People with disabilities deserve to be treated with dignity in the workplace
People with disabilities have an integral role to play in South Africa’s economy, yet they remain a largely untapped talent pool in the country, mostly owing to ongoing stigmatisation and misconceptions.
A disability can be defined as any impairment of the body and/or mind which makes it difficult for a person to perform certain activities. This includes physical, intellectual, cognitive, psychiatric, sensory, neurological and development impairments. The disability can be present from birth or occur at any stage during the person’s lifetime.
“Unfortunately, any definition of a disability places the focus on the person’s limitations or perceived deficiencies as a consequence of their disability, says Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies. “This fuels the mistaken belief that people with disabilities are incapable of contributing to the economy, with many employers viewing their appointment as an employment equity tick-box exercise, or a means to increase their BEE rating.”
Instead, says Myburgh, businesses should be focussing on what people with disabilities can do, and the value they can bring to the business using the skills and abilities they possess.
“Adopting an inclusivity approach can go a long way towards changing employees’ negative attitudes and beliefs about people with disabilities, and help to cultivate a positive workplace culture.
“People with disabilities are afforded more than adequate protection from unfair discrimination in the workplace through extensive legislation,” Myburgh continues. “This includes the Employment Equity Act, Code of Good Practice on Employment of Persons with Disabilities, Labour Relations Act and Black Economic Empowerment.”
While the legislation obligates employers to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities, Myburgh says each case must be treated sensitively, with careful consideration for the employee’s unique circumstances.
“It’s all about ensuring that their dignity is preserved. And if their disability does not affect their job deliverables, then ignore it – and treat them as you would any able-bodied employee,” he adds.
Where prejudice and intolerance persist, Myburgh advises engaging in education programmes and sensitivity training to mitigate stigmas and stereotypes.“Companies that hire people – including those with disabilities – for their strengths convey an important message about their core values and that they understand the importance of creating a workplace where everyone is made to feel welcomed and accepted,” he concludes.