Forget Disability day, how about Disability year

On the eve of yet another “International Disability day”, (3 December), I find myself, as I  always do  at this time of year, pondering the point  of this day. Like many thinkers in the area of Disability mainstreaming, I tend to be rather cynical about the day and am inclined to ask, why pay attention to Disability on just this day? What about the other 364 days?

I guess you could say the same about “16 days of activism  against  violence toward women and children”. Its true you can get your teeth into 16 days more than you can with 1 day,  but its still only 4% of a year! So what does that say about our attitude  toward the more uncomfortable, unpleasant, inconvenient  and unacceptable truths that plague our societies?

How seriously do we take our problems and rise to  our challenges?

The answer is we don’t. especially not with Disability.  the reason is that on that day, we will be too busy  patting ourselves on the back about misguided and hollow “successes”. Having tea parties where we will be  alternatively “inspired” by sports personalities and lied to by vacuous politicians, sprouting spin and missing the point.       

And on the 4th of December we will return to “normal?” And for the next 364 days will forget that only 200 blind youngsters will write matric, and that less than 70 so called special schools will offer matric while still less will offer exemptions. We will ignore the fact that still fully 65% of Disabled children wont see the inside of a school.

We will overlook  that notwithstanding  a largely ignored Employment Equity act, there will still be over 95% unemployment  for persons with Disabilities. We will continue to disregard the significance of the need for accessible public transport,  housing,  health facilities  and general every day amenities.

No, I am afraid, only when we can demonstrate, consistent, sustained, committed energy and planning and activity with genuine political will, 365 days a year, will we be able to celebrate a Disability day.



Our attitude towards Disability mainstreaming reminds me of the difference between a lazy Schoolboy and a farmer.


Picture a lazy schoolboy  at school, doing just enough work to get out of trouble, leaving things to the last minute, avoiding tasks or getting away with out doing them altogether.

Exam time comes around, huge panic, tension, too much work to study everything, swot the wrong stuff, sit for the exam, wow this is hard! Fail on his ear.


Now imagine if a farmer  responded to his tasks  like a schoolboy.

Wake up late, don’t feel like going out in the cold today. Forget to feed the stock or plan the next crop, it can keep.

Blow the money for seed on a new car instead.

Procrastinate  on planting, feeding, harvesting, oh well, I am sure it will be ok in the end.

Dying and Hungry cattle . Poor crop this year. Wonder why?


Its up to us if we as a society  want to continue  responding to this crisis like lazy schoolboys or responsible farmers.



This blog is dedicated to the memory of Colin Eglin, veteran progressive politician, liberal thinker and friend  who passed away during the writing of these words.  


Jeremy Opperman

December 2013

Is Employment Equity still alive?

Of course it’s still alive.  But is it really, in the sense that it is effective and significant, and adhered to, let alone understood?

Here’s the problem, if Employment Equity was still in the frame and being adhered to by organizations obliged to submit EE reports, then how come so many companies simply disregard basic EEA rules?

It’s just happened again!  I have just been informed by a nearly tearful employment agent attached to a Disability organization, that the candidates she worked so hard to find , and had optimistically submitted , were rejected out of hand without benefit of interviews, on the grounds that they were white.  I don’t know why I am surprised, it has happened so often in my experience, that I ought to be inured to it by now.

Lets play around a little with a suitable analogy

Imagine,a company puts out specs for several positions.
For argument sake, lets say:

– A senior financial post like Financial manager or CFO.
– A middle level accounting post.
– An IT position, programming.
– A call centre position.

The agency lucky enough to be given the brief, is chuffed with these specs, works hard at gathering the best candidates , goes through all the checks, referencing, credit, criminal record etc.
The agency submits 3 great CV’s for each position.  Sends them before due time with an optimistic grin and awaits the clients reaction.  The client comes back to the agency , and without any discussion or negotiation, rejects all female candidates, stating simply, that they cannot take any women for these positions regardless if their CV’s are wonderful; explaining that company policy states only men may apply.

So, dear reader, lets examine a few things here.  Would you classify this behaviour as discrimination?  Would this be allowed in today’s business world?  If not what mechanism exists to prevent this sort of discrimination?  Would it work to prevent such practices happening?  How should the agency react?  Is it ok, to shrug and go back to the drawing board, and hope that you can still salvage the clients good will by submitting only male candidates?

So, I think we can agree, that this is indeed discrimination.  And I suspect, that this would not be easy to get away with today.  And yes, there is a mechanism to prevent this sort of discrimination, its called the Employment Equity Act. (Not to mention the Constitution and the Promotion of Equality and prevention of Unfair Discrimination act).  And yes, if used wisely it probably would prevent this particular discrimination from happening. In addition, with Gender Equity being fairly robust, the media would love the story and the client would be wise to withdraw the flagrantly unconstitutional , discriminatory stance they have chosen.  And the agency, what should they do?  Ought they simply keep quiet with their ears flat and their heads down? Or as is very likely, women in the agency would take serious offense at this position and raise the issue.  So what has this to do with Disability?

Believe it or not this exact thing is being practiced all over the country by large and small companies every single day.  The only difference is that the designated equity group is not women, but people with Disabilities. In this instance though one group within people with Disabilities, namely White persons but very often Coloured and Indian people with disabilities too, are being affected.

