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Disclosure campaigns and why they fail

The need for support and how this promotes disclosure

As is now well known since earlier this year, all staff need to participate themselves in completing the EEA1 Employment Equity Act forms, as required by the department of Labour... Admittedly, at the time of writing it was mooted by DOL that should anyone not complete EEA1, the relevant line or HR manager could complete it at his or her best discretion.
In the form, employees amongst other things need to establish their own racial group and gender, which ought to pose little difficulty one imagines.

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However, the question, “Do you have a Disability”? is the one that throws most people.

How do I know if I have a disability?

The reason this is a struggle, is that so many people still see Disability in very limiting and narrow terms.
Firstly it is seen usually as other peoples problems, and so it never enters their minds that perhaps an impairment they may have might in fact be disabling
Secondly, Disability is usually seen by people, from their limited experience, in dramatic and extreme forms. I.e. the ubiquitous wheelchair user, The Blind, the Deaf, or The mentally disabled. And, therefore, if I don’t have any of “those”, then I cannot be disabled.

These views have entirely robbed people of any experience or imagination in being able to “relate” to disability in any kind of personal way or with perspective.

The reality is that Disabilities even in the narrow confines of Employment Equity, are not always dramatic or spectacular. And very often the Disability is entirely invisible to others apart from the affected person.

Then a second problem emerges, which is actually the single biggest reason why we have such low disclosure in South African businesses.
The unwillingness to disclose even when we are fairly sure that we in fact do have an impairment that is disabling.
This reticence can be easily attributed to employees being nervous or downright petrified at the idea of others finding out they do in fact have a problem.
Mostly this is due to fear of discrimination or rejection or labeling or actual prejudice.
But it can also show how little is understood about Reasonable accommodation and how disclosing might in fact benefit both the staff member and the employer if an appropriate form of accommodation was employed to assist.

So in all, the net result is that to date we have a stupendously high rate of non disclosure, even by people; that even a blind person could tell have very real disabilities.

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So what is missing?

Much of the non compliance can be attributed to ignorance.
Ignorance about whether an impairment is disabling or not, or ignorance about the law and its protection and relative safety. Or ignorance that in fact with reasonable accommodation, the disabling nature of the impairment may well be addressed and negated, leaving the employee better off due to their disclosure.

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Why is this important now?

With increasing pressure from the Department of Labour; for companies to comply with long standing Employment Equity obligations, and their attempts to increase numbers of Disabled people, , companies are turning to disclosure as a means to “boost” there numbers of perceived undisclosed people lurking amongst their staff compliment.

At the coal face, employees face EEA1, and other related disclosure campaigns. And the exercise invariably fails.
Simply because, without preparation, support and increased awareness; coerced disclosure will never work. Many organizations have wasted far too much money on premature and unsupported disclosure exercises, almost all ending in tears.
In addition, as is very clearly stated in the Code of Good Practice on Employing People with Disabilities, disclosure is not something one can force. Of course at the same time, as is well known, if one does not disclose, then unless the disability is extremely self evident, accommodation cannot be automatically expected.

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The need for Awareness

Firstly awareness raising must be an on going and thorough strategy. There is little point in educating only a few managers or staff, leaving others out. Awareness and sensitization help to inform people about not only the experience of others and to inform participants about technique and best practice, an understanding of the law, definitions, reasonable accommodation, customer service etc; but also assists them in self awareness. After all anyone might have or need to disclose a disability. At the same time, ones seniority in a company does not imply some advanced knowledge or greater understanding of disability, just by dint of lofty rank or higher salary. Managers and executives need to be made aware too.

Secondly, even with a bit of awareness, usually in the form of a workshop, which is invariably too short, more information is likely to be necessary to aid the employee in his or her own query as to whether their particular impairment is disabling or not. Naturally the same applies to support staff, who are expected to assist.

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Kinds of support

Disability Desk

In any organization, Someone or several people need to be more prepared and informed than most others in the company.
This is often some cousin of HR and those identified support people. They must have strong, in depth overall training to be able to field any kinds of questions that might occur. At the same time they need to be able to rely on second tier support themselves if they are stumped for an answer, such as a reliable consultant or members of the Disability sector etc.
(Note; one of the most commonly practiced mistakes is to assume that a person is an expert in Disability simply because they have a Disability. Having a disability in addition to experience or training makes for good Disability Desk representatives, not just the Disability itself.)

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Other support

Intranet support

Many organizations have converted their forms into an IT supported system, including such forms asEEA1.
Using the Intranet to support your queries is a cost effective and time saving device. It is also an excellent way of channeling queries directly toward some designated support facility such as a Disability Desk.

It would anticipate the typical problems experienced by most people when faced with EEA1, and the question about Disability.

The support system would need to provide both factual support information such as the Definition of Disability, but also provide contextual insight into how to understand, interpret and apply the definition.
Also, very importantly it ought to provide examples of exceptions so as to save time, energy and embarrassment later.
If creatively done, this support can double as E-learning and participating staff will leave genuinely better informed, and the EEA1 will be completed accurately.

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Things not to do in intranet solutions.

Using drop down lists to try help identify types of disabilities is a waste of time. There are simply too many kinds of conditions and impairments that may or not be disabling to try and list them all in drop down menus. At best, you will end up with a list in the hundreds, and at worst, you will run the risk of excluding or denying real impairments.
Even a cunningly designed multi faceted drop down solution would be limiting as it is unlikely to provide the flexibility or latitude which is often required to establish if some impairment is indeed disabling.

What is needed is a painfully simple solution that could be easily installed in an intranet support system and that would ensure maximum learning and best potential for disclosure at the same time. These tools do exist and have been shown to work.
Contact Jeremy@disabilitydesk.co.za for more information.

Jeremy Opperman
2010