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THE

BEECHAMBER

FEED THE Diversity ECOSYSTEM
SPECIALISING IN SKILLS DEVELOPMENT WITH THE CORE AIM OF UPLIFTING & INTEGRATING. By: Nicky Bezuidenhout

2021

Human Capital

Employment Equity

FEED THE Diversity ECOSYSTEM

SPECIALISING IN SKILLS DEVELOPMENT WITH THE CORE AIM OF UPLIFTING & INTEGRATING.

By: Nicky Bezuidenhout

Nicky Bezuidenhout is the Marketing Manager at eDeaf. Her journey

began 17 years ago while living in the United Kingdom, where she

met a Deaf woman and her husband. Her fascination with their

silent communication encouraged her to interact in a new sphere

of communication, as she had never engaged with a Deaf person

before. Over time she taught Nicky how to use basic Sign

Language. She taught her how to sign the days of the week,

months of the year, family members, including of course the

obligatory profanities. However, her enthusiasm waned, and she

kindly suggested that Nicky take a part-time Sign Language

course. With her new-found passion for Sign Language, she

enrolled in a course. Little did she know that this would be the

beginning of a journey that continues today.

Following three years of mastering British Sign Language,

Nicky qualified as a communication support worker. In 2013,

she returned to South Africa. As British Sign Language and

South African Sign Language are two different dialects of

Sign Language, she had to go back to basics and adapt her

signing to South African Sign Language. In doing this, she

crossed paths with eDeaf, an organisation specialising

in Skills Development with the core aim of uplifting and

integrating the South African Deaf Community into the

national workforce and DEAFinition. This non-profit

company provides a range of services and funding

opportunities to promote equal access to the

workplace for the Deaf community.

The topic of diversity is as vast and as deep as the ocean. While

small pockets of pristine tranquillity and uninterrupted blue waters

certainly do exist, the contrast is true. Polluted, stagnant waters

expose selfishness and disregard for the ecosystem on which our

survival depends.

While the mighty whales can certainly boast ocean ownership,

one needs to bestow recognition on the enormous amounts of

krill and zoo plankton it takes to sustain them daily!

The South African Deaf Community primarily goes unnoticed

in everyday life, so when organisations strive to meet their

employment equity targets and employ persons with disabilities, it

is no surprise that the Deaf Community is not top of mind.

As the Deaf Community is proudly Deaf and communicates

primarily in South African Sign Language (SASL), the word Deaf

must always be written with a capital ‘D’. The reality is, as proudly

Deaf, the Deaf Community does not view itself as impaired,

broken, or in need of fixing.

Did you know that nearly half a million Deaf people across our

nine provinces communicate in SASL? If you err on the side

of the social model of disability, then this linguistic minority

group has a lot to offer. Sign Language, for those not fluent,

should be viewed like any other language a community uses to

communicate with one another, like Zulu, Afrikaans, French or

German. So, linguistics aside, Deaf people are physically able

in every way, highly dextrous, detailed and not easily distracted.

Potential employers would be hard-pressed to find these innate

skills elsewhere. The South African Human Rights Commission

recognises that persons with disabilities can make up a significant

portion of South Africa’s workforce. However, it is necessary

to identify and remove barriers that prevent them from actively

participating in the national workforce for this to become a reality.

Legislation incentivises participation of

persons with disabilities

The target for South African employers is a 2% representation

of persons with disabilities in their workforce. According to the

Commission for Employment Equity report 2021, South African

employers fall short of this target, evidence of which is the current

1.3% representation in the national workforce.

> Persons with disabilities redefined.

When the Employment Equity Act (EEA) amendments are

published, they will redefine “persons with disabilities” as:

“People who have a long-term or recurring physical, mental,

intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with

various barriers, may substantially limit their prospects of

entry into or advancement in employment”.

The amended definition aligns with the UN Convention on

the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It, therefore, shifts

South Africa from the medical model of defining disability to the social one. The aim is to change the physical,

attitudinal and social environment and communication

methodologies to enable persons with disabilities to

participate in society equally.

