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Human Capital

Employment Equity


Nicky Bezuidenhout from eDeaf and Lesa Bradshaw initially met as their roles

overlapped in the disability space. They met as competitors operating in this

space, but it was not long before they became allies driving inclusion in the

disability space. Following the launch of the Online Disability Inclusion Network

(ODIN), their collaboration in the space allows them as one formidable force to

drive disability inclusion in a meaningful way.

My friend Lesa Bradshaw has spinal muscular atrophy and is possibly one of the funniest people I know. She has a self-deprecating

sense of humour, which always gives me a reason to smile. Lesa is a consummate professional, an academic, disability inclusion

expert, international speaker, business owner, TEDx speaker; the list goes on. She uses a motorised power chair that allows her to get

from A to B, in most situations, with relative ease. Although her chair allows for motorised movement, I failed to realise that there are

barriers to entry, most of which are environmental but followed closely by attitudinal ones. However, primarily unintended, they remain

prevalent in the everyday life of persons with disabilities. To elaborate, I will highlight real situations facing persons with disabilities from

the perspective of their attending a client meeting and corporate function, facing challenges in the workplace and attempting to get an

essential document signed and stamped by a Commissioner of Oaths.

The client meeting

A couple of months ago, Lesa and I met a potential client at a large office park in Umhlanga to ascertain their recruitment needs,

specifically for persons with disabilities. We approached the client’s expansive foyer and I clip-clopped over the ceramic floor in my high

heels while Lesa glided towards the reception desk in her power chair with the touch of a button.

Their impressive foyer, of course, had an equally impressive reception counter, with a well-groomed

receptionist perched at a table high enough to gently rest my weary arms as I filled out the visitors’

register. I looked over my shoulder; then, my eyes moved down to see Lesa at a disadvantage as she

was not immediately visible to the lady manning the reception area.

She is well accustomed to such environments, so she made her

presence known. So that the receptionist did not have to exit her

workstation, I passed Lesa the obligatory register on the clipboard

to sign in. The receptionist smiled uncomfortably, in a way that I

recognise due to often communicating in Sign Language. I cringed

inwardly as Lesa’s abilities far outweigh my own, but “disability”,

specifically in this instance, seems to be the thing people see first.

The smiley receptionist gestured to us to make our way to the meeting

room. I effortlessly slinked my way through the turnstile and to the lift.

However, for Lesa, the task was not as simple. She had to flag down the

security guard so he could use his access card to let her enter through a

separate, wider entrance to accommodate her power chair.

The journey in the lift was thankfully uneventful. We arrived at our next reception area and accepted the offer of a

cup of coffee. As we finished the last few sips of our caffeine hit for the morning, Lesa said, “please take my cup

from me before people start dropping coins into it!”

Down to business, we entered the boardroom, and the meeting started. The Human Resources Manager joined

us. Lesa and I began our well-orchestrated pitch on the inherent benefits of and the employment equity needs

for employing persons with disabilities. The Human Resources Manager then explained that the organisation’s

policy for entry-level positions had a minimum requirement of a matric with maths and science. I inquired as

to what sort of entry-level positions he was referring to. “Pickers and Packers,” he said assertively. I suddenly

became acutely aware that I was not deemed competent enough to work as a Picker or a Packer in this

organisation. Although I have a bachelor’s degree, I do not qualify for any

position in this organisation, as science is a pre-requisite.

Shocked, I asked if he would reconsider this requirement, as the role of

picking and packaging is a visual one, whereby a matric with maths and

science would not intrinsically qualify a person for this role, as it would

another role like that of a doctor. His body language indicated a firm “no”.

I must have tuned out after he muttered uncomfortably about “lowering

the standard”, “Human Resources processes that can’t change”, and

“it’s always been this way”.

The corporate event

A while later, I had the opportunity to invite Lesa to a launch event. I could not wait to show her the wheelchair

friendly bathrooms and the access ramp from the parking area. After I had shown her what I believed were

appropriate accessible facilities, she graciously told me that the toilet door mechanism was entirely too

heavy to push open, the stability bar was too high, as were the mirror

and hand dryer.

I blushed then ushered her towards the ramp to access the function

room on the first floor. At the bottom of the ramp were stairs that felt

like they had appeared that morning, and I was suddenly seeing them

for the first time. I offered to carry her up the fiendish stairs, which felt

so pathetic when I said the words out loud, but I was honestly clutching

at straws at this point. “It’s fine,” she said. “I can just stay here on the

ground floor, and you can throw cupcakes down to me!” She winked

at me, and I died a little inside. Then off she sped with a chuckle and a

wave in her fit-for-purpose vehicle.

The challenges in the workplace

John is a Deaf man employed at a large corporate in Johannesburg. His role is admin related, and much of his

time is spent data capturing. As a recruit, keen to make a good impression, he arrived at work in the early hours

of the morning to get a jump on his day. Unbeknown to him, his eagerness to access his workspace triggered

an activated security beam which set off a loud siren. The alerted security guard quickly entered the building,

spotted the recruit, whose work station faced the wall, and shouted to the Deaf man from a safe distance to

stop what he was doing and identify himself. Determined to prove his worth, John continued to tap feverishly

at his keyboard, shuffled the papers on his desk and opened his desk drawers, unfazed and unaware of the

security risk he was posing.

