Society has a narrow concept of disability: the person in a wheelchair and the man with sunglasses and a white cane – adorable golden retriever optional.
The truth is, we have people in our country working in every thinkable sector who happen to have disabilities. For clarity sake, the Employment Equity Act defines people with disabilities as those who have a long-term or recurring physical or mental impairment that substantially limits their prospects of entry into, or advancement in, employment*.
The fact that we have people with disabilities employed in all sectors (and many more unemployed looking for opportunities) begs the question: Why are we not tapping into this abundant resource?
The reason I often hear is that “we don’t know where to find them”. The answer to this conundrum is that people with disabilities are not often where we tend to look. People with disabilities are not on job boards; and if they are, they are certainly not announcing that they have a disability due to the historical stigmas attached to disclosure.
Further to this, thanks to societal norms of the past, people with disabilities have not followed the ‘get your Matric and study further’ path. You may find a candidate who has only completed Grade 9 but has been tinkering with computers since he was little and thus can set up a network and troubleshoot with the best of them.
So we need to dig a bit deeper, contacting university disability units and LSEN schools; forging relationships that we wouldn’t normally think of.
We are in a wonderful position where we have policies and procedures in place that make hiring people with disabilities easier. What we need to be able to do is ask questions over and above the usual screening. Do not be afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions as it relates to the candidate’s disability and work. These answer the reasonable accommodation questions that will inevitably be asked; so asking the question ‘What do you need in a work environment in order to work?’ goes a long way in gaining credibility with both your potential employee.
All of this cannot happen if you do not understand your subject matter, however. Please ensure that when interviewing a candidate with a disability, you do some research beforehand into the disability (if it has been disclosed). If they disclose during the screening interview, show the appropriate amount of empathy and ask questions, but be careful not to overstep boundaries. My personal rule of thumb is if it doesn’t relate to employment I don’t ask. Do not allow fear to stop you from asking any questions though – you do need certain information to ensure that you market the candidate properly.
What I found helped (at the beginning of my journey) is that I repeated the information given back to the candidate and asked whether I understood what they were telling me correctly. Besides gaining a better understanding of the person (and their disability), it showed the candidate that I was making the effort to understand.
I understand that the recruitment of people with disabilities can be daunting. However, if we look at it as just another aspect that makes the candidate who they are, we may have an easier time getting over the initial trepidation.
Download PDF – South African Human Rights Commission
About the Author:
Jill Thomas has 15 years of experience in recruitment; with 5 years working in disability empowerment and recruitment.