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Just under 100 disabled students will have been capped by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology this week.
But obstacles on the road to graduation are not the last that these students must conquer, as it is argued that employer attitudes still hinder opportunities for the disabled to enter the workforce and to advance in the company ranks.
“Securing a job is the first challenge. Despite progressive legislation, employers are still reluctant,” said Durban businesswoman Shakila Maharaj.
She is the country’s first blind psychologist, and said that while employers wanted to achieve their equity targets and claimed to be open to people of all disabilities, they assumed that a person with a certain disability could only perform certain tasks, and recruited them as window dressing.
One of the reasons there was a reluctance to appoint a disabled person was that employers believed providing reasonable accommodation such as a wheelchair ramp or accessible toilet was expensive.
She said that, as per regulations, these amenities must exist whether a disabled person was employed there or not.
Maharaj said that misperceptions and prejudices resulted in disabled people being stuck in an entry-level job years after being appointed because employers assumed they had no aspirations.
Maharaj said that what made tertiary study more difficult for disabled students was that the special high schools they attended did not offer the same variety of subjects that other schools did.
Dr Siva Moodley, of Disabled People South Africa, agreed with Maharaj.
“Because of the limited subject choices offered at many special schools, students who enter universities do not qualify to register for many of the qualifications,” he said.
On the positive side, Moodley said that bursary allocations for disabled students often included funds for devices that would assist them in their studies, such as lecture notes in braille, large-print and electronic format and audio.
However, he said: “A large percentage of employers continue to entertain the notion that persons with disabilities would not… be productive employees.” - The Mercury