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Disability and CSI

Brussels Sprouts and Sleeping Giants

Investment paradox

There is little doubt that disability, globally and locally has been a significant recipient of social and corporate investment attention for generations. Even in South Africa, added up, all investment, funding, donations, contributions and charity directed toward Disability would certainly amount to a fortune. But how humanly connected and conscious are we to either the source of our attention or the end results and fruits of our financial efforts?

Can we truthfully say we understand and appreciate the realities of Disability - either as an isolated phenomenon or in the context of its existence in society? Are we sure, how and how appropriately our benefactions are being used? Can we track and identify the connection between "investments" made and results achieved in Disability empowerment?

If we pause long enough to consider these questions, we may discover that in fact very little is understood about Disability and particularly its relationship with public, private and social society.

So what if this is true? Is it enough then to keep glibly providing funding and resources to an endless stream of unconnected, often unsustainable organisations and initiatives, most of which having no affiliation to a unified perspective of Disability empowerment and integration but rather which have only narrow and individual institutional survival in mind?

Invisible goalposts

Do we really know what we are aiming for in terms of Disability empowerment and integration, and are these in fact our goals? Institutions "representing"" Disability, referred to as the Disability Sector and assumed to be the custodians of persons with Disabilities (PWDs), is a veritable archipelago of NGOs, NPOs, institutions, societies, trusts, foundations, workshops, rehab centres, schools, associations and so on. Individually and amongst some groups, their output and efforts cannot be faulted, and much is owed them. However, often, lack of communication, egocentric management and archaic methodology cause them to be inefficient and compromised in their isolation.

Basically, they can be clustered and associated with 5 principal Disability Groups: the Blind, Deaf, Physically Disabled, Mentally Disabled and Epileptic. But all have one thing in common: they are all delving into the same funding resource pool, thereby increasing levels of competition and division between them. At the same time relatively few have appreciated the need to adapt to a rapidly changing funding culture.

But most alarming about the Sector is that it is essentially rudderless, with no cohesion or unification ability demonstrated to date. However, recently, a more insistent current of change and action has become discernable. There is a tenacity of spirit amongst the periphery and less institutionalised roleplayers of the "sector". This sentiment is unique in that it is cross-sectoral, and absolutely united in the belief that Disability is still far behind when it comes to human rights, equality, employment equity and citizenship - in short the very cornerstones of the democracy we have celebrated for 10 years. This increasingly vociferous and growing voice may very well provide the rudder to guide Disability toward an achievable and unified end result: the natural and unhesitant integration of Disability into mainstream, i.e. private, public and commercial society.

Going Back to Basics

To attain that goal, we need to understand and appreciate where Disability has come from, and for the most part still resides. This is imperative and key to both the problem and the solution. The truth is, that little is known about the realities of Disability and its impact personally, commercially and in society.

Why is this important?

Why is it such a paradox, sparking reticence and attention at the same time? Despite everyone agreeing that Disability is an undeniable disadvantage, few are prepared to really go into too much depth about how to address the imbalances peculiar to disability, that occur in all aspects of society. In all fairness, these imbalances have been highlighted and challenged to some extent by mechanisms such as The Employment Equity Act and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. How successful are these mechanisms? Is it important enough? Are there not bigger fish to fry in South Africa?

Meeting Disability

The answer is that not nearly enough is known about Disability to make informed decisions that might affect and implicate (or not) disability. This in itself shouldn't be surprising, if we reflect on how few people have actually worked side by side with a Person with a Disability. Or how many of us attended school or university with learners with Disabilities?

We already know the answer to be very few people. The significance of this question is that these are the most socially interactive times of our lives. If most people aren't likely to meet, interact with and know people with Disabilities at that time when else will it happen? Despite being a considerable segment of the population, numbering between 10 and 15%, disability is still regarded as something of an oddity and novelty in the commercial world.

Brussels Sprouts of Equity

As a net result this "out of sight" existence of persons with disabilities, has led to a largely "out of mind" attitude amongst people. This in turn results in wholesale ignorance and often a lack of consideration of the realities of a natural universal phenomenon. Instead, a whole subculture of myth and stereotype and simplification surround and replace the facts and truth. It is in this climate of foggy and dubious knowledge that economic South Africa has to regard the exiled child of Employment Equity.

