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What is seen as a disability in the South African Workplace?

According to Stats SA 7.5% of South Africans are disabled of which women make out 8.3% and men 6.5%. In terms of the work environment, the South African Employment Equity Act protects people with disabilities against unfairness within the workplace. This Act defines a person with disabilities in the workplace as: “someone who has a long term or recurring physical, including sensory or mental impairment which substantially limits their prospect of entry into or advancement in employment.”

When most people think of a disabled person, one automatically presumes someone who is wheelchair bound, deaf or blind, right? But there is a lot more to it. The disability is not just as a result of genetics or disease, but could suddenly be brought onto anyone’s life because of an accident or trauma or even a severe illness. For it to be considered a disability in the workplace it has to limit an employee’s hearing or vision, speech, mobility, or intellectual or emotional function. So what conditions are excluded?

What conditions are not considered a disability in the workplace?

There are many resources that explain the exact types of disabilities and illnesses that qualify as a disability within the work environment. These are only some of the things that are not considered a disability in the workplace:

  • Vision: You are not considered disabled when you wear something like spectacles or contact lenses, unless you have difficulty seeing even with this aid.
  • Behaviour: Sexual behaviours classified as a disorder that are against public policy is not considered a disability.
  • Physical appearances:
    • Tattoos of self-imposed body adornments like piercings etc.
    • Standard variations in height, weight or strength
  • Mental:
    • Any disorders that influence mental or physical wellbeing which are caused by current use of illegal drugs or alcohol unless that person is participating in a recognised treatment programme.
    • Compulsive gambling or tendency to steal or light fires.

How could companies discriminate or handle people with a disability unfairly?

  • Firstly, workplaces which are not easily accessible or are not geared for people with disabilities like a lack of wheelchair access or ablution facilities for the disabled etc.
  • Secondly, there might be insufficient provision made for suitable technical workplace support.
  • Thirdly, companies might highlight certain things that can by default exclude disabled people in their employment criteria.
  • Fourthly, companies might keep disabled employees in low paying and low status jobs.
  • And lastly, they don’t provide adequate training for people with disabilities.

How do you as an Employer confirm if someone classifies as having a disability?

Disability is a very sensitive subject and should be handled accordingly and with the correct processes which are fair as set out by law. If the disability is not clearly noticeable you can request a clinical diagnoses by a registered health professional to determine a long term recurring physical or mental condition. Furthermore, you can explore the social manner in which the person experiences various events or happenings and pinpoint if their reactions or experiences are substantially limiting them.

Whatever your company’s procedures, the management team of any company should undergo Disability Awareness and Sensitivity Training. After attending training your management team will have a better understanding of the variety of disabilities they may encounter and how to deal with this in a sensitive, practical manner. It will help them to overcome the natural fear we may have when we interact with a disabled person and give tips on awareness and etiquette in these situations.