The security guard believed John was a hacker and called for backup, as he

did not surrender when the security guard told him to. John was oblivious

of the impending seriousness of the situation, as an armed response team

presented itself. Finally, the guards’ movements alerted him, and he was as

surprised as anyone at the commotion. In fact, he too was looking for the

bad guy, not realising it was him!

The certification gone wrong

Shubnum, who is Deaf, is the office manager at e-Deaf. During the Covid

restrictions, she needed to get documents certified by a Commissioner of

Oaths, so she took them to her local police station. When it was her turn,

she approached the counter and indicated she was Deaf by tapping her

ears and gesturing for pen and paper to write down why she was there.

The officer ignored her and tapped his colleague to assist her. Shubnum

presented her paperwork and gestured she needed the documents to be

stamped and signed. The second officer looked surprised and asked her

a series of questions that she could not answer. Again, she indicated she

was Deaf. A third officer approached her and started rudely gesturing his

hands in mid-air, mockingly, shrugging his shoulders and talking behind his

Covid mask. Unfortunately, traumatised by her treatment, she burst into

tears and left the station without having her documents certified.

The Challenge: is it a reality or perceived?

For many organisations, the short-term focus of driving their

disability inclusion agenda has been sourcing talent with a

disability to achieve Employment Equity objectives. There is

pressure to find such talent from a small pool of candidates

who meet the demographic profile, skills set and experience

necessary, which is not easy in a currently-inaccessible world.

Human Resources practitioners are under pressure to address

potential ‘disabling’ barriers in an economy that places little

value on the perceived contributions that persons with

disabilities can make. Furthermore, business leaders struggle

to keep the boardroom’s commitment to include disability

as a priority in a sea of other business concerns that impact

profitability and success.

Unfortunately, disability inclusion continues to wax and wane

as organisations ensure that the talent pool of persons with

disabilities never empties. Barriers to accessing equitable

education and economic participation are two barriers that

remain unchallenged; however, if addressed could provide a pool

of untapped talent. In a nutshell, supply doesn’t match demand.

Common practice surrounding disability inclusion in the

workplace does not always translate to good business sense!

The following three points in question illustrate this.

1 To meet their Skills Development targets, organisations

decide to upskill persons with disabilities. In making this

their core focus, they take their eye off the ball. In other

words, they have skills interventions that do not make

good business sense. For example, does it make good

financial sense to spend money on building skills that a

business simply does not need? Why would one pay for

a skills intervention to train people to drive a truck if that

skill is not necessary for the daily running of a business? In

other words, why are organisations investing in learnerships

and skills programs for persons with disabilities which do

not align with the skills they need to employ? In theory, an

organisation will yield a return on their investment if they link

their skills intervention to skills they intend to employ. More

often than not, not doing this leaves persons with disabilities

feeling like a hunted tax rebate with no link to opportunities.

2 Generally, organisations create or sustain practices,

environments or products that exclude access to a fair

percentage of their customer base, of which 3.4 billion fall

within the disability network. Interestingly, organisations design

products that support the Paralympics but fall short in offering

accessible services for persons with disabilities and have an

under-representation within their workforce.

For example, a bank develops an account whereby proceeds

support sport for persons with disabilities. However, a customer

with a disability of that same bank would have barriers to

access. Wheelchair users have challenges navigating around

a bank. Deaf People and those sight impaired, due to a lack of

capacity at the bank, would have to arrange to take someone

with them to do financial transactions, thus inadvertently losing

their financial independence. Why would an organisation invite persons with disabilities as customers when they do not have

the staff, infrastructure, or technology to support them?

3 The final shortfall occurs when a position opens. Does

management as routine articulate a person’s hair colour, weight

or religious persuasion as a requirement for a job? No, they

do not. An organisation advertises the position based on the

skills it needs. So why do organisations identify a position for

persons with disabilities without taking the skills necessary into

account? Essentially, by doing this, an organisation is deciding

what functions are suitable to persons with disabilities before

taking the necessary skills requirement into account. Hence

these positions are not varied or diverse ones. Therefore, why

are persons with disabilities only employed in positions that

organisations specifically earmark ‘disability friendly’ ones?

What is the best practice solution?

‘Best practice’ basically amounts to ‘good business practice’. Therefore, organisations should consistently align their efforts to harness

accessible, inclusive and equitable skills that incorporate the skills they need to operate their businesses. Enabling tools, instilling confidence

and providing appropriate knowledge to persons with disabilities will yield a return on investment. Organisations must recognise the intrinsic

value of this marginalised demographic in their workforce, customer base and supply chain. All business strategies seek a growing customer

base and brand loyalty, so where is the business sense of excluding the 3.4 billion people belonging to the disability network? It is all about the

basic principles of equity, dignity and respect.

In conclusion, organisations must intentionally educate, challenge stereotypes, shift perceptions and remove barriers through focused training,

entrenched messaging by consistently creating internal and external awareness initiatives. The aim should be to attract all talent and reap the

rewards of innovation, increased productivity and a motivated workforce that includes all diverse needs as standard practice

10 - Remember the Basic Principles Equity, Dignity & Respect
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