10 July 2014 – Embracing difference is key to successful diversity management. South African companies need to look beyond stereotypes created by social organisation, to unlock the inherent talent in people with disabilities in the workplace.
This is according to Sharon Bard, Diversity Manager at Progression, a company that helps both people with disabilities and employers create an empowered and diverse workplace.
“In a country that theoretically embraces difference through various legislation, there are still so many barriers that surround people with disabilities and their career advancement,” says Bard, who has over 20 years’ experience in the field of Sustainable Management of Disability in the Workplace.
“The barriers don’t lie with the person who has a disability,” she explains, “but rather with the attitudes constructed around our social organisation.”
Social organisation — how a business thinks, feels, behaves
The social organisation of a workplace is the way the business operates around people. Its construction is reflected in its values, policies, procedures and behaviours.
“The social organisation of a business can either be inclusive or exclusive of diversity and disability,” she says. “If we are prepared to reflect over the social organisation of our companies, we will see we have the power to revert the focus from the impairment of the person with a disability to where it actually belongs—to the changes that can be made to accommodate this person.”
Often too much emphasis is placed on the impairment of the person with the disability, Bard goes on to say, rather than focusing on the impairment in the social organisation of a workplace. “It is commonplace to attach abilities and limitations to a diagnosis as opposed to exploring individual abilities and limitation,” she says.
Bard cites some common examples of misguided client requests, such as –
- Please send us people who use wheelchairs because we’re opening a new call centre.
- We have a perfect job for someone who is deaf.
- This job has high stress levels, so please don’t send us people with epilepsy.
“These are unfair limitations based simply on the diagnosis as opposed to identifying individuals who are able to perform the inherent requirements of the job,” she stressed. “The learning here is that the disability does not do the job—the individual does. “
As part of on-going awareness and sensitisation in the workplace, Bard runs interactive and intensive workshops for South African businesses. The workshops focus on assisting management teams, so that they will be better equipped in their departments to follow the Best Practice approach.
The concept of reasonable accommodation as defined in the Employment Equity Act is designed to provide a fair non-judgmental, accessible mechanism to explore the possibilities which exist within a business, with the view on minimising the barriers and focussing on the skills and value of individuals.
“Through the implementation of Best Practice, companies can foster and facilitate accessible, fair and non-discriminatory environments,” Bard says. “In this way, they will be better equipped to manage the talents of people with a disability.”