Re-thinking disability inclusion

How to reverse the trend of excluding disabled persons in the workplace.

Disability Inclusion is rather a hot topic among HR, Transformation and Business Executive stakeholders at the moment, with the pressures of BEE compliance and the attraction of skills development incentives featuring high on the business agenda. Yet, despite the prioritisation of this agenda, statistics reflect little reward for our efforts in terms of the representation of disability as a form of diversity within African organisations.

A recent survey by the World Health Organisation in 51 countries reveals a 52.8 percent employment rate of males with a disability and 19.6 percent for women with a disability. While these statistics reflect the double discrimination faced by women with a disability, the stark fact that should be staring you in the face is how far behind African organisations are in their journey towards equal opportunities and inclusion. Using South Africa as an example,  the 18th Commission for Employment Equity Reports that South African employers report the following dismal results for inclusion of persons with a disability in the meaningfully employed workforce: 

  • Top and senior management, as well as professional occupational levels, reflect 1.3 percent. 
  • Semi-skilled and unskilled occupational levels reflect 0.9 percent.

Overall, since 2015, these results reflect a notable drop in the representation of persons with a disability at all occupational levels. In essence, as employers, we are moving in the wrong direction despite the massively increased focus on achieving compliance. At this point I imagine that many of those reading this article are throwing their hands up in exasperation, asking themselves, “What are we doing wrong? We invest in learnership programmes and spend money on skills development for persons with a disability, so why are we not making headway?” 

The talent is there

There is no doubt that the talent is out there – but the numerous barriers to inclusion continue to prevent access of persons with a disability into permanent careers.

Many organisations have been lured to the dark side of the ‘quick fix' approach as the pressures of compliance loom before us. Scorecard strategies, which include those seen in many outsourced learnership programmes, simulated learnership solutions and segregated off-site learnerships for persons with a disability are detracting from efforts to build more disability inclusive organisational cultures.

While these solutions may present as ‘hassle-free’ solutions to creating an inclusive disability culture, this is not the case in reality, as these solutions move disability inclusion from the ‘transformation’ agenda to the ‘compliance’ one, principally fueled by financial efficiency and favourable B-BBEE scorecard outcomes. 

The result is that persons with a disability are continuously swirling around in a whirlpool of learnerships without gaining any meaningful, relevant work experience. In reality, due to the many exclusionary barriers within the educational and mainstream work and infrastructural environment, there is a relatively small pool of persons with a disability who have qualifications and workplace experience which allows them to access skilled and higher occupational levels of our  workforce. Essentially, for any person with a disability who hopes to access the workforce, they must have a matric, must be able to access inaccessible environments, must be able to use inaccessible transport systems, must have work experience that cannot be gained from ‘quick fix' learnerships, and must know how to compete in an environment which places little work value on disability as an economically beneficial demographic. 

Think outside the box

What organisations need to realise is that to achieve sustainable inclusion and gain the competitive advantage of this untapped talent source, disability inclusion calls for employers to think creatively rather than competitively in their approach to sourcing, developing, empowering and retaining talent with a disability at all occupational levels. It recognises that there are very few resources which support empowerment and inclusion in the disability space, and that a collaborative and committed approach to flexing the way we do things is necessary to pave the way towards sustainable inclusion. Disability inclusion is by no means a ‘quick fix’ solution. It demands a top-driven transformational commitment; it asks employers to move their focus from ‘compliance' to recognising the value that diversity in disability can bring to a business. 

Inclusion can be, and has been, better achieved globally. So there is no excuse for Africa. Our entrepreneurial, tenacious, creative and passionate spirit allows us to survive in business and remain competitive despite many hurdles. In my experience as a business owner with a disability, the advantage of insight into the realities of disability inclusion both practically and strategically has proven invaluable. This has allowed us to develop a model of inclusion that can be applied across different organisational cultures and industries, both nationally and globally. It can be done – but the starting point is to have the right conversation with those professionals who can guide you in a sustainable journey of inclusion which challenge ‘status quo’ thinking and provide creative thinking in the disability inclusion space.  

Lesa Bradshaw is a co-owner of Bradshaw Le Roux Consulting. As a leading specialist in creating inclusive disability cultures at organisational, governmental and societal levels, Lesa combines her professional experience with her journey as a person with a disability, to deliver an impactful message in the value of diversity today. She is a seasoned international speaker on the issue of disability inclusivity. She is the recipient of the 2018 BWA Regional Business Award and the Umyezani Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018.