So lets unpack a little.
Firstly the Employment Equity act, EEA for short, classified three designated groups to be deserving of and requiring affirmative action measures.  As everyone knows, these include: Black people, Women And people with Disabilities.

So far so good. Without going into gory detail, suffice to say that for Disability especially, no racial disaggregation was made. In other words, this designation included white people amongst their coloured , Indian and Black fellows as deserving of affirmative action measures.  And yet….…

Here is an example of what I and many others see almost daily.  This from a senior HR manager in a large well known organization . This was after he was sent a CV of a person with a disability, in response to a request for skilled candidates with disabilities.

“Thanks, unfortunately we have to target African candidates first failing which we can look at Coloured and Indian.  Its just the way our transformation scorecard works.”

So how do we deal with this?
Is this discrimination?
Are not white persons with Disabilities equally protected and deserving of affirmative action consideration, in terms of the EEA ?
Why is the very piece of legislation intended to prevent this sort of discrimination not being taken seriously in this instance?

The answer and clue is in the last five words of the quote.
“How our transformation scorecard works “

What these words tell us is that in this company like most others, their transformation procedures are being dominated by BBBEE mechanisms such as scorecards to the detriment of Employment Equity expectations and legal procedures.

As will be spelled out in my next blog, this is in part due to the inexplicable but deliberate exclusion of white people with Disabilities from so called employment equity codes within BBBEE guidelines.

Until the Department of Labour wakes up and resumes its original anti discrimination position regarding affirmative labour practice as clearly layed out in the EEA, now 15 years on, companies will continue to be confused and tempted into flagrantly unlawful and discriminatory recruitment practices.

In the meantime, surely managers and staff are sufficiently equipped with moral compass to know right from wrong?
And what about the agencies, they frequently serve as recruitment gatekeepers, being the only route by which potential candidates can submit their CVS to organizations.

Surely  agencies  should provide moral and legal guidance  to their clients if they are confused or  in danger of perpetrating unlawful recruitment practices?

Finally, spare a thought for the candidate. Relying on what she knows to be her only legal ally in an otherwise pretty unfriendly environment. She submits her CV fully expecting EEA consideration and respect, but in fact is met with total disregard for the spirit and the letter of the EEA, the only practical legal friend she has  in helping her find a job.

Jeremy Opperman

What is Disability integration? Is it all about jobs?

One of the most common questions that I get when I teach Disability awareness, is why don’t we see many, or any CV’s of persons with Disabilities? This usually comes from HR practitioners, but sometimes line as well , and of course from agencies too .

I am tempted to go into another train of thought which examines the stereotypic response to CV’s denoting disability, but I will leave that for another discussion.

No; what I want to bring up is a far broader issue , something more macro than micro if you like.

The reality is that no organization is doing well in terms of recruitment of people with Disabilities; in other words Disability Equity.
Yes even those companies suckered into the whole learnership scam, once again needing another conversation.

So lets examine why it is that, 15 years after the Employment Equity Act came out (1998) that we still see far too few people with disabilities in our workplaces.  Lets go a little deeper, apart from the workplace, where else do we see people with Disabilities?
At schools?
At Universities?
On public transport?
In the shops?
On holiday?
I could go on and on and the result would be the same; no we do not see too many people with Disabilities, and that is being generous, anywhere in our mainstream society.

So why not.

Think of where the focus is most of the time around Disability. jobs or employment.
Nothing wrong with that, you might say, and you would be right, nothing wrong with that at all, but consider this analogy.

Lets go back to some of the darker days of apartheid.
Say the seventies or even the eighties.
Now lets say the government at the time realized they had made a terrible mistake about job access for black people.

Imagine if they had said; ”ok you black guys, we have made a mistake, you can now apply for any job you like, no restrictions”.
“you can have any job you are qualified to do, you can be anyones boss, you can apply and get absolutely any job you are competent to do”.
“But, I am sorry, we will still have to keep the segregation signage up”.
“So you will still need to go in via different entrances”.
“and sorry, we will need to still separate public transport, so you will need to be on different buses or train carriages from your white colleagues”.
“And no, you still cant get into white schools”.
“And sorry there will still be restrictions on accessing good tertiary institutions”.
“and no, you will still not be able to live next door to a white person, or marry his daughter”.
“Also, we cant let you join the Christmas party, because its in a whites only area…”
but you can have any job you like!”.

So I put it to you dear reader, would that work!?

Given the endemic physical and attitudinal inaccessibility that prevails in our society; why would the theoretical clarion call for job opportunities work?

As much as finding employment for persons with Disabilities is important and even essential, it cannot be done in a vacuum, with no insentive or inducement to address the other issues that will certainly effect the success or failure of Disability empowerment.

Conclusion, until we in society begin to look at Disability in a holistic way as a mainstream society issue, you in companies and organizations will continue to fail in terms of Disability equity.

The following cartoon, says it all.

Disability day special.
For those of us cant see, let me explain.
The cartoon depicts a restaurant , clear by its signage.
In addition, the primary displays appear to be very Disability friendly.
A big wheelchair sign, a further notice saying that everyone is welcome!.  Even a sign saying that there is a Disability day special.

However, on closer examination, it appears that there is very little access available into the restaurant, steps without ramps, a big sign saying no dogs,  a tow away zone right outside etc.