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Young, black and ‘disabled’ in corporate South Africa

26 July 2018

By Kgomotso Meso

Professionals with disabilities are defying the odds stacked against them by challenging the status quo in the corporate sector, regarding the hurting and integration of people with disabilities in South Africa.

People with disabilities no longer settle for limited learnerships and/or work readiness programmes, but rather they apply for positions that are aligned with their academic qualifications.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that: “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation.” (www.Un.org/development/desa/disability).

Twenty-seven-year old Leo Ngobeni from Soshanguve, Pretoria, has been working at a Johannesburg branch of one of the big five banks since 2012, as a user experience and user interface designer, focusing on designing software that makes the usage easily understood by the user. He has osteogenesis imperfecta type 4.

When asked about his preparedness working in corporate and his concerns, Ngobeni said, “My biggest concern was if the team would accept me. Instead they (my team) were welcoming and friendly, because they know I got here because I am good at what I do.”

These sentiments were echoed by Lavela Mthulu, also 27, from Port Shepstone. “My main concern was whether they (work colleagues) were going to accept my condition and cater for it. Yes they made arrangements to accommodate my disability and as of the day when I joined (24 April 2014), the company managed to buy a big computer screen for me to use,” he said.

Mthulu works as a general office support clerk at a prestigious law firm’s Sandton office. He has hyperopia (farsightedness). Reasonable accommodation is one the factors that can affect the effectiveness of peoples with disabilities in the workplace.

“The company has a disability fund aimed at assisting people with disabilities, whether it might be in terms of transport to and fro home and work, finding them suitable accommodation, providing assistive devices, etc,” said Ngobeni. “It is at an individual’s discretion the extent to which they need assistance, so based on my needs, I only needed assistance with transportation as I have a suitable place to stay and an electric wheelchair for mobility.”

Mthulu has had a similar experience at his workplace. “They do all in their power to be accommodative and always willing to assist persons with disabilities, even those who are wheelchair bound. The company does provide means of transport, they have not ignored any needs of disabled people,” he said.

Both Mthulu and Ngobeni found the recruitment process to be fair. “The interview was formal and concise. Induction process was very good for me as I was introduced to all teams that I was going to work with internally as well as all company policies and procedures as well as the values. With my company they treat everyone the same and there’s no special treatment for certain individuals because they believe that we are a family despite ones disability,” said Mthulu.

For Ngobeni, “It was smooth like any other interview. The key is to let people know and feel that you are approachable. As employees with disabilities we have to agree on being treated fairly like any other employee.

“The culture is great and it is changing depending on how involved people with disabilities are in making that change. I can’t speak for other people, however, everything I have has been tailored for my needs, and it is all about being vocal,” Ngobeni said.

Mthulu added, “They always promote collaboration and creating the best people and their culture towards disability has always been the same and there is awareness. I am highly motivated because the company does all it can to groom us, be it studying externally or growth within.”

Asked what advice he could give to a newly graduate with a disability looking into working in corporate, Ngobeni said, “A good attitude towards life and strong acceptance and understanding of self builds great self-confidence in what you can achieve despite your disability. It is entirely up to you to create the kind of life you want. Don’t be afraid to speak up because opportunities are not given, they are taken.”

“I would personally say that your disability should not limit your ability. Go out there to flourish and be the best you can be for your mark will always be visible,” Mthulu concluded.


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