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Did you know that only 33.3% of the disabled population in Kenya is employed? For these numbers to increase across Africa, business owners and employees should collaborate to make the work environment more supportive and inclusive toward people with disabilities.
The prejudice and misconceptions surrounding people with disabilities can affect job prospects and career advancement.
Regrettably, the prejudice held by employers against people with disabilities breeds a negative attitude in the workplace. Many believe the adaptations needed to accommodate these employees would be too expensive or time-consuming.
This, unfortunately, creates a discriminatory culture against disabled job seekers and employees. It also increases the unemployment rate among people with disabilities, pushing more of them into the private and independent sectors.
Thus, over the recent years, charities and NGOs have come up, speaking up for the interests of people with disabilities, including in the workplace. Such organizations streamline the process, educate society, and get more people with disabilities into the workplace.
For example, the International Labor Organization or ILO has for over 50 years been dedicated to promoting employment opportunities and skills development for people with disabilities. Their key principles are equal opportunity and equal treatment.
In addition, more countries have developed legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace against people with disabilities.
Furthermore, a Charity Awareness Monitor study shows that 77% of the general public better-rated companies that actively seek to employ suitable disabled individuals.
Only 33.3% of the disabled population in Kenya is employed. That translates to about 1.48 million people. For these numbers to increase across Africa, business owners and employees should collaborate to make the work environment more supportive and inclusive toward people with disabilities.
A study of three sub-Saharan African countries (Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia) screened the life histories of people with disabilities who had achieved economic success.
The study sought to outline the factors that contributed to their success. However, it also revealed some of the experiences employees with disabilities faced.
The study showed that these individuals faced challenges in employment, among other factors. Half of the Kenyan participants outlined the barriers of mainstream employment, stating discrimination from employers and fellow employees.
It prohibited access to mainstream employment and even hindered further career advancement through promotion. In addition, some participants had trouble getting capital, such as loans, to finance projects.
Many had to turn to self-employment opportunities such as farming, tailoring and cobbling. Few had the opportunity to work for DPOs (disabled people's organizations). Some countries like Zambia had very weak DPOs. Thus many disabled people could not find any relevant job opportunities.
More people with disability issues are joining the workforce and employees without disabilities should make reasonable adjustments to avoid being offensive or insensitive. The most important qualities employees must retain when working with disabled workers are patience and kindness.
Employees working with disabled team members should seek education on their disabilities. It is beneficial to learn more about a fellow employee's health conditions. Understanding their struggles and learning how to interact with them will be good.
The disability community also has diverse cultures, and employees should strive to learn about them for better interactions and awareness.
Disabilities like autism, deafness, and mental health conditions can be invisible. In addition, some people confuse one disability for the other, perhaps due to ignorance.
Employees who assume to know or understand the plight of their fellow disabled employees come off as insensitive and discriminatory. Instead, employees should find more information about such issues. Asking is allowed if appropriate, but employees should do their best to be respectful and polite.
During team projects and collaborative sessions, other employees should recognize the limitations of co-workers with disabilities. They should be more patient, allowing their co-workers enough time to complete their projects, especially if the resources available do not adapt to the co-worker's issues.
Employees can offer professional assistance to disabled co-workers when needed. But it should not come off as diminishing or discriminatory. Instead, it should be the same professional assistance they would offer another employee.
Employees should involve their disabled co-workers in other office activities besides work-related tasks. For example, they should be a part of office celebrations, voting (if any), group chats, team-building activities, etc.
And finally, employees can learn the best ways to communicate with employees that have hearing, speech, or visual impairments. For example, employees can learn the sign language alphabet and how to sign some of the commonly-used terms in the workplace.
Managers, human resources, and business owners may play the biggest roles in workplace disability management. Disability management is actively minimizing the impact of a disability on the employee's capability to participate and perform in the workplace. It calls for several things, including making the workplace more accessible and building awareness.
Employers should offer equal opportunities to people with disabilities during the recruitment process and when working.
During recruitment, managers can advertise on publications and websites designated for people with disabilities. It could be as easy as partnering with organizations that advance job seekers with disabilities. Managers can run their recruitment ads through such organizations.
Employers can also make the ads more accessible by using large print, images, and audio. The same can also apply to the application requirements.
Human resources should ensure the job descriptions do not discourage people with disabilities from applying, especially in the 'requirements' section. Finally, managers should design texts or interviews to accommodate people with disabilities.
Accessibility demands removing any barriers or challenges in the work environment so everyone can access the space and tools required to accomplish tasks.
Managers must examine environmental factors such as lighting, noise levels, and the building's layout to incorporate accessibility. For example, managers should ensure their places of work have an accessible entry for wheelchair users.
Similarly, pathways should be wide enough for this access. And there should be stair alternatives for wheelchair users.
Another change that managers need to make is specialized equipment that adapts to the worker's limitations—for example, ergonomic office seating and adjustable desks. The desks are especially useful for people who use wheelchairs.
Accessibility also means incorporating assistive technology for people with visual, speech, and hearing disabilities. Managers can incorporate speech recognition software and devices, sign language applications, color-coded keyboards, braille displays, and listening devices.
Managers can create educational programs for supervisors and employees to sensitize the workforce and prevent disability discrimination cases. This all goes to creating an inclusive and respectful work environment where people with disabilities do not feel secluded and are instead treated fairly.
Managers can invest in learning programs where employees can learn braille or sign language to communicate with disabled employees better.
Employers can also educate managers and supervisors to address any myths they may have concerning disabled employees. A simple fact-sharing session can equip supervisors and managers with the right knowledge and confidence to support differently-abled employees.
Worth Noting: ILO provides a helpful code for managing disabilities in the workplace that managers can incorporate into their work environment.
While governments and organizations can legislate and support people with disabilities, people in the workplace also play a key role in managing disability. Employees and employers should create non-discriminatory environments for employees with disabilities. It is a key part of promoting healthy company culture, equity, and equality.
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