> Reasonable Accommodation Framework

The National Strategic Framework on Reasonable

Accommodation for Persons with Disabilities was published

on 15th October 2021 as Gazette #45328. It is designed to:

o Explain the implications of reasonable accommodation

support as a fundamental human right;

o Ensure that the reasonable accommodation approach

supports human rights and inclusive development;

o Safeguard that all public and private sector entities

make provision for reasonable accommodation in

service delivery;

o Allow for and support the development of reasonable

accommodation plans as integral components of

Universal Design Access Plans; and

o Facilitate the implementation of programmes or

reasonable accommodation measures, including the

provision of accessible amenities and assistive devices

to persons with disabilities, enabling them to participate

fully in society.

The strategy focuses on the interpretation, objectives and

application of the framework; reasonable accommodation

within the rights perspective; disclosure of requirements;

financing; monitoring and evaluation; roles and

responsibilities, as well as strengthening the legislative

framework. A full breakdown of this framework features on

page 48.

Understanding the Deaf Community

Core to the successful integration of Deaf employees is an

understanding of the Deaf Community and breaking down myths

and stereotypes. Through years of connecting the Deaf Community

to potential employers, a core component has been the intervention

by DEAFinition Sensitisation Workshops. These can take place

if an organisation is not au fait with the Deaf Community before

employment commences.

The sensitisation intervention highlights the difference between

Deaf and hearing cultures. It explores Deaf history, the culture and

basic SASL guidance to bridge the communication gap between

Deaf and hearing employees. Deaf Cultural Liaisons facilitate the

workshops. Each member is adept at crossing the language divide

and enabling participants to look through the eyes of the Deaf. The

process opens minds to the new dimension Deaf employees can

bring to an organisation’s workforce.

Evidence of a lack of knowledge about the Deaf Community and

its abilities is apparent in the questions posed by specialised

recruiters and organisations, which include “how deaf are they?”

or “can they lipread?” It is precisely these myths and stereotypes

that the workshops address.

DEAFinition has unique insight into the Deaf Community and

its ability to succeed, as it is owned and led by Deaf People.

Thus, the team is a prime example that the communication

gap between the Deaf and their hearing counterparts can be

bridged, as the team interacts daily with their hearing clients

through interpreters and online platforms.

Reasonable accommodation

Unfortunately, many potential employers assume that

reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities is

costly. However, the reality is that the integration costs for Deaf

employees are minimal with the support of DEAFinition. These

include, but are not limited to:

> Sensitisation workshops that break down the history

and culture of Deaf South Africans for all employees.

> Site visits to determine visual access to critical information,

which could be as simple as optimal use of a notice board.

> Guide disseminating information and communication

during a meeting.

> In line with safety protocols, introduction of mechanisms

that identify Deaf employees. For example, in a

manufacturing environment, reflective jackets with the

‘I am Deaf’ message could be introduced to alert other

employees to communicate face-to-face.

> Advice on who to inform that there is a Deaf person in

your environment.

> Implement a buddy system in case of emergency

evacuations.

> Adding a flashing light to a siren system for emergency

evacuations.

> Access to interpreters for interviews, first-day onboarding,

team-building activities, and any matters related to

grievances or disciplinary hearings. Deaf people must

follow the same procedures as their hearing colleagues

for such issues.

> Ongoing monthly support when appropriate

to the circumstance.

> Support for Human Resources to determine what

‘Deaf issues’ are, as opposed to ‘People issues’.

An example of successfully integrating a Deaf person within a

workforce in a manufacturing environment recently came to light.

Following the employment of a Deaf person, safety concerns

were raised as to that person not being able to hear forklifts that

are common in that environment. Subsequent to discussions,

the solution was to upskill the Deaf employee to become a forklift

driver. The Deaf employee’ s training took place in the usual way,

but with the support of DEAFinition SASL interpreters.

Deaf employees will, through their life experiences, bring

diversity into the workforce. Diversity leads to better decision

making and problem-solving.

A benefit is the new perspective a Deaf Employee brings to

a team, which increases creativity, leads to innovation, faster

problem solving and higher employee engagement. Diversity is

like a hydrothermal vent in the ocean floor that regulates global

ocean chemistry and fuels a rich, productive ecosystem. How

is your ecosystem looking for 2022?


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