Anton Engelbrecht, Alexander Forbes Health Strategic Consultant. Photo: Supplied
Anton Engelbrecht, Alexander Forbes Health Strategic Consultant. Photo: Supplied

How Covid-19 has created innovative work opportunities for people with disabilities

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 14, 2020

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By Anton Engelbrecht

DURBAN - Finding and retaining employment is a challenge for many people during the Covid-19 pandemic, and for people living with disabilities, the situation is even more dire.

But in the new world of work, with increased remote working, the playing field for these individuals could now be levelled.

Employees who have been totally incapacitated or precluded from working in certain environments can now be considered for alternative or partial accommodative occupational duties. This allows them to reintegrate more smoothly into the world of work or the “new workplace”.

Prior to the pandemic, recruiting people living with disabilities in the workplace was a challenge, as companies often mistakenly thought that the cost of accommodating people with disabilities would outweigh the benefits. Also, due processes and procedures to accommodate them were often not fully effective in the corporate environment. A number of physical and social barriers have to be overcome and companies are required, in compliance with the Employment Equity Act, to accommodate people living with disabilities to ensure they remain productive contributors to the economy.

New ways of working

Companies with progressive employment policies have implemented remote working as a future way of work for all employees. Increasing the representation of people living with disabilities in organisations is not only a moral and ethical issue, it also makes sound business sense for both companies and the overall economy.

Workers living with disabilities are often more productive, less absent from work and have higher job retention rates than their colleagues without disabilities according to The Participation of People with Disabilities in the Workplace Across the Employment Cycle: Employer Concerns and Research Evidence. In addition, employing people living with disabilities is good for the overall economy, increasing productivity and reducing government spend on disability-related benefits.

People living with disabilities may have other medical conditions that prevent them from going into the office, but with working remotely on the rise, new “workplace accommodations” for them become relatively inexpensive. The challenge is how to translate these benefits of home offices under the current scenario of working remotely.

People using wheelchairs find it a huge challenge to access transport, parking and office buildings. Some offices are totally inaccessible and preclude people in wheelchairs from working at certain companies. Allowing people living with disabilities to work from home or remotely provides a supportive and comfortable environment for the employee to be fully productive and achieve equal outputs compared with colleagues.

As we recover from Covid-19, there is an opportunity for business to mend the aspects of the social contract that are fundamentally impaired with regard to people with disabilities.

Companies need to move beyond compliance to ensure economic inclusion for all employees with variable needs in the new way of work and productivity. This makes it more essential than ever to understand the effect of Covid-19 on people living with disabilities, as well as what companies can do to retain their talents.

Anton Engelbrecht, Alexander Forbes Health Strategic Consultant


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