Workplace integration for people with disabilities
By Tjiueza Tjombumbi
On December 3rd, we mark the International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD), a United Nations-sanctioned day, which was first celebrated in 1992.
This day was created to make people understand that we need to create a world with zero discrimination against persons with disabilities. As a disability advocate in my capacity and an employee of the National Disability Council of Namibia (NDCN), this is a topic that is close to my heart.
Previously, I have written about how persons with disabilities are discriminated against, sometimes because of sheer malice, but often unintentionally. This does not just happen in Namibia but throughout the world. That is why the IDPWD is particularly important and why the United Nations (UN) supports it, especially looking through the lens of Leave No One Behind and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to the World Bank statistics, there are approximately one billion persons with disabilities, with a global population approaching 8 billion which is a vast number of people to marginalize or simply write off. Stopping them from participating in the workforce and within the workplace also makes no economic sense.
Sadly, for some reason, it is the norm, rather than the exception. It starts with accessibility and the lack thereof; public places, offices, factories, or other places of work are simply not wheelchair accessible.
The lack of wheelchair accessibility is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disability discrimination. There are many forms of disability. The term persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
“Discrimination based on disability” means any distinction, exclusion, or restriction based on disability that has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal basis with others. As well as all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
Many organizations proudly state that they do not discriminate, however, it does happen. Discrimination in the workplace can be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination occurs in the workplace when a manager or colleague exhibits outright or blatant prejudice or unfair behaviour toward an employee who has a disability.
Direct discrimination takes the shape of discriminatory and hurtful comments, exclusion from accommodation in work policies, processes, and procedures that directly impact employees with disabilities, and/or workplace infrastructure, and smaller interactions that build a culture of discomfort at work.
Indirect discrimination occurs when all employees are treated the same, yet the treatment results in an inherent disadvantage. It comes down to the fact that every person should be protected and treated as equal and certainly not faced with disability discrimination. This may seem obvious, but it is not. Just as we will not tolerate racial discrimination within the workplace, we should not tolerate disability discrimination
By discriminating and closing off access to employment, we are creating unnecessary and costly burdens for society. Being employed and taking part in everyday life and earning a salary, paying taxes, and advancing in your career, is something everyone aspires to.
Well, not paying taxes, but it is part of life. If we want everyone to take part in society, we must give them the option and ability to be able to work as well. It gives a feeling of empowerment and being in charge of your destiny.
Just because you have a disability does not mean you are not qualified to give a valuable contribution to a company, or organization or run your own business. Employers should focus less on disability and more on the ability, skills, and knowledge of an individual when considering a person with a disability for employment.
Persons with disabilities do not want or ask for special treatment, they just want to be seen as members of society that can participate equally and fully. Persons with disabilities want to be included, integrated, and accommodated in all spheres of society to enjoy the same opportunities and benefits whilst at the same time contributing meaningfully to the growth and development of Namibia.
We all need to make a concerted effort to ensure that workplace discrimination does not happen. It is my fervent hope that we “Leave No One Behind” and that together we can “Build an inclusive Namibian House.”