 5%.
Penalties of up to Rs 500,000 (US$7,750) and potential imprisonment if the Disability Law is not followed accordingly.
There is no quota in place for private sector employers.
Prateek Kaul of GiftAbled believes that the quota is yet to be met, although accurate data is not available.



Private enterprises: minimum - 1.6%; Stipulated special corporations: minimum - 1.9%;
National and regional public organisations:  2.0% for clerical operations; 1.9% for non-clerical operations.
Fines taken from companies that do not meet the quota are fed back to companies that have succeeded in making the quota to help cover costs incurred through the employment of persons with disabilities.
The Act on Employment Promotion of Persons with Disabilities was approved in 2005.
Japanese ministries were recently found fabricating data regarding the number of disability hires made.


Governmental Incentives

There is no quota to legally ensure corporations hire people with disabilities; however they have governmental incentives such as The Open Door Programme which encourages the employment of people with disabilities by providing funding to lower the cost for apprenticeships, workplace modification, and job redesign and support.


Incentives appear to be effective. According to the Disabled People’s Association Singapore, “the employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Singapore have increased in the last two decades because of strong economic development”.
Since its creation the government has funded SG$3.2 million worth of subsidies working with 220 companies.


About the Author: Kate Vernon, Executive Director, Community Business