South Africans with disabilities overlooked in employment targets

The 17th Commission of Employment Equity report highlights the lack of progress in transforming South Africa’s workplace. Interestingly, there has been little mention of disability in the commentary that has followed.

Tendai Khumalo, MD of Qunu Workforce, which provides disability solutions for companies and government, explains that while there is well-defined legislation with incentives for the employment, training and support of people with disabilities in both the private and government sectors, the appetite to comply is weak.

While South Africa’s legislation is in place, implementation of transformation is lagging. Khumalo notes: “It looks good on paper, but we are not where we should be when it comes to bringing disabled people into the mainstream and focusing on their ability and what they can contribute.

“The Employment Equity Act states that at least three percent of the workforce should be employees with disabilities. The national disability prevalence rate in South Africa is around 7,5 percent, but it might be higher because of under-reporting. The employment of people with disabilities remains one of the major employment equity challenges that South Africa needs to tackle.”

He adds: “While companies are heavily penalised for not meeting B-BBEE scorecard targets, there are limited consequences, if any, when the public service does not achieve these. State-owned entities generally don’t get anywhere near the three percent employment target. Government employers should be leading by example and they are not.”

Securing employment is not the only challenge to be faced. As Khumalo points out: “The few people who are fortunate to have employment opportunities and access to training still have to overcome negative mindsets and lack of knowledge around this topic. This may lead to further discrimination and undermining of their competence.”

There is a tendency to view toilets, ramps, lifts, parking bays or modified work environments as successful indicators of embracing disability. However, Khumalo notes that the measure of diversity is not only linked to the physical environment, but also the level to which people with disabilities are integrated socially.

“A paradigm shift is needed regarding the job roles typically earmarked for persons with disabilities. There is a tendency to [offer] contact-centre jobs, admin roles and menial back-office jobs to people with disabilities with no career path and defined growth plans,” Khumalo says.

Placing a person with a disability in an admin position with no room for growth (and paying a penalty for not including people with disabilities) is only a disadvantage to the company.

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