Breaking barriers

Companies have long been drivers of change. Across the globe, a pivotal shift in attitudes and behaviour towards social injustices starts in business. Diversity and inclusion are examples of such defining issues. Though progress has been made towards equality across gender, race and sexual orientation, one aspect of inclusion is too often neglected: disability.

According to Sean Sharp, executive head of sales at the EduPower Skills Academy, South Africa has three million people with disabilities which equates to 7,5 percent of the population. Yet, only a percent of the total workforce are people with disabilities; far worse than the global average that estimates around 90 percent of people with disabilities are either unemployed or outside the workforce.

“It’s a fact that worldwide, people with disabilities have less chance of being employed with similar trends observed in job advancement and security,” says Sean. “But, how can this be the case in South Africa when we have a Bill of Rights that outlaws discrimination on any grounds, including disability?”

With its strong track record in empowering people with disabilities, EduPower is an example that every organisation can help redress disability inclusion. Sean shares his top recommendations for leaders to improve the situation in their own businesses.

Be open to potential employees

The recruiting and hiring processes in a business need to encourage applicants with disabilities and give them the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths. This starts by understanding the barriers that discourage them from applying for the advertised position, from the application format, online accessibility and even the language used in job descriptions. An open mindset will give the company an advantage when it comes to acquiring and leveraging the talent needed.

Accessible workplaces

To retain employees, accessibility and inclusivity must extend beyond the recruitment process. People with disabilities need to feel included in and comfortable with their physical working space. Office design needs to take this into account. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Flexible work schedules, health promotion programmes tailor-made for those with disabilities, assistive technologies such as text-to-speech and “reasonable accommodation” (which comes with tax rebates) enable employees with a disability to compete on a level playing field.

It starts with the staff

Disability inclusion will only be successful if there is an inclusive workplace. When people with disabilities feel welcome and comfortable; that they are valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table. To create this environment, businesses have to remove any attitudinal barriers that may exist among employees. Perceptions are easy to correct through disability training, creating a harmonious work environment that will make a world of difference for everyone.

Skills development is the difference

One of the main reasons that people with disabilities don’t have equal opportunities is the severe lack of skills investment within the disability community. It is, therefore, the single most important instrument to empower people with disabilities by improve their employability to lift them out of poverty and set them on a path to be economically independent.

Skills development, which includes learnerships for people with disability, impacts the life of the individual, but also benefits the company by building a representative talent pool and gaining invaluable B-BBEE scorecard points. Sean notes that commitment to diversity shouldn’t be seen as a chore, but an opportunity.

“In taking the lead on this issue, your business will not only prosper from a social standpoint, but an economic one as well. Inclusive businesses are a magnet for talent, have a broader customer base, spur more innovation and offer a better quality of life for all,” he concludes.

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