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The past month was National Disability Rights Awareness Month in South Africa.  This culminated with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd.

Today we take a look at how the South African workplace is faring in the drive to integrate disabled people into the workforce.

The Department of Social Development is responsible for driving the government’s equity, equality and empowerment agenda in terms of those living with disabilities. However the employment of people with disabilities seems to be one of the major employment equity challenges that South Africa is grappling with.

According to Disability Workshop Development Enterprise (DWDE), a Disability Employment Support Service Provider committed to addressing the employment of persons with disabilities in South Africa through passion and innovation, “South Africa is falling behind in the integration of disabled people into the workplace, as its private and public institutions have failed to ensure — as the Employment Equity Act demands — that at least 2% of their workforce is disabled.”

The Commission for Employment Equity Annual Report for 2014 – 2015, states that:

  • Profile at Top Management Level in Terms of Persons with Disabilities: The representation of persons with disabilities has seen a slow increase from 1.7% in 2012 to 2% in 2014 at this level.
  • Profile at the Senior Level in Terms of Persons with Disabilities: Sadly disability representation remained constant at 1.7% between 2012 and 2014, with female representation not even breaking the 1% mark.
  • Profile at the Professionally Qualified Level in Terms of Persons with Disabilities: The increase in the representation of persons with disabilities was slower between 2012 and 2014. The increase mostly benefitted males as they increased by 0.1%, while females remained at 0.5 between 2012 and 2014.

The statistics above show that progress is very slow in this area and that where progress is occurring men tend to be favoured over women.

In a study from Rutgers and Syracuse Universities as reported by the New York Times – 02 November 2015, employers were 26% less likely overall to show interest in a candidate who indicated a disability – that is compared to candidates with the exact same information and experience.

So why is South Africa falling behind? Is it lack of interest? Are there no suitable candidates, or are most workplaces just not ready to integrate disabled peopled?

All targets envisioned in the employment equity legislation have been elusive including race, gender and disability.  There are some similarities and some differences in the challenges of meeting disability targets in comparison to other targets.

In our experience, the following may be some reasons for the lack of implementation of disability targets for employment equity:

  • As in all aspects of transformation, the effective implementation of disability targets requires strong leadership commitment. This commitment may be lacking in some companies.
  • There may be less pressure from stakeholders to implement targets associated with disabilities than race and gender targets.
  • Employers are not focusing enough on creating a culture of inclusion in their organisations in order to ensure that once disabled people, people of colour and women are recruited they stay in the organisation. This often results in a high turn-over of designated groups and little progress in meeting targets.
  • Many employers are not willing to consider changes in infrastructure that is (i.e. putting in ramps, allowing for wheelchair access in toilets etc.) required in order to accommodate disabled people.
  • Lack of education on what people with disabilities are capable of.
  • A lack of focus on the business case for employing people with disabilities.