A thought for the employed South Africans with disabilities

Employment is one way of ensuring economic stability for most people around the world. However, it is not easy to find or maintain meaningful employment when faced with difficult conditions.

The employment of persons with disabilities is usually characterised by untested expectations and perceptions, many of which are not true. People with disabilities across the world largely remain marginalised due to stereotypes, traditional beliefs and ignorance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that ten percent of the world’s population consists of people with disabilities, most of whom live in developing countries, where a lack of proper health facilities, inadequate treatment and ignorance exacerbate the situation. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), 7,5 percent of South Africans have a disability.

With a 26,7 percent unemployment rate, according to the Stats SA fourth-quarter Quarterly Employment Survey for 2017, people with a disability find it more difficult to secure employment or be accepted within society as work-capable.

Clearly a change in perspective is needed, as people with disabilities should be granted equal opportunities to access jobs and to be treated fairly. Yet, when fairness and equal opportunities are compounded by other factors over and above stereotypes and ignorance, things become even bleaker.

Additional influences that impact negatively include access to public transport – for example, the difficulties caused by the recent country-wide bus strike.

Not only was the safety of all passengers threatened, but the only available accessible public transport for people with disabilities, like Dial-a-ride in Cape Town, was affected by the strike. This made it impossible for a large portion of the employed population of persons with disabilities to get to their places of work.

This type of situation places a shadow over their capabilities and influences the chances of retention and promotion in the workplace. Factors such as the ever-increasing fuel price, congested roads and road closures due to protest action make it very difficult for drivers with disabilities to travel to and from their workplace with private vehicles.

Drivers are also exposed to some of the everyday dangers on our roads, such as accidents, hijackings, poor road conditions, unlicensed drivers and non-roadworthy vehicles. These hazards can be more difficult to face when one is mobility or sensory impaired. Even other forms of public transport, like trains, are out of the question for most people with disabilities.

However, it should not be this way! There must be better prospects for employed persons with disabilities to continue improving their lives and contributing to the economy of the country. We have sufficient legislation in place to protect workers’ rights and create ideal working conditions, yet we still experience challenges.

The 2016 Commission for Employment Equity report indicates that little progress in the employment of persons with disabilities has been made since the inception of the Employment Equity legislation in 1998 and the promulgation of chapter three of this Act in 1999.

In addition, many people with disabilities are mainly hired to do menial tasks at the lowest entry levels of the organisation. The recently announced proposed national minimum wage (NMW) of R20 per hour or R3 500 per month stirred many emotions and created arguments. Some believe that impoverished people will be uplifted, while others feel that it will lead to job losses as employers cut staff in order to afford the NMW. While politicians, unions and other labour experts fight it out, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before the NMW is passed into law. It will certainly affect everyone who is employed.

So, whether it is getting to and from work or how much they are paid, please spare a thought for employed people with disabilities. Employment is an essential part of everyone’s economic wellbeing.


Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email: rbenny@pgwc.gov.za

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