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THE

BEECHAMBER

COVID-19 & 1 BILLION PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

2021

Human Capital

Employment Equity

COVID-19 & 1 BILLION PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Have you considered the impact that the

COVID-19 pandemic has on persons with

disabilities in your workplace?

Under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities face

marginalisation not only socially and economically, but in terms of

their access to healthcare as well as fair integration into the national

workforce. So, would it be fair to surmise that the COVID-19

pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had a severe impact

on the lives and livelihoods of the world’s 1 billion individuals

in the most marginalised group?

Persons with disabilities are indeed more likely to have health

conditions that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. Other

factors which increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 include,

however, are not limited to:

> Barriers to accessing basic hygiene measures;

> Difficulty in maintaining social distancing due to support

needs or their being institutionalised;

> Barriers to accessing public health information;

> Depending on the type of disability, the need to physically

touch objects to obtain information from the environment

or for physical support.

What are the workplace considerations?

Amongst other things, the World Health Organisation (WHO)

recommends that employers introduce flexible working

arrangements and infection control measures to support

employees with disabilities during the pandemic. Where

possible, such employees should be allowed to work remotely.

Furthermore, they should have technical support to be able to

work remotely, which includes assistive devices typically provided

in the workplace. If remote work is not possible, employees with

disabilities at risk should be afforded the option of extended leave

until the risk of infection is reduced.

Besides, employers should ensure accessibility of workplace

infection control measures, like hand sanitisation stations for

employees with disabilities.

Holistically, all health and safety measures must incorporate the accessibility

needs of employees with a disability, thus lessen infection risks and avoid

unfair discrimination. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has identified

persons with disabilities as a vulnerable group that deserves inclusion at all

stages of an employer’s response to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers

must consider the additional risk factors that impact employees with

disabilities. Prevention measures, which do not create new barriers to persons

with disabilities, must be introduced to address the pandemic. Some of the

considerations proposed by the ILO include:

> Provide workplace information and consultation in an inclusive,

accessible manner.

> An employer should individually address telework, working flexible hours,

or an extended leave option with employees, as not all employees with

disabilities face the same risks. A case-by-case approach is advisable

to recognise the diversity amongst persons with disabilities and address

the employee’s expressed needs.

> In consultation whilst working remotely, reasonable accommodation

measures should be considered and then addressed.

> To avoid stigmatisation and discrimination, employers should offer

mental health support.

> When reviewing on site working arrangements, an employer should

consider accessible environments and reasonable adjustments.

> The training and professional development of employees with disabilities

should continue throughout the crisis. Where viable, employers should

consider re-skilling initiatives for those employees with disabilities who

face the possibility of losing their jobs, in order to secure their

employment. Alternatively, an employer could provide employees with

disabilities with a new skill set so that they stay employed

post-pandemic.

> Employers should remain accountable for hiring, retaining and promoting

persons with disabilities within their business during the pandemic.

The ILO also suggests targeted social protection measures that include, but

are not limited to:

> Increasing disability benefit payments;

> Relaxing administrative requirements to ensure an employee with a

disability can continue to gain access to disability benefits;

> In-kind support like providing food items or home-based support

services; and

> Ensuring that disability-related care services continue throughout periods

of lockdown.

As we advance, countries should work towards inclusive social protection

systems that guarantee income security, provide coverage of disability related costs, as well as ensure access to health care and any required

support service.

What is the response to the impact of the pandemic

on persons with disabilities?

More often than not, persons with disabilities before the COVID0-19 crisis

were already facing exclusion in all areas of the world of work. In contrast

to persons without disabilities, persons with disabilities are less likely to

gain employment or experience appropriate conditions of employment.

Accordingly, persons with disabilities are more active in the informal economy

and more likely to live in poverty. The pandemic and resulting economic

crisis have further exacerbated exclusion, discrimination and hardship

for persons with disabilities. To address this, the UN Secretary-General

has requested a disability-inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Persons with disabilities should be included in the health, socio-economic

and humanitarian global response to it. According to the UN, “we have a

unique opportunity to design and implement more inclusive and accessible

societies” whilst dealing with the pandemic.

Employers should consider a combination of mainstreaming and targeted

measures to secure disability inclusion when dealing with the COVID-19

pandemic. Within the South African context, COVID-19 has not done

away with the right not to be unfairly discriminated against. Employers are

still obliged to appoint, retain, and promote employees with disabilities, as

well as provide interventions to up-skill them. Employment equity legislative

requirements, including numerical goals and targets, have not fallen by the

wayside. Employers must continue to strive to attain the objectives of their

B-BBEE objectives, explicitly with regard to persons with disabilities.

Notwithstanding, businesses managed and owned by persons with

disabilities must be considered for preference in Enterprise & Development

opportunities. Understandably, COVID-19 has put pressure on business and

scarce resources. It has, therefore, more than ever become imperative that

employers consult and work with their employees with disabilities to assess

and redesign an inclusive and sustainable workplace for the future of this

marginalised group What is the way forward for employees with

disabilities?

There are five recommendations to the “Making the Future of

Work Inclusive of Persons with Disabilities” report. which are

now more than ever relevant:

> New forms of work must integrate disability inclusion;

> Skills development and life-long learning must continue,

inclusive of employees with disabilities;

> The principle of Universal Design must be included in all

new infrastructure, products, and services;

> Assistive technologies must be made affordable and

available; and

> Employers must take intentional measures to include

persons with disabilities in growing and developing

the economy.

What should be the base for a ‘new

normal’?

South African employers can play a crucial role in disability

inclusion whilst fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Disability

equity should not be ignored during these difficult times, as

it provides an opportunity to create a ‘new normal’ based on

inclusion. Employers can, and should, continue recognising

persons with disabilities as a source of diversity, talent and

innovation. Together we can create a full inclusive national

workforce


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