Invest in disAbility

03 Aug

The unemployment crisis in South Africa has hit catastrophic proportions, specifically in the area of Designated Groups. There are many people, particularly persons with disabilities that are facing unemployment in South Africa, as a result of socio-economic circumstances, lack of adequate education or skills, and the absence of access to technology such as the internet to source opportunities or apply for employment. The situation is further compounded by barriers which could easily be overcome if there was a consensus of employing persons with disabilities making good business sense. It is, therefore, imperative that organisations use the tools available and invest their Skills Development 6% Leviable Amount (annual payroll), in a meaningful and sustainable manner for the future benefit of their organisation and persons with disabilities alike.

In an effort to assist the process of integrating persons with disabilities within the workplace ‘A Toolkit for the Private Sector: Promoting the Right to Work of Persons with Disabilities’, was launched by the South African Human Rights Commission. This design of the Toolkit was developed through a collaborative process, in order to bring together a large body of information, guidelines, legislation and links to best practices and resources.

Advocate Bokankatla Joseph Malatji, the Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission, at the launch of the Toolkit, had the following message for South African employers.

“As many people may know, I was born with a disability. Being blind brings with it many limitations, but I have learned that it is possible to rise above the limitations and not let a disability get in the way of life, progress and success. I did it and I encourage all people with disabilities to consider how they can turn their disabilities into abilities – because it is our abilities that matter, not our disabilities.Most importantly, I believe that we all have a part to play in raising the awareness of disability as an important human rights issue.”

Rethinking Disability

Over the past three decades, perceptions of disability have gradually evolved from an outdated medical model to a social model of disability. This is of particular relevance, as the two models represent opposite ends of the spectrum in the protection of rights for persons with disabilities. This evolution is owing to greater international awareness of human rights and needs, specifically the role played by the United Nations (UN) which developed a comprehensive human rights system following the Second World War.

The recognition of the social model of disability has paved the way and contributed significantly to having disability being fully acknowledged internationally as a human rights issue. In order to fully embrace the expectations of the Toolkit, which is based on the social model of disability, it is imperative for organisations to understand the vast differences between the two models.

Outdated medical model of disability

The medical model presumes disability results from a physical or psychological condition intrinsic to the individual. In other words, it forms part of the individual’s own body which is largely disconnected with the social and geographical environment of today. It essentially reduces an individual’s quality of life and presents disadvantages. It further assumes that the solution to disability is to find a cure, or at least a way of managing the disability. It fundamentally evaluates whether persons with disabilities qualify for protection, as a disability has historically been viewed as a health and welfare issue. Traditionally, state intervention concentrated on welfare institutions, usually controlled by persons without disabilities bestowing charity on persons with disabilities.

Having the perception that disability is a health and welfare issue gives rise to an attitude amongst society that persons with disabilities are separate from mainstream communal activities, which unfortunately includes the labour market. The consequence of this model encourages dependency on state assistance, which has subsequently disempowered and undermined the self-confidence of many persons with disabilities. Furthermore, it has had an effect on the capacity of persons with disabilities to interact on an equal playing field within the workplace and society alike. Therefore, the medical model of disability is more often that not the basis of unintended social degradation and discrimination.

Today, the outdated medical model of disability, through its approach, has perpetual consequences, which are still evident globally. This model essentially promotes unfair labour practice and discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Social model of disability

The principle of the social model of disability dictates that disability is caused by the way in which society is organised. This is in contrast to a specific impairment or difference. It evaluates ways to remove barriers that restrict life choices for persons with disabilities.

In terms of the social model, disability is not primarily due to some or other condition inherent in a particular person with a disability. It is based on the organisation of both the physical and social environments, persons with disabilities operate in. This evaluation is usually done by taking into account both the needs and lifestyles of a particular sector of the community where persons without disabilities are in the majority.

This model encourages an understanding of disability, in order to ascertain both environmental and social barriers. The objective is to identify these barriers, that catapult the abnormality of disability and focus on strategies to remove such barriers.

This model, further promotes equality in society in order to accommodate everybody on an equal footing. Once identified barriers are removed, persons with disabilities will enjoy independence and equality in society, empowering their freedom of choice and control over their own lives.

“It’s the ability not disability which counts.”

Impact of the Out-dated Medical Model

Despite many organisations embracing the social model of disability, the consequence of the historic outdated medical model has hampered the formative education of many persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, from the time persons with disabilities enter the educational phase of their life, they are segregated from the ‘mainstream’ education system.

One such consequence is that most persons with disabilities leave the education system without adequate skills or qualifications to enter the workforce. Nazereen Bhana, Chief Executive Officer of eDeaf confirms, “This is particularly prevalent within the Deaf Community, where nationally, there are only 36 schools for the Deaf, of which only 15 offer Matric. However, in some cases, a Matric is only offered on a bi-annual basis, whilst others span matric over a two-year period. In essence, the education system, which was built on the outdated medical model, has secured a barrier of entry for persons with disabilities within the workplace.”

