Employed because the law is on our side

In May, the QuadPara Association of South Africa hosted an Employment Workshop to dispel some of the misconceptions around employing people with disabilities, to educate employers and urge businesses to participate in their Work Readiness Programme by providing work experience to the candidates.

During the workshop, some of the common misconceptions were identified. QASA Chief Operating Officer, Raven Benny, noted: “A lack of knowledge on how to manage people with disabilities in the workplace is the biggest factor to impact on the employment of people with disabilities.”

This includes uncertainty on how to communicate, integrate and accommodate employees with disabilities. The problem is so severe that some believe employment opportunities are only granted to people with disabilities because of the tax rebates available to the companies.

“People with disabilities only have employment opportunities because the law is on our side,” said former QASA Chief Executive Officer and current disability advocate, Ari Seirlis, in reference to the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment legislation. He continued to note that businesses fail to see the value proposition that people with disabilities offer.

Founder of Bradshaw LeRoux, a disability recruitment agency, Lesa Bradshaw highlighted one of the many value propositions that people with disabilities offer. She noted: “Diversity provides new ways to look at your products.”

To help educate employers, the team addressed some of the common concerns such as creating an accessible work environment. Ari urged businesses to “step into the digital space with people with disabilities”. Virtual or remote work opportunities can be ideal as it requires little to no accommodations for example only a small internet stipend or device.

For businesses that prefer or need their staff in the office, small accommodations can be made. Universal access specialist, Mandy Latimore, noted that a simple accommodation like leaving a cup on the counter rather than the wall-mounted cupboard could make it easier for a wheelchair user to be included in the work environment.

Lesa stated the importance of focusing “less on the disability and more on the disabling factors.” For example, a person might use a wheelchair, but the lack of a ramp or lift is what inhibits them from entering a building. She continued to note that accommodating people with disabilities could benefit the entire workforce, and perhaps customers as well. Installing a ramp, for example, could benefit wheelchair users and staff who are pregnant, elderly, or perhaps recovering from an injury or operation.

To better integrate and communicate with staff with a disability, businesses are encouraged to be respectful and discreet. Lesa gave an example of a client who employed a person with epilepsy. The staff needed training on what to do when the individual had an epileptic attack, but they didn’t want to single out the new co-worker. In response, the company provided general health and safety training with a section dedicated to epilepsy; thus, avoiding singling out the person and highlighting their disability while providing valuable information.

At the end of the workshop, QASA urged businesses to partner with it on its Work Readiness Programme. The programme teaches QASA members soft skills to better perform in a professional work environment. Part of the programme includes practical work experience for which QASA requires businesses to provide placement for its candidates. Some of these placements have even led to permanent employment.

Businesses and people with disabilities interested in participating in the QASA Work Readiness Programme can contact QASA for more information at info@qasa.co.za or 031 767 0352.

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