It’s estimated that one in seven people in the world lives with a disability and South Africa is no exception. Head of Operations at Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions, Portia Mahlalela, discusses why and how organisations can make their work environment disability friendly.

When South Africa became a democracy more than 20 years ago, new laws aimed at addressing various inequalities in the country were legislated. One of them was the Employment Equity Act, which ensured that people living with disabilities were provided equal employment opportunities in the workplace.

Even though government has put measures in place to ensure that persons with disabilities are not discriminated against, not all companies have implemented changes needed to accommodate persons with disabilities.

A 2014 study conducted by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Development in Africa found that 68% of South Africans who are living with a disability and are of working age have never attempted to find employment.

Most companies find it challenging to implement the changes needed to make the work environment disability friendly. Trial and error is mainly utilised or a one size fits all approach which is not suitable for different types of disabilities.

The Fasset Disability Toolkit for the finance, accounting, management consulting and financial service industries found that 2.2% of employed persons with a disability had left their organisation. Further investigation into the reasons employees were leaving the workplace included inequality in the workplace and the environment not being adapted to accommodate disability.

Making the work environment disability friendly

To ensure that your organisation is able to accommodate persons with disabilities, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Is my environment compliant to the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act for the use of persons with disabilities?
  • Can I accommodate individual disabilities, i.e. provide customised reasonable accommodation per disability that an employee may have?
  • Are the teams the employee will be working with equipped on how to relate to a person with a disability?
  • Are there no barriers to opportunities within the workplace e.g. promotions, advancement in careers, etc.
  • Does my human resource development strategy include employment of persons with a disability?
  • Do I have an on-boarding process on employment of a person with a disability in the workplace?
  • Does my environment promote open disclosure of any disability?
  • Is there a process of matching persons with disabilities to jobs suited to their ability, work capability and interest?
  • Does my Health and Safety policy take into consideration employees within my environment with disabilities? Free from hazards and with evacuation processes in place.

It’s also important for an organisation to have employment equity policy in place that supports persons with disabilities. This can include information that is required when recruiting a person with a disability, retention and promotion plans for persons with disabilities and the creation of universal accessible environment for persons with a disability.

It’s also important for a company to ensure that the whole organisation is equipped and sensitised on various disabilities, as this would help in the promotion of equal opportunities.

As Alexander Forbes Health, we advise organisations on the accommodation and management of persons with disabilities in the workplace.

The Department of Labour also provides a guide on the implementation of the Employment Equity Act, which can help companies ensure that they are not falling foul of the law.

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