What is surprising is how seldom the personal factor is appreciated. There is an undeniable possibility that Disability could either gradually or instantly affect anyone's life or the lives of those near them. This makes Disability uniquely personal and individual in diversity terms. If this were better appreciated much of the resistance to Disability Rights, access and commercial activity would be overcome. In reality however, this is rarely taken into account and we are left in our highly equity conscious country, with disability being a bit like the Brussels Sprouts of equity, the stuff you leave till last on the plate, and if you can get away with it you will leave it altogether.

A Reality Check

Notwithstanding the formidable battery of non-discriminatory legislation and policies, guidance structures towards good governance and corporate citizenship and even social investment initiatives such as the Social Responsibility Index, the reality of Disability in South Africa is a mystery, and relatively unchanged from the state it was in before 1994.

    Disability remains the most disadvantaged of all minority groups in South Africa.

  • In world terms, Disability affects between 10 and 15% of a population. In SA, we are affected by significant negative contributors and are certainly closer to 15% than to 10%. These contributors include:
    • Very high preventable blindness rates, due to Glaucoma and Cataracts.
    • Very high rate of Diabetic amputations.
    • The highest FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) rate in the world, leading to borderline mental retardation and severe learning difficulties.
    • An extremely high violent crime rate, frequently leading to a vast variety of Disabilities.
    • Exceptionally high motor vehicle accident figures which account for significant numbers of PWDs.
    • And most controversial of all: HIV/AIDS. Although the jury is still out as to when and whether HIV or IDS becomes a disability, it cannot be denied that it has significant Disabling connotation.
  • Unemployment is at no less than 95%. The Department of Labour is struggling to assess precise numbers of PWDs who are employed. We have no choice but to conclude that according to Employment Equity figures, disability appears to be almost entirely unemployed, exceeding 99%. However, current research suggests that although unemployment figures are unacceptably high, lack of disclosure is also high implying that in fact more PWDs are employed than is apparent. In addition, the informal sector certainly absorbs economically active PWDs, and these numbers are impossible to track.
  • Education for Disability is compromised because the majority of Children with Disabilities are unaccounted for (according to a white paper on inclusive education). Most are vulnerable to stereotypic guidance at Special Schools. There is still a marked resistance, often due to a crude perception that including learners with disabilities into mainstream schools is unaffordable or extremely difficult, leading to little or no access to mainstream facilities.
  • The net result is the vast majority of People with congenital Disabilities of employable age are unskilled. This is exemplified by the fact that there are hardly any PWDs at tertiary and FET (Further Education and Training) institutions.
  • Employment opportunities remain extremely limited and narrowly stereotyped. There is overwhelming evidence that the majority of PWDs are employed at lower level positions even those who have long service and are over-qualified for the posts they occupy. Typical positions offered to and occupied by PWDs predictably include telephony, reception, clerical, administrative, call-centres.
  • Wide-scale physical inaccessibility is the norm. Despite the clear requirement of accessibility in the National Building Regulations, the majority of public offices, recreational facilities schools, social and hospitality institutions, public transport and business premises are inaccessible. In contrast with the situation in South Africa, there is almost frenetic activity in more developed countries towards rectifying and eradicating inaccessibility for PWDs.
  • Disability remains largely unrepresented in Employment Equity activity in corporate South Africa.
    • How many organizations don't have any form of EE strategy at all, or have only just begun, let alone a strategy to include Disability and this despite the EE Act being with us since 1998. In addition, equity compliance or at least significant progress is expected to be shown by October 2005.
    • How often do EE forums or committees still consider Disability at the lowest levels of employment, although they insist that Race and Gender must be accommodated at all levels of the organization?
    • The tendency to highlight and select certain jobs to be performed by (certain) Disabilities, rather than attracting PWDs to apply openly for all positions they are in fact competent to perform.
  • The business case for Disability integration is almost completely overlooked. There is ample compelling evidence that when a PWD is acknowledged as an equal citizen contributes as equally to the economic prosperity of the community. The following illustrate this:
    • Americans with Disabilities who are employed earn $1 Trillion and have a disposable income of $250 billion. How much disposable income do South Africans with Disabilities have to spend?
    • American tourists with Disabilities spend $4.8 Billion a year traveling. Why is it that they do not come to South Africa, despite SA being pride of place on the tourist map?
    • What potential could be unleashed from a hitherto limited sector of society, numbering no less than 5Million persons?

