A UAE-based ‘career matching’ company is working to shatter the misconceptions employers have about hiring people with disabilities, in an attempt to get more people with mental or physical conditions into the GCC workforce.
The brainchild of 29-year-old Hafsa Qadeer – inspired by the journey of her brother Ahmed Qadeer, 20, who lives with spina bifida –ImInclusive aims to show companies that people with disabilities should have access to equal pay, senior roles, equitable working hours. They also want to show that hiring such workers is not merely a tick box exercise in line with “CSR or a noble cause,” but is an earnest attempt at harnessing the advantages that peo-ple with determination bring to the workplace – just like any other employee.
Qadeer set up the career matching service with support from the innovation incubator under Ma’an Abu Dhabi - founded in 2019 by the Department of Community Develop-ment Abu Dhabi to promote and build a culture of social contribution and participation to address social priorities in the capital.
Qadeer grew up with a single parent in a family of six siblings and found her calling through her volunteering work at Special Olympics MENA Regional Games in Abu Dhabi in 2018.
She originally aimed to build the ImInclusive app so her brother could make more friends and families could connect with community members living similar experiences to overcome isolation.
Through her collaboration and mentorship at Ma’an Abu Dhabi, Qadeer surveyed hun-dreds of people, identifying employment as the critical solution for the inclusion of peo-ple of determination. She now aims to make ImInclusive.com MENA’s most efficient online portal with access to employers for digital learning material and resources on dis-abilities inclusion.
“This journey is inspired by knowing exclusion and isolation as a person living with a family member with disability. I knew something needed to change and the calling was too loud for me to ignore in life,” she said.
“However, when Ahmed and I began ImInclusive in 2019, we were way ahead of our time – employers were not ready to embrace inclusion. So, we have been preparing em-ployers through community initiatives and interactions with candidates since 2020.”
Now, more employers across the UAE and wider GCC are increasingly eager to include people with disabilities in their workforce, she added.
In 2022, ImInclusive emerged as a full social business certified by Authority of Social contribution, Ma’an, and was recognized at the United Nations.
“At ImInclusive, people of determination lead and that’s the challenge I aim to tackle across MENA – people of determination can lead, do lead and will lead, and it will take many change agents to join forces and create the space for this to happen to scale,” said Qadeer.
Ahmed Qadeer, who now also works with his sister at ImInclusive, said people of de-termination are at the core of any community.
“Without everyone’s involvement and input, we cannot have a fully functioning society. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age where everyone seems to promote tolerance, we still have not learned to accept the fact that disability inclusion is not just a “good noble cause.”
He further said: “When we started, Hafsa and I researched a lot to understand why peo-ple with disabilities are often left out of the conversation and now we have a strong ta-gline for ImInclusive – ‘Inclusion is not an afterthought’.”
According to Ahmed, their goal is to ensure that businesses recognize people with disa-bilities as customers and employees and begin to foster the mission of inclusion from leaders, CHROs, CEOs to every staff member on the team. “If someone did not learn about disabilities in school, they must learn about disability inclusion as a skill at the workplace,” he said.
“While one side of our work is to prepare candidates to meet employers (a free service for job-seekers with disabilities), our core business constitutes preparing employers on disability inclusion and welcoming employees with disabilities,” Ahmed added.
As director of opportunities at ImInclusive, Saira Sayed, who relies on a wheelchair af-ter being diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy – a group of rare genetic dis-orders that causes progressive muscle weakness in the limbs – also aims to champion disability inclusion and works with employers to connect people with disabilities to job opportunities.
Sayed told Al Arabiya English that common misconceptions linger about hiring pro-spective employees with disabilities – including addressing stigmas surrounding people with “invisible” disabilities such as those with mental health disorders.
“In fact, 71 percent of disabilities are invisible and to only recognize those that are wheelchair-bound as people with disabilities is a very old approach. ImInclusive guides employers to open roles for every different range of disability,” Sayed further explained.
Another misconception is that there is limited talent available among people with determination and hiring can be done for entry-level roles only.
According to Sayed, ImInclusive currently has a large database of talent in UAE, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, available for different levels of seniority and industries. “Talent has no limit and excellent candidates outnumber the jobs available at any point in time,” she said.
Sayed also said that many prospective employers incorrectly assume that people with physical or non-physical disabilities only prefer remote work. “ImInclusive guides employers about the support and reasonable adjustments required by job seekers. While working from home is an excellent adjustment, not everyone needs it and some definite-ly prefer to work from office,” she explained.
The company also works to stem the belief that people with disabilities should be paid less and have more to prove.
“Each job seeker at ImInclusive is looking for an equitable opportunity that allows the individual proper support at the workplace, including equal pay and equitable working hours,” Sayed said, adding that job seekers with disabilities have the same expectations from their profession, just as any other employee.
Sayed said ImInclusive also works to shatter the stereotype that disability inclusion at the workplace is a part of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
“Disability inclusion is not about charity – it is about 51 percent of the world population directly or indirectly living with the adverse experience of exclusion,” she pointed out. It is a measured, long-term commitment that needs to be strategized, reported and requires its own budget for all departments across a business establishment, she further reasoned.
With its aim to provide “360 employment services to employers that are willing to embark on the journey of disability inclusion,” ImInclusive provides solutions, roadmaps and guidance to employers and organizations on how to build independent, long-term inclusion strategies for the workforce, Sayed said.
As a one-stop shop for inclusive employment, ImInclusive offers tailored consultancy to support employers in overcoming barriers to inclusive employment at the workplace.
One person of determination who has been helped by ImInclusive is Yemeni Noof Ali Awadh Ba Saleh. Born and bred in the UAE, Ba Saleh was matched with her current employer – a global visa solutions center in UAE – by ImInclusive.
“Working for a company that values inclusivity has been amazing,” she told Al Arabiya English. “My employer genuinely promotes diversity, respect and equality for all its employees. Also, the amazing support I receive from my employer in terms of assistive technologies and tools has helped me excel in my role as officer of operations.”
She further said: “They ensure accessibility and provide necessary accommodations to remove any barrier that one may face. It’s truly empowering and liberating to be in a workplace that values its employees’ requirements to perform.”
From flexible work hours to resources for professional development, Ba Saleh’s employer has helped her thrive in her professional role and further develop her skills. “My employer encourages open communication and values everyone’s unique perspectives. It creates a positive atmosphere where I can truly succeed,” Ba Saleh added.
Emirati Zahra Ghuloom Ali, 23, a person of determination, was also employed via ImInclusive and now works as a fashion consultant for one of the UAE’s largest luxury retail giants.
“I didn’t face any barrier or misconception and my journey thus far has been closely knit with ImInclusive’s support. The retail group I work for employs many people of determination. So, by the time I joined the team in UAE, they were not new to hiring people like me,” Ali said.
Her enthusiasm in meeting people and her day-to-day interactions contributed greatly towards building her job profile. “I get to consult customers on their product requirements and I enjoy the process of building a positive relationship with them. I hope they will remember me as someone who offered them quality assistance and a big smile,” she added.