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Employing People With Disabilities

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Ignorance, fear and stereotypes have led to massive discrimination against people with disabilities in society and in employment. Sadly, this results in people with disabilities experiencing high unemployment levels and, on the rare occasion, where they are able to secure employment, its often in low status jobs where they earn less than average salaries.

Unfair disability discrimination arises from assumptions about the abilities and performance of disabled persons, inflexible organisational procedures and rules and inaccessible information, buildings and transport.

Often the criteria that employers set for recruitment selection excludes disabled people. In many instances, workplaces are inaccessible and training is either non-existent or not suitable for people with disabilities. Where employees become disabled, they are often dismissed for poor performance or incapacity or they resign unnecessarily. Their employers often encourage or coerce them to apply for disability benefits leading to early retirement, where if their needs were reasonably accommodated, they could have continued as productive employees.

Susan Boyle is probably one of the most famous to raise the profile of people with disabilities. Her incredible talent was discovered on the TV programme, “Britain’s Got Talent,”  and she used this platform to raise awareness around people with disabilities. Another such person was Marlee Matlin, winner of the Academy Award for her role as Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God. At the age of 21, she was the youngest performer ever to receive a Best Actress Award, as well as the first hearing impaired person to receive such an honour.

“It was ability that mattered, not the disability”


  • There are approximately 4 million people with disabilities in South Africa, this makes up about 5,03% of the population
  • Skills development forms 20% of the weighting in (DTI) B-BBEE Codes and if carefully planned, can contribute a substantial number of points to the DTI’s codes. The training and development of people with disabilities form a part of this evaluation.
  • Points can be earned for skills development initiatives relating to employees who are part of the “designated groups”, namely; black people, women and people with disabilities.
  • Organisations can capitalise on these financial incentives above plus contribute towards a more inclusive society, and employ a more diverse, socially aware workforce
  • A case study revealed that employees with disabilities worked harder and were more loyal and committed than employees without disabilities. This could be due to the fact that there are less job opportunities for these candidates
  • Companies often over-estimate the cost of implementing reasonable accommodation for disabilities and simple yet effective changes to accommodate disabled employees, were often to the benefit of able-bodied employees as well eg. Pregnant, obese, accident-recovery, diabetics, hypertensives
  • Companies generally experience no major problems inducting new employees into their workforce. The only difference picked up was that it took longer to train some of their new recruits who had learning disabilities

It is important for companies to understand the definitions of “incapacitation” in the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and “people with disabilities” and “reasonable accommodation” in the Employment Equity Act (EEA), before embarking on a recruitment strategy which is specific to employing people with disabilities.

In terms of the EEA, the focus is on the effect of a disability on the individual in relation to the working environment, and not on the diagnosis or the impairment.

Individuals are considered to be “people with disabilities”, when they comply with all of the following criteria:

  • they have a physical or mental impairment
  • which is long-term or recurring, and
  • which substantially limits their prospects of entry into, or advancement in employment
“Reasonable accommodation”

Employers should reasonably accommodate the needs of people with disabilities by adopting the most cost-effective means that are consistent with removing the barriers to job performance. This may be required :

  • During the recruitment and selection process,
  • In the work environment,
  • In the way work is usually done, evaluated and rewarded, and
  • In the benefits and privileges of employment.

Important note: The employer is not required to make accommodation for a qualified applicant or an employee with a disability if this would impose an unjustifiable hardship on the business or employer.

Examples of Reasonable accommodation:
  • Changing existing equipment or acquiring new equipment including computer hardware or software
  • Re-organising work stations
  • Changing training and assessment materials and systems
  • Restructuring jobs so that non-essential functions are reassigned
  • Providing readers, sign language interpreters or allowing the person with a disability to obtain them for themselves
  • Adjusting working time and leave
  • Providing specialised supervision, training and support in the workplace

Disability awareness and sensitisation

It’s important for organisations to implement sensitisation programs for their Able-bodied employees prior to employing Disabled employees into their specific departments. People without disabilities often stereotype people with disabilities. People with disabilities are not handicapped, retarded, deaf and dumb, paraplegic, spastic, but are individuals with disabilities. accommodation

"One of the greatest hurdles disabled people face when trying to access mainstream programs is negative attitudes. It is these attitudes that lead to the social exclusion and marginalization of people with disabilities". (White Paper on Integrated National Disability Strategy, 1997).

Let the experts assist you with your Disabled recruitment strategy and selection process. LabourNet has an intimate understanding of the BBBEE and EE codes as well as access to a large database of disabled candidates. LabourNet is able to assist with a pre-site visit to assess appropriateness of working environment for specific disabilities, as well as conduct sensitisation programs where employers are informed on how to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace.