Letters to the editor – November 2021

November 1st, 2021

PO Box 36626, Menlo Park 0102

Docex 82, Pretoria

E-mail: derebus@derebus.org.za

Fax: (012) 362 0969

Letters are not published under noms de plume. However, letters from practising attorneys who make their identities and addresses known to the editor may be considered for publication anonymously.

Understanding disability in the workplace

As we celebrate National Disability Rights Awareness Month from 3 November to 3 December 2021, it is time to understand disability in the workplace.

Disability is an ever present and real struggle and people with disabilities suffer as the world is developed to cater for able-bodied people, which leaves those with physical challenges battling to make this world work for them. In recent times, policies have been created to force designers and architects to add disabled-friendly features to new developments. On paper this is a step in the right direction, but as with all other policies, the key is in willingness of those in power to see to it that the policies are fully implemented instead of just being a compliance matter. This, among other factors, means that the understanding behind the policy on a piece of paper, is a human being with the capability to add value, but needing an enabling environment and a level playing field. Management of companies must understand that an employee working in an unaccommodating environment is the same as being discriminated against. The employee must first deal with the psychological pressure that comes with feeling and being perceived as ‘different’, and perhaps the view that they are less capable of doing the job. A smart and sensitive employer must also understand that no employee can excel where the playing fields are not level.

The following points are some of the toughest issues faced by disabled persons:

  • Struggling with self-acceptance themselves.
  • Struggling with acceptance from families.
  • Struggling with acceptance at the workplace.
  • Able-bodied persons thinking people with disabilities are slow and shallow.
  • Grouping disability into a single category as if everyone has the same challenges.

Employers and the government need to pay urgent attention to specific and various needs of people living with disabilities to be able to create bespoke solutions for them. These people must be a part of problem-solving instead of having ‘solutions’ imposed on them.

There is a need to have sensitivity in understanding the type and severity of disability. For example, there cannot be the same solution for a blind person, as to a person who uses a wheelchair. Their specific needs are not the same. Even in the sport arena there are various categories for this very specific reason.

Employers need to understand the specific needs of the person with a disability they have employed.

A lot of people living with disability, like everyone else, have the potential to reach the highest level of professional excellence. They must know and feel that the workplace environment sees them as adding value and not just being ‘tolerated’ as a minimum compliance matter. They must develop a positive attitude and show they do not expect pity from colleagues, and they should bring out an internal strength to show they are as good as everyone else once given a proper playing field.

Phumelelisiwe Pearl Mbele is a candidate legal practitioner
at Nkosi Sabelo Attorneys.


This article was first published in De Rebus in 2021 (Nov) DR 5.