Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.

In rule 7 of the UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons With Disabilities, countries throughout the world are urged to recognise the principle that persons with disabilities must be empowered to exercise their human rights, particularly in the field of employment. Specifically, the action programmes of all countries should include the following:

* Measures to design and adapt workplaces and work premises in such a way that they become accessible to persons with different disabilities;
* Support for the use of new technologies and the development and production of assistive devices, tools and equipment, and measures to facilitate access to such devices and equipment for persons with disabilities to enable them to gain and maintain employment;
* Provision of appropriate training and placement, and ongoing support, such as personal assistance and interpreter services.

The Code of Good Practice accepts that "disability is a natural part of the human experience, and in no way diminishes the rights of individuals to belong and contribute to the labour market." It asserts that when opportunities and reasonable accommodation are provided, people with disabilities can contribute valuable skills and abilities to every workplace, thereby contributing to the economy of our society.

Judging from the progressive legislation in place, it would appear that conditions currently favour the employment of persons with disabilities, and that people with disabilities do not face discrimination or prejudice. Unfortunately, the situation is far from satisfactory, and the employment of persons with disabilities is not receiving the serious attention it merits.

Regrettably, even with the introduction of current labour legislation, and the increasing emphasis on disability as a human rights and development issue, many persons with disabilities continue to experience major obstacles in securing employment, and consequently, in achieving economic empowerment.

Research, based on the first employment equity reports by 100 large companies, shows that employment of disabled people nationally has dropped from 1.02% to 0.93% despite the implementation of the employment equity and skills development acts. The research indicated that most employers focused their employment equity plans on race and gender, with little attention being placed on disability, which is perhaps the most complex area of transformation.

Based on information submitted by national departments and provincial administrations in respect of the 797 750 employees in the public service, it was found that there were 2007 people with disabilities as at September 2001. This represents an average of 0,25 percent, which is far short of the 2% that needs to be achieved by 2005. The data also indicated that people with disabilities occupied the most junior levels within departments, involving little decision-making and authority.

The investigation revealed that while 20% of the national departments had a specific policy on disability, none of the provincial administrations were in possession of any policy. Furthermore, 26% of the national departments and 45% of the provincial administrations use the Employment Equity Plans as guides for ensuring disability equity in the workplace.

Unquestionably, if the progressive legislation introduced to date is to serve any real purpose, it is imperative that disability is viewed as a human rights and development issue, and that people with disabilities are accepted as equal citizens, with equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Furthermore, people with disabilities must be assessed in terms of the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they have as prerequisites for a particular job, rather than focusing on their disability alone. Equally important, people with disabilities require employment opportunities in line with their knowledge and skills, rather than token appointments merely to comply with employment quotas.

If we are proud of our South African society that promotes diversity, embraces difference, and is caring and nurturing, it is important that such values are reflected in the workplace. People with disabilities prefer equal opportunities to earn a living. They certainly do not want accolades for performing day-to-day tasks. Equally important, attention must be given to the inherent requirements of a job, rather than making assumptions about a particular disability, and the disabled person's ability to do the job.

Employers must take pro-active measures to deal with disability in the workplace. Excuses such as "we do not have jobs for the disabled", or "we do not have the skills to manage disabled employees" are both unacceptable and unproductive. Ignorance pertaining to issues of disability in the workplace could potentially lead to incidents of unfair discrimination, resulting in litigation in respect of unfair labour practices.

A proactive disability management programme, coupled with disability equity initiatives, will undoubtedly provide a multi-faceted solution to many of the problems faced by employers. Clearly, disability equity and management intervention strategies would have several benefits for an organisation, including the following:

* Facilitating employer control of disability issues;
* Dispelling myths and fears surrounding the issue of employing people with disabilities;
* Legitimising the value of the human resources department to the organisation;
* Ensuring compliance with employment equity legislation and adhering to international best practice; and
* Improving corporate competitiveness.

Employers must accept that disability issues are a business challenge rather than just a legal requirement. In this way, businesses can achieve the maximum benefits of an inclusive, diversified working environment. Additionally, employers must provide reasonable accommodation in the workplace to enable employees with disabilities to function effectively.

Section one of the Employment Equity Act defines reasonable accommodation as "any modification or adjustment to a job or to the working environment that will enable a person from a designated group to have reasonable access to or participate or advance in employment". According to the Code of Good Practice, reasonable accommodation includes the following:

* Adapting existing facilities to make them accessible;
* Adapting existing equipment, or acquiring new equipment, including computer hardware and
* Re-organising workstations;
* Changing training and assessment materials and systems;
* Restructuring jobs so that non-essential functions are reassigned;
* Adjusting working time and leave; and
* Providing specialised supervision, training and support in the workplace.


* Stricter enforcement of the Employment Equity Act;
* Dept. of Labour and NSA to ensure that the Skills Development Strategy is popularised among disabled people so that they are able to take advantage of these opportunities;
* Making skills training programmes accessible to people with disabilities;
* Learnership programmes to provide employment opportunities for disabled people specifically in the area of scarce skills;
* Introducing mechanisms to transform the culture, policies and behaviour in the workplace;
* Making ongoing awareness-raising programmes available with a view to eliminating misconceptions with regard to people with disabilities;
* To implement public awareness programmes on the code to benefit both the employers and employees;
* Department of Public Service and Administration and other Govt. departments to align employment criteria to EEA requirements;
* Employers not to view disability as a costly exercise, but rather as a once off costs and something that would benefit everyone and it will further help them to understand reasonable accommodation;
* Employers to persuade government to link wage subsidy schemes as another provision for reasonable accommodation;
* Link skills development with employment equity
* Link learnerships with skills funds to accommodate reasonable accommodation
* Unions to raise the issue of disability within bargaining councils so
as to ensure rehabilitation and retraining of newly disabled employees
* Training of shop stewards on the Code and TAG