EWN reports that the United States observes National Disability Employment Awareness Month every October to celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. Disabilities cover a range of mental and physical experiences each requiring various levels of support for the individuals. This shines a light on the importance of employers needing to surround themselves with disability-specific resources. Eyewitness News spoke to the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) on how employers can make workspaces accessible to people with disabilities living in South Africa.

“The employer needs to start by addressing workplace policies. It is advisable to have a policy for disability inclusion and equity which we are happy to assist with. Additionally, it is crucial to re-evaluate all existing policies and ensure they are made inclusive and non-discriminatory,” said the NCPD’s national director Therina Wentzel. Accessing work has not been easy for people with disabilities due to the assumption that disability equates to inability and the perceived costs of employing disabled persons. Employers may also associate disability with absenteeism or low production, but NCPD said this is not the case. “Employers think that it is very expensive to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. This is, however, simply because of ignorance. When employers do consult with us regarding reasonable accommodation for both the employer and employee, it develops insight, and employers generally then embrace reasonable accommodation,” explained Wentzel.

An adjustment made in a system to accommodate or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need is a reasonable accommodation. “The Department of Public Service Administration has developed a very good manual/booklet on reasonable accommodation. Chapter three of the Employment Equity Act which is currently under review gives good guidance in this regard and goes further by providing the Technical Assistance Guideline (TAG) as well as the Code of Good Practice (Dept of Labour),” said Wentzel. People with disabilities have become more active in workspaces, thanks to assistive technologies such as screen readers, braille signage and textured floor mats to distinguish areas of the office to improve navigation.

The advancement of technology does not translate to better opportunities for people with disabilities in workspaces due to discrimination, and the misconception that a disability is synonymous with incapacity or inadequacy. “If employers attend a Disability Equality Training (DET) session, it really opens their minds, and then they realise that investing in human capital benefits the employer, regardless of whether the person has an impairment or not.” Wentzel told Eyewitness News that DET spells out the benefits and rights, as well as the responsibilities, of both employers and employees. “The knowledge of reasonable accommodation assists employers in realising that it’s mostly just a changed attitude or small, inexpensive adjustments that are needed.”

by Palesa  Manaleng

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