NGO Helps Pioneer Disability-Inclusive Employment in Uzbekistan
Globally, people with disabilities experience significantly higher unemployment rates compared to the general population. Dilmurad Yusupov and his team at Sharoit Plus in Uzbekistan are determined to change the status quo. Through their NGO, they established the groundbreaking website IshPlus.uz, which aims to foster socialization, skill development, and integration by helping individuals with disabilities join the workforce. With the support of a grant from Eurasia Foundation’s Social Innovation in Central Asia (SICA) program, Dilmurad expanded his team, developed a mobile application, and successfully facilitated the employment of more than 130 individuals with disabilities in just six months.
“Discrimination and negative stereotypes are unfortunate realities that individuals with disabilities often encounter in the workplace,” explains Dilmurad. “Our mission is to actively promote and facilitate disability-inclusive employment opportunities for those in need of help.”
Dilmurad’s initial curiosity in this field sparked during his doctoral studies in the United Kingdom. As part of his research, Dilmurad conducted fieldwork together with people with varied disabilities. As he observed the real-life experiences of these individuals, he became acutely aware of the stark disparity between their everyday challenges and the observational privileges of academia. This realization prompted Dilmurad to question the purpose of academic research if it failed to bring about meaningful and concrete societal transformations. “The experience deepened my commitment to further explore this field,” reflects Dilmurad. Upon returning to Uzbekistan, he made a conscious decision to prioritize supporting people with disabilities to find equitable employment.
In 2021, the team launched the job-searching website IshPlus.uz. Within a year, the project successfully assisted 50 individuals with disabilities to secure employment. Inspired by this success, in 2022, Dilmurad and his colleagues submitted a grant proposal to SICA to further enhance and scale their initiative.
Thanks to the SICA grant, IshPlus.uz successfully developed a user-friendly mobile application that connects job seekers with disabilities to potential employers. Through a questionnaire, potential candidates can provide their work experience, contact details, specialization, salary expectations, and disability status. Dilmurad explains: “If needed, candidates can also request additional support from our consultants, who engage with employers to promote inclusive work environments and ensure the labor rights of people with disabilities are respected.”
In just six months, IshPlus.uz has helped more than 130 people with disabilities secure a job, including 27 individuals with visual impairments, 44 with hearing impairments, 51 with physical disabilities, 5 with intellectual disabilities, and 3 parents of children with disabilities.
Reflecting on the project success, Dilmurad underscores the significance of accessibility and user-friendly navigation within the app. “Recent statistics have revealed that approximately 60 percent of job seekers with disabilities use smartphones for job searches, and this is why we developed an application that is accessible for blind and visually-impaired people who use screen readers. The intuitive design of the app makes it easy to use for people with disabilities in Uzbekistan, who often don’t know how to effectively search for jobs using computer.”
Farrukh Umarov, a 20-year-old with a visual impairment, is among those whose employment journey began with IshPlus.uz. While pursuing a degree in philosophy at the National University of Uzbekistan, Farrukh relied solely on university scholarships and disability allowances for income. The IshPlus.uz platform allowed Farrukh to secure his first job as a computer literacy instructor for people with disabilities. “I am very grateful to the Sharoit Plus team as they changed my life for the better. In Uzbekistan, they are the only organization I know of that provides real assistance to people with disabilities,” says Farrukh.
Guzal, a sign language interpreter, is another compelling example of the project’s impact. Formerly providing unpaid sign language interpretation assistance, Guzal now holds a stable position as an interpreter and employment consultant with IshPlus.uz, earning a fair monthly salary. “I am grateful that the team recognizes the importance of sign language interpreters to support employment of deaf and hard of hearing people in Uzbekistan,” says Guzal.
The IshPlus.uz team is determined to expand the operations of the application to encompass the entirety of Uzbekistan. “Presently, due to regulatory constraints under the non-governmental organizations law, our activities are limited to the Tashkent city,” shares Dilmurad. “Ultimately, our vision is to promote true inclusivity by enabling individuals with disabilities to work alongside their non-disabled counterparts throughout Uzbekistan.”