Waking the Sleeping Giant

When one considers this reality of Disability within the context of social, political and economic reform in South Africa of which we are so proud, it is easy to see why Disability's empowerment, inclusion and freedom must be inevitable. Need it be a slow and bitter struggle, full of resentment, inequality and economic repression? Or can the process of Disability inclusion be facilitated and even enhanced? The former is becoming apparent from the growing number of grievances, law suits and media campaigns. This tendency is likely to increase in rapidity and intensity. Inclusion on the other hand, invokes unlimited potential for investment, participation, support and partnership in the pursuit of an attainable goal: natural and unhesitant integration of Disability into all aspects of society. Which option makes greater business sense?

Identifying Goal Posts, Return on Investment and Achievable Outcomes.

What can we do to render this situation more appealing and more relevant as a political, economic and societal need? How can we prevent our efforts from being reactive and ad hoc?

We need to have a look at the whole, focus on the facts and identifiable issues to narrow the goal posts. At the same time it is imperative to look for the return on investment, thereby preventing wasteful and isolated activity. Having a narrowed perspective of the realities of Disability will give us a focused view on the barriers preventing Disability inclusion. Once identified these barriers can be systematically and effectively removed, thereby ensuring achievable and sustainable outcome.

Getting to work

Following is a table of examples to illustrate the association between Barrier identification and Barrier removal, through strategic and goal oriented social investment toward the sustainable and achievable outcome of Disability integration.

Realities of Disability Barrier to Integration Sustainable Solutions created by Corporate Social Investment Achievable Outcome
High numbers of Disability in SA 10 - 15% of population High rates of: Preventable blindness Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Motor vehicle accidents. Violent crime. Diabetic Amputations. Investing in: Eye clinics, assessment centres, mobile surgery units. Diabetes awareness and management. Fighting crime: CCTV observation, High jack training, illegal gun destruction. Road safety: Advanced driving license incentives. Fewer Blind Less incapacity and Disability through Diabetes. Lower urban crime - fewer serious injuries leading to Disability. Better driving. Safer roads, fewer accidents. Less Disability Fewer insurance claims. Lower burden on State
High unemployment Poor understanding of the potential and capabilities of Disability. Disability awareness education. Career guidance. Skills development. Learnerships More PWD employment. Improved EE compliance. Fewer disability grants. Higher PWDs disposable income. More representative Diversity reflected. Greater consumer power. More income tax collected.
Compromised education Lack of access to education for Children with Disabilities. Poor resources at Special Schools. Stereotypic career guidance at Special Schools. Limited access to mainstream education. Invest in resources for Special Schools. Encourage disabled access to mainstream schools: address physical access problems and additional resources needed. Open career opportunities. Bursaries. More PWDs receive education. Broader career guidance/opportunity. More PWDs in mainstream schools. Greater acceptance of PWDs in society. More skills for PWDs. Better job opportunities.
General physical inaccessibility Perception that Access is expensive. Badly executed accessible initiatives. Lack of appreciation of why Access is necessary. Conduct professional access audits - to plan and budget changes. Encourage access to allow Disability to be a viable consumer. Invest in accessible public transport. Greater PWD access to public, private and social facilities - increases spending. Good access benefits all people. Increased PWD tourism. Accessible public transport allows greater employability. Equality for PWD as citizens.

Clearly, it is not possible to provide all the answers, nor should we attempt to here. These examples only brush the surface of ideas and opportunities that abound in the highly complex and inexact field of Disability integration preparation and support.

The key is not to ask, "how should we do this?" but rather to ask ourselves, "why we should do this? This way we can appreciate the reality that is Disability at a more personal, societal and commercial level, to give this unique aspect of diversity the respect and honour it deserves, and that way reach an achievable and sustainable outcome.

Jeremy Opperman
February 2008