Pillar four of the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities highlights the necessity for systems to support early childhood development, schooling and post-school education, both private and public, which must be put in place to ensure formal employment or sustainable self-employment for persons with disabilities. “Although education for persons with disabilities has been highlighted as an issue within the White Paper, the reality is, an equal opportunity education system will not be realised in the near future. As things stand today addressing the disproportionate unemployment levels of persons with disabilities lies with bridging the skills gap. Organisations can play a major role in addressing the unemployment of persons with disabilities by empowering them through Skills Development initiatives and driving the social model of disability,” highlights Bhana.

Another consequence of segregating persons with disabilities through separate education facilities and streams is, it creates social barriers. Unless there are persons with disabilities within a family unit, most persons without disabilities have no interaction with persons with disabilities until they enter the workforce. Consequently, most organisations that intend to employ persons with disabilities have inbred societal learned perceptions regarding disability, which presents challenges in terms of attitudinal barriers within the workplace and society alike.

Disability Representation

Although the outdated medical model of disability is still prevalent in our educational system and to a large extent society, Government is seen to be supporting and encouraging the social model of disability. Bhana clarifies, “Government is striving to meet their obligations to the UN Convention in promoting a discrimination-free, equitable and inclusive society. Their key driver in encouraging and advancing the up-skilling and employment of persons with disability is legislative requirements.”

The Employment Equilty Act

2% of total employees with disabilities

The Amended Codes
Management Control

2% ‘Black’ employees with disabilities
as a percentage of all employees

The Amended Codes
Skills Development

0.3% total Skills Development
on ‘Black’ persons with disabilities

It’s a ‘Grow Your Own’ Philosophy

Many organisations do not believe they are equipped to employ persons with disabilities. In-the-field feedback over many years reveals issues such as infrastructure constraints, communication barriers, safety regulations, transportation, lack of internal capacity to mentor and train, in addition to the inability to source suitable candidates with disabilities. What this feedback actually reveals is attitudinal barriers, which directly aligns and supports the outdated medical model of disability. Each of the concerns mentioned could be accommodated without much cost and effort.

The Skills Development budgets of organisations allocated to unemployed and employed people, could assist in bridging the gap in skills for many persons with disabilities and formally introduce them to the workplace. The ripple effect of investing in people with disabilities has the potential for organisations to enjoy a long-term return-on-investment. Candice Lambert, Business Development Executive at Progression clarifies, “Transformation as a whole and the integration of persons with disabilities within the workplace, is a process which can be successfully managed through Skills Development. Simply put, bridge the skills gap, thereafter leverage the learned skills through employment, which will have a meaningful and sustainable impact on an organisation’s Skills Development spend.”

In addressing the national drive surrounding the unemployment crisis, Progression has developed a ‘Grow Your Own’ philosophy. “In theory, the process is simple. Find previously unemployed or unskilled individuals, including persons with disabilities. Afford them an opportunity within an organisation to bridge the gap in the ‘working world’. Mentor these individuals so that you, as their employer, can understand their career goals and potential. Align the individual’s career with a specific gap within your organisation. Identify further specialised learning. Then, reap the benefits of a committed employee who will become integral to the success of your organisation,” sums up Lambert.

This philosophy takes a sustained, ‘ground-up’ approach to Disability Equality in the workplace, driven through Skills Development. “Organisations stand, not only to meet their compliance needs but create a workforce which is committed and aligned with their overall goals. This both strengthens the organisation and feeds the larger macro need for skilled, employable people.

As with the implementation of any strategy, the starting point always requires critical information, comparing where an organisation is now, against their desired outcome. A combined Skills and Employment Equity audit may identify gaps in an organisation, the results of which would be available to develop a plan and appropriate way forward,” reveals Lambert.

When embarking on Skills Development initiatives, many organisations opt to procure the services of consultants to assist in the roll-out and implementation. It is critical that organisations choose Skills Development partners who have similar values and are committed to the successful outcome of each initiative. Lambert cautions, “The principle of Skills Development is not about dumping funds in lieu of the desired scorecard outcome. It necessitates a partnership which will guide an organisation to ethically and meaningfully invest their Skills Development spend, thereafter reap their return-on-investment. The role of a Skills Development partner would be to ensure SETA accredited training and certification, thereafter, assist in placing a Learner, provide relevant proof of contribution for B-BBEE measurement requirements and present the correct documentation in terms of an organisation’s SARS obligations.”

Skills Development initiatives are an ideal way for persons with disabilities to bridge the skills gap and enter the workplace. “Often, these initiatives require an integrated multi-touch point and dynamic approach. When consulting with clients, it is imperative it is done holistically, in order to develop the necessary talent and skills within an organisation from the ground up. This essentially means taking the unskilled Learner with a disability through the necessary development, for them to effectively join our national workforce. This approach not only addresses the issue of compliance versus sustainable and strategic business growth but contributes to Skills Development on a national level. The ’Grow Your Own’ approach allows organisations to build a comprehensive Employment Equity Plan, which supports the critical areas of disability employment equity within the workplace.

Embarking on Skills Development initiatives through the ‘Grow Your Own’ philosophy, is a shared responsibility which will improve the national skills pool. It’s about imparting knowledge that truly empowers others. At a macro level, it’s always going to be a win-win situation, if we are all able to contribute to a Transforming South Africa, the overall impact will benefit the most vulnerable in our society.” concludes Lambert.

“Adopt the ‘Grow Your Own’ Philosophy.”