South Africa commemorates National Disability Rights Awareness Month annually between the 3rd November and the 3rd December. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and National Disability Rights Awareness Day are commemorated on the 3rd December.
Disability Rights Awareness Month offers an opportunity for all of us to raise and to increase our awareness of disabilities as well as the associated rights. This is crucial in the breaking down of the stigma surrounding disabilities as well as the removal of barriers encounter4ed by people with disabilities. This in turn will lead to the improvement of the quality of life of people with disabilities through inclusive and effective action.
According to the Employment Equity Act No. 55 of 1998, as amended, people with disabilities are defined as people who have a long-term or recurring physical, including sensory, or mental impairment which substantially limits their prospect of entry into or advancement in employment.
The Employment Equity Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, unless such accommodation would cause undue hardship. Reasonable accommodation refers to the provision of conditions, equipment, and environments that enable individuals with disabilities to effectively perform their duties.
Often employers who have staff members who are living with a disability may be keen to reasonably accommodate them within their workplace. In most instances this reasonable accommodation will be based on allowing, or budgeting, for the physical or structural changes within the workplace. However, this does not take into account the fact that not all disabilities are physical, nor display visible or obvious symptoms. In efforts to accommodate employees with disabilities, some employers do not take into consideration the fact that not everyone with a disability experiences their condition in the same way and therefore reasonable accommodation cannot be applied on a one-size-fits-all basis.
There are frequent occurrences whereby employers in preparing for or in accommodating newly appointed /placed employees or learners with a disability, go to extra lengths and costs in order to ensure accessibility for physical impaired individuals. These preparations are often based on the employer’s ‘understanding’ of the needs of employees with disabilities. Thereafter, the employer becomes disappointed when they realise that the ‘reasonable accommodation’ provided is ineffective and not responsive to the needs of that particular employee who may either have a visual impairment, or is someone with albinism, or has a mental impairment, or even that their physical impairment does not fit the assumptions and arrangements made.
The faux pas and often missed opportunities in adequately addressing the needs of each individual employee with a disability emphasise the fact that in order to create a work environment which is diverse and inclusive, employers and managers who are responsible for reasonable accommodation need to:
In order to effectively and successfully assist and reasonably accommodate employees; employers need to engage in crucial discussions around disabilities within the workplace and not assume that they understand the accommodation needs of employees.
Employees need to be included in the crafting of solutions that are meant for them. In these circumstances, the saying/ slogan “Nothing for us without us!” becomes of paramount importance. This slogan is used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of the members of the group affected by that policy.
Although people with disabilities may, at times, struggle to express themselves fully due to the limitations that are often imposed by society on them, they need to speak up and actively participate in the in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives as well as in the implementation of reasonable accommodation initiatives. This process requires on going conversations between all parties involved.
For the creation of work environments that are diverse and inclusive the following is necessary:
As we celebrate National Disability Rights Awareness month, let us ensure that we do not assume nor dictate to people with disabilities, rather let us collaborate, consult and be fully inclusive in the creation of diverse workplaces.