Making Workplace Disability Solutions work
By Sylvia Mohale, CEO, Grow People Partners
Published in Vol 35, No. 6 of People Dynamics, the magazine of the Institute of Personnel Management
There is a wide range of disabilities, not all of which are being declared in the workplace. Those who choose not to declare are often held back by fear of being isolated, discriminated against or victimised, and this is particularly true about the less obvious challenges, including neurological conditions. Managers may see employees struggling to cope at work, and be forced to ‘performance-manage them out of the organisation’ without determining the real issues.
Business leaders and HR managers do well to stay vigilant to such cases.
Sensitively drafted company policies and compulsory diversity education can create a conducive environment for employees to open up about their challenges. This further gives the organisation an opportunity to make necessary plans or adjustment to accommodate the needs of all employees, including those living with not-so-obvious disabilities, before an embarrassing moment untenable to the organisation and detrimental to the employee may occur.
Disability occurs through accidents, diseases, wars and as a result of a genetic disposition.
There are some evolutionary changes happening in relation to disability in South Africa. Existing structures and support measures for people with disabilities are being challenged, and rightfully so. Whilst we have made progress in redressing past inequalities regarding race and gender equity we are currently lagging regarding the effective integration of individuals with disabilities into all aspects of society. This applies particularly to individuals with physical disabilities.
Work of decent quality is the most effective means of escaping the vicious circle of marginalisation, poverty and social exclusion. People with disabilities are frequently trapped in this vicious circle and positive action is needed to assist them in breaking out of it. Barriers which disabled people face in getting jobs and taking their place in society can and should be overcome through a combination of policy measures, regulations, programmes and services.
The South African workplace, therefore, has a key role to play. However, it has been observed that when an attempt is made at integrating individuals with disabilities, the approach is not holistic and tends not to consider all the facets of a truly integrated disability management solution. This results in a haphazard approach; a lack of sensitivity and appropriate accommodation; discomfort amongst the workforce regarding day to day interaction with individuals with disabilities; a lack of development programmes and a resultant lack of career progression opportunities. The effect of this being stagnation or a high level of turnover of individuals with disabilities.
Three of the key building blocks of a successful programme are a thorough initial assessment of the capabilities and needs of the prospective employee with a disability, modification of the physical environment – which can be done in a simple and cost effective manner – and sensitisation of management and staff.
While an organisation may attempt to attract a person living with a disability, it is insensitive and inhumane to hire the person purely to meet BEE targets.
Every prospective recruit needs to be considered for his or her abilities not for disabilities. In helping the organisation meet their equity targets, GPP focuses executives on what each person brings into the organisation, and advises on how proper integration can be effected. The point is for people living with disabilities to be and to feel part of the organisation, and not isolated due to their inabilities.
While most organisations may welcome giving an opportunity to people with disabilities to work on their premises, practical operational restrictions may place this out of reach. In such cases, the organisations may wish to adopt a facility or fund a project that supports people living with disabilities, and schedule times for employees to pay a visit to the establishments to gain understanding of their challenges and build empathy as an organisation.
We have a smorgasbord of disability solutions available. Organisations can select all to implement a best practice solution or select one or two and add to them over time.