False beliefs are the first barrier to employing people with disabilities – this was the message from Dan Kekana, provincial chairperson for Disabled People South Africa (DPSA), at recruitment agency CapAbility Careers’ talk on bridging the gap in the workplace.
“Let us stop pointing our fingers at the government. We should point a finger at the gatekeepers at implementation level. Those are the people who are blocking the road for us,” he says. Legislation and support structures are in place to assist businesses – all that is required now is sensitivity training.
Businesses need to understand that educational opportunities for people with disabilities are limited. Many accessible schools may not offer specific subjects that could enhance students’ ability to study at university. There are thus very few qualified professionals among people with disabilities.
To address this deficiency, Kekana proposed that companies adjust the requirements for a position. “Let us lower the qualifications and look at their ability and develop what we have in the market. They can be groomed for employment through learnerships,” he says. The next challenge is retaining the employee, which means being sensitive to the employee’s specific needs.
Pascalle Jacquelin, managing director of CapAbility Careers, argued that “employees with disabilities will work differently, but will still be able to do the job”. CapAbility Careers offers sensitivity training to businesses as well as a database of roughly 700 possible candidates with disabilities.
“It has been proven that a diverse workforce will always be productive, because it promotes innovation and productivity. It is important to have different people with different skills in your workplace who are able to introduce a variety of changes,” Kekana concludes.