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A BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE ON DISABILITY

Forward to the "Best Company to work for" publication 2005
Published by Corporate Research Foundation

By 2005, employers, including the Government have to file compliance or failure in the most underestimated and misunderstood aspect of our country's transformation process: Disability Equity. Unlike race and, to a lesser extent, gender, disability has been inadequately addressed in terms of the designated groups highlighted within the Employment Equity Act (EEA).

Much energy has been spent on attempting to decode this mystery that is Disability. Several key mechanisms were created to aid employers in trying to increase the employment levels of Persons with Disabilities. These include:
The Integrated National Disability Strategy. (1997) In conjunction with our very progressive Constitution, forms an in depth, overarching policy document,
The Code of Good Practice on Disability (2002) was released to answer the technical definition of Disability offered by the EEA. Following this;
The Technical Assistance Guide (TAG), (2003) which sought to unpack and clarify many of the issues touched on by the Code.

These policies, codes and guides, together with sophisticated legislation (such as the EEA and Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act), should provide foundations upon which to facilitate the natural and unhesitant integration of Disability into society.

However, the reality is very different, and one that is relatively unchanged from the past even prior to 1994. Despite the formidable battery of non-discriminatory legislation and policies, Disability remains the most disadvantaged of minority groups in South Africa. ? Unemployment is at no less than 95%. ? Education is compromised, with the majority of Children with Disabilities unaccounted for, and the balance prone to stereotypic guidance and having little or no access to mainstream educational facilities. ? The net result is the vast majority of People with Disabilities of employable age are unskilled. ? Employment opportunities remain extremely limited and narrowly stereotyped. ? Wide-scale physical inaccessibility, unlawful dismissals and discrimination are commonplace. ? Disability remains unrepresented in Employment Equity forums and committees around corporate South Africa.

The reason is simple: there is not enough known about Disability, due to its invisibility in all walks of life, despite useful guidance material available.

This paradox becomes clear, if one considers the limited focus that has been given to disability with regard to employment, specifically. A broader perspective needs to be taken of the full implication of Disability in all aspects of society: as a potential employee; as a citizen entitled to reside, to be educated, to be employed, or to employ, to enjoy recreation and to be a consumer. Despite the appalling statistics mentioned earlier, this approach would reflect the positive side of the story, i.e. the business case as relates to disability. When commercial South Africa recognises Disability, not as an onerous employment equity task, shrouded in myth, but as a significant economic partner with huge potential, then many opportunities will emerge.

    This is illustrated by taking figures from overseas examples.
  • Of the 49 million Americans with Disabilities, who are employed. Earnings total more than $1 Trillion disposable income of $250 Billion.
  • American tourists with disabilities spend $4.8 Billion annually. (Despite South Africa's tourist claims, few will travel here, given our indifference to Disability.)

The net result of an economically participative disabled community is that human rights, along with consumer and litigious pressure, force governmental and commercial interest. This can be best proved by the stringent requirements for accessibility and equally stringent penalties imposed for non-compliance in developed countries. While increased employment is harder to attain, the increased visibility of disability in all aspects of society, makes this goal that more relevant and attainable.

More attention needs to be placed on universal inclusion of Disability into all corners of society (domestic, recreational, education consumer and employment), South Africans would then be able to see disability in its true perspective. This would also prevent unattainable goal setting, such as the glib commitments made by Government and many employers, that they would achieve at least 2% of their employment quota being made up of Disability by 2005.

Another challenge is the powerfully backed and aggressive wave of Black Economic Empowerment facing the corporate community. This has completely dismissed Disability (and gender) from its goals and ideals. This drive has become prominent legislation (Broad-based Black Procurement Act & BEE) but is patently in conflict with the ideals and stipulations made by earlier non discriminatory legislation such as the Constitution, the EEA and the Equality Act.

4.5 - 5 million people with Disabilities in South Africa are becoming aware of their situation; their potential, the barriers facing them and their rights, business would ignore them at their own loss.

Jeremy Opperman
May 2004