Transformation's best kept secret: The benefits of appointing people with disabilities

How having people with disabilities in an organisation improves the bottom line.

The sooner South African organisations realise that the obligation to appoint people with disabilities goes far beyond a moral and legal one, the better off they shall be.

It is no secret that diversity brings about innovation which, in the right hands, can differentiate a company’s niche, becoming an avenue for substantial profits, value creation and shareholder returns. As illustrated in studies conducted by Accenture, in partnership with Disability:IN, companies with more disability inclusion (captured in this research by a Disability Equality Index) achieve 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins, on average.

However, companies have been found to seriously underutilise this critical talent pool for three reasons: a lack of understanding of the scope of talent available; a lack of understating of the potential benefits; and misconceptions around the cost vs. the ROI of disability inclusion.

For instance, imagine the case for a local sports store making available specialised equipment for people with disabilities who make up a portion of the market (consisting of approximately 7.5 percent of the population) that is mostly untapped and showed further innovation by having shop assistants that also have the same or similar disability demonstrating the equipment. By doing this, they would not only access a large portion of the market with accessible income but also offer employment to more than the current 1 percent of the economically active population living with disabilities, that possess a special skill and talent thus making employees with disabilities yet another version of ‘normal’ diversity.

Return on investment

If this is not enough to evoke some thought, the financial benefits and the ROI of disability inclusion might get you thinking.

Government has made an attempt to collaborate with the private sector in order to address disability inclusivity by offering specially funded projects. This means that, throughout the year, the private sector is invited to apply for funding for skills development and upliftment of learners with disabilities. This funding also includes funding for reasonable accommodation. This is on a first-come-first-serve basis and thus should be done as soon as the application window is made available. This further affords companies a 12-month period to incorporate employees with disabilities into their policies, processes and corporate culture. This is a critical time to ensure success in the consultative process because the most important collaboration is that of the employer and the employee, to ensure that reasonable accommodation is both effective and relevant to the employees in particular and the company’s return on investment in general.

Learnerships are a fantastic avenue

Should companies couple this opportunity with learnerships i.e. a learning intervention that comprises of 30% theoretical learning combined with 70 percent work-based experience. The company could enjoy the enhanced benefits stipulated in Sec 12H of the Tax Act which affords the company, additional tax exemptions. For example, 10 learnerships would ordinarily result in a tax savings of R224,000 (10 learnerships at R80,000 tax exemption = R800,000 x 28% company tax). However, if the learnership is specifically for people with disabilities, the tax savings would be as much as R336,000 (10 x R120,000 = R1,200,000 x 28%).

Perhaps something else to consider when sourcing funding for special projects, is that the government has ringfenced 5 percent of its local procurement for suppliers that meet the criteria of designated groups which is more specifically for suppliers with disabilities. This could be a real game-changer when taking into account the real impact of the Amended BBBEE Act as gazetted on 31 May 2019.  Perhaps it would be a good opportunity to empower people with disabilities that have the relevant skillset and experience, to partner with the existing supply chain or better yet, an enterprise and supplier development incubator that lends itself to coaching and mentoring these companies, to deliver quality products and services to the organisation at the level the organisation requires. An estimated improvement of 20 percentage points of the BEE scorecard can be accessed by implementing a strong strategy that empowers people with disabilities. This result in a jump as high two levels on a company's scorecard.

Don't fear the unknown

Companies should be encouraged to look beyond the first learnership for people with disabilities and absorb those learners that show potential. That means doing as much as possible to aid individuals with disabilities to not only feel welcome to speak freely about their disability and experience but also to compete alongside other designated groups to be able to perform well in their roles, allowing individuals to grow within the organisation and encouraging them to add value. 

It is understandable that organisations fear the unknown. However, this is no longer acceptable. There are sufficient experts available to assist an organisation to not only transition from appointing and promoting people with disabilities within their organisation, but to also use this as a competitive advantage by retrieving funds and recovering the costs of doing so. It is time for organisations to take charge, lead by example and reap the rewards of untapped markets with fresh talent that will take organisations to the next level whilst creating further employment.