Breaking Barriers

Four ways to make your business more inclusive for People with Disabilities

Companies have long been drivers of change. Across the globe, a pivotal shift in attitudes and behaviour towards social injustices starts in business. Diversity and inclusion is one such defining issue and though progress has been made towards equality across gender, race and sexual orientation, one aspect of diversity and inclusion is too often neglected: disability.

According to Sean Sharp, Executive Head of Sales EduPower Skills Academy, South Africa has 3 million people living with disabilities which equates to 7,5% of our population. Yet only 1% of our total workforce are People with Disabilities, far worse than the global average that estimates around 90% of People with Disabilities are either unemployed or outside the workforce.

“It’s a fact that worldwide, People with Disabilities have a far less chance of being employed with similar trends observed in job advancement and security,” says Sean. “But how can this be the case in South Africa when we have a Bill of Rights that outlaw’s discrimination on any grounds, including disability?”

With its strong track record in empowering People with Disabilities, EduPower is an example that every organisation can help redress disability inclusion. Sean shares his top recommendations that leaders can take to improve the situation in their own businesses:

1. Be open to potential employees

Your recruiting and hiring processes need to encourage applicants with disabilities and give them the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths. This starts by understanding the barriers that discourage them from applying for the positions you are advertising; from the application format, online accessibility and even the language used in job descriptions. An open mindset will give your company an advantage when it comes to acquiring and leveraging the talent you need.

2. Accessible workplaces

To retain employees, accessibility and inclusivity must extend beyond the recruitment process. People with disabilities need to feel included in and comfortable with their physical working space and office design needs to take this into account. But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. From flexible work schedules, health promotion programmes tailor-made for those with disabilities, assistive technologies such as text-to-speech,  the concept of “reasonable accommodation” (which comes with tax rebates) exists to allow for modifications that enable employees with a disability to compete on a level playing field.

3. It starts with your People

Disability inclusion will only be successful when you have an inclusive workplace when People with Disabilities feel welcome and comfortable, where they are valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table. To create this environment, you have to remove any attitudinal barriers that may exist for your employees – probably because they’ve never interacted with a person who has a disability. Perceptions are easy to correct through disability training, creating a harmonious work environment that will make a world of difference for everyone.

4. Skills Development is the difference

One of the main reasons that People with Disabilities do not have equal opportunities is the severe lack of skills investment when they are young. Skills development is therefore the single most important instrument to empower People with Disabilities, improve their employability, lift them out of poverty and set them on a path to be economically active. Including learnerships for People with Disabilities in your Skills Development not only impacts the life of a deserving individual, your company will benefit from building a representative talent pool, gain invaluable points for your B-BBEE scorecard and will be able to share the cost of the training through the available tax incentives and rebates.

Sean concludes by saying that a commitment to diversity that encompasses People with Disabilities should not be seen as a chore, it is an opportunity.

“In taking the lead on this issue, your business will not only prosper from a social standpoint, but an economic one as well. Inclusive businesses are a magnet for talent, have a broader customer base, spur more innovation and offer a better quality of life for all.”

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