Normalising disabilities in the workplace

Five actions you can use to create a culture of disability inclusion in your business

Did you know that one in four employees have been diagnosed with a mental disorder? And, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) 39% of people diagnosed with a mental disability do not disclose their condition to their employer because many fears being discriminated against.

According to Rajan Naidoo, Managing Director of EduPower Skills Academy, the topic of disability is still fraught with stigma and shame, particularly in the workplace. He believes that companies have to change this mindset, and this starts with creating a culture that embraces diversity and promotes disability inclusion.

 

“Disability inclusion is about far more than hiring people with disabilities. An inclusive workplace values all employees for their strengths and abilities. It offers employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to succeed, to learn, to be compensated fairly and to advance. True inclusion is about embracing difference,” Rajan explains.

 

But how do companies achieve this? As more than 80% of its learners are People With Disabilities (PWD), EduPower is a leader and enabler of skills development for PWD’s. 

Based on actual experiences, Rajan shares five actions that companies can apply to create a truly inclusive workforce:

1. Commitment from the top

PWD’s and their inclusion in the workplace are now part of the business agenda. Disability inclusion however needs top-level backing to become a company norm. Prove you’re committed to disability inclusion by making it a company policy. This can be a specific policy or the inclusion of disability as part of more general policies on anti-discrimination, diversity or human rights.

2. Skills Development

By recruiting PWD’s, you will not gain real skills, you will be able to support national policy and legislation such as Employment Equity and B-BBEE targets. In the skills development space, you can use learnerships to train PWD’s in the skills required by the business, preparing them for the world of work while also using the 12-month learnership as a screening process. You will be able to claim back the majority of the spend through the higher tax rebates for PWD learnerships and provided you are paying your Skills Development levy; you will be able to claim the Mandatory Grant too. In many cases, the rebates available mean that you can upskill your future PWD’s at zero cost. 

3. Think flexibly about individual needs

You will need to prepare the work environment by making reasonable adjustments to accommodate your PWD’s needs. These could include modifying floorplans and equipment or the content of the job itself. You may also need to adjust working hours, work organisation and the work environment.

4. Remove recruitment barriers

Analyse every step of your recruitment process to make sure there are no barriers for PWD’s. Adverts for jobs and learnerships should make it clear that you’ll provide reasonable accommodations for interviews and the job itself if needed. When it comes to the interview process, remember that your PWD candidates bring creativity, innovation, problem solving and commitment to the workplace so give them the opportunity to demonstrate these strengths.

5. Make your people Champions of Change

The most effective way to promote inclusivity in your company is to empower and encourage all your people to champion the change. The more awareness and teamwork there is in supporting policy, the better the morale, wellbeing and productivity of all your employees. Your people may be apprehensive about someone in a wheelchair or who’s partially sighted in the office simply because of the stigma this carries in society. But guaranteed, when they start working worked together, the disability won’t be an issue. It’s about simply accepting each other as people who have a job to do. It’s about ability, not disability.

Including PWD’s and accommodating their disability-related needs are important moves for companies in terms of talent resourcing and compliance with legislation. Inclusion however is everyone’s responsibility and with your team’s commitment to eliminating the misconceptions and biases that hold PWD’s back, everything is possible.

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