The right to work – but how do we recruit persons with disabilities? Erica du Toit

In his opening speech at the recent Disability Rights Summit held in Pretoria, President Zuma acknowledged that “while government has made steady progress in our employment equity performance for persons with disabilities over the past 15 years, it has been too slow.  Within government, we have impressed upon departments to work harder towards the target of two percent in their staff complements.”


Statistics from 2015 show that only 0,9% of South Africans with a disability in full-time employment, while a total of 1,3% persons with disabilities were employed in 2013.  Wait… we’re going backwards?  In 2013 we were well on our way to meet Government’s target of 2%, but for some reason, the total number of persons with disabilities with gainful employment has since decreased.


Legislation stipulates that The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including… disability…” (Bill of Rights, 9.3). It seems that organisations working with and for persons with disabilities are spending more and more time and resources on advocating for the right of persons with disabilities to be employed, so as to provide for their family and contribute towards society.  As an organisation, we are inundated with requests both from recruitment agencies and companies wanting advice on recruiting persons with disabilities, as well as persons with disabilities themselves who are seeking employment. Yet the workplace is still largely unavailable to persons with disabilities.  Why is this?


In our experience, we find that the will to employ persons with disabilities is there, but tremendous misconceptions exist around the process of doing so, as well as which types of disabilities the employer is able to accommodate in their specific industry.  Interesting to note is the fact that 96% of all persons with disabilities in the open labour market are wheelchair users, while they are in the minority when considering the different types of disability and assistive devices used.


This is not the only reason for low employment rates amongst persons with disabilities.  Employers often have unrealistic requirements of which specific type of disability is able to perform a certain job function.  Limited access to education and the exclusion of children from schools is a large contributing factor to the low education levels of persons with disabilities, which in turn results in them not meeting the educational requirements of some employment positions. But these are articles for another day!


So what can be done about this?  Here are five guidelines to bear in mind during the process of employing someone with a disability –

  • Recruit the person, not the disability Being a human being comes first, a disability second. You are looking for someone who is able to fill a specific role in your company, not someone who comes in a predetermined package.
  • The best person for the job, gets the job  The interview process will highlight who the best person for the job is.  Persons with a disability must be given an equal opportunity in this process, and be employed if they are the correct person for the job, not because you need to get your disability stats up.  “Window-dressing” does not benefit anybody.
  • Recruitment first, accommodation second Begin discussions around how to accommodate the person and their disability only once they have been employed.  In this way you will be able to customise the workplace to their requirements, without going to the extreme expense of providing for any conceivable disability.
  • People with disabilities are people first People with disabilities are employees and should be treated on an equal basis as any other employee.  Employees with a disability must receive benefits given to other employees.  The opposite is also true… disciplinary and similar procedures are also applicable to employees with a disability, where necessary.
  • Accommodation must be reasonable Every person with a disability is different from the next, even if they have the same type of disability, which means that one person’s accommodation requirements may not be applicable to the next person.  However, all accommodations must be reasonable for both parties.  For instance, it is unreasonable to expect a company to install a wheelchair lift to the 10th floor for the benefit of 1 person, but perfectly reasonable to expect them to move the person’s office to the ground floor.


These are only a few pointers to get you started on the road to an inclusive workplace, but it is a start. There are many more aspects to consider if you are committed to an inclusive office environment and are willing to take the time to embark on this process.


The golden rule is to treat everybody equally.


Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities consults with companies on the recruitment and employment process, employee sensitisation to disability and guidance around workplace accessibility. Write to me on or join us on Facebook at