International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2017 by Lathasha Subban

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“The national disability prevalence rate is 7,5% in South Africa. Disability is more prevalent among females compared to males (8,3% and 6,5% respectively). Persons with disabilities increase with age. More than half (53,2%) of persons aged 85+ reported having a disability. The prevalence of a specific type of disability shows that 11% of persons aged five years and older had seeing difficulties, 4,2% had cognitive difficulties (remembering/concentrating), 3,6% had hearing difficulties, and about 2% had communication, self-care and walking difficulties. Persons with severe disabilities experience difficulty in accessing education and   employment opportunities.”


“Disability is a serious matter of concern that organisations need to focus on. There is now a growing body of evidence that persons with disabilities are profoundly and more vulnerable to lifestyle and chronic diseases. Numerous reasons for the limited attention to the linkages to disability are:

  • Low social status frequently accorded people with disabilities due to discrimination, stigma, and exclusion;
  • Myths associated with sexuality and disability;
  • A general lack of disability awareness;
  • Less focus on organisations recruitment processes to drive the employment of people with disability.
  • Preference to be given to race and gender in employment equity plans.”[1]

The 3rd December 2017 celebrates the people with disabilities, and encourages the world to promote people with disabilities. “The United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons was held from 1983 to 1992 to enable governments and organisations to implement measures to improve the life of disabled persons all over the world. On October 14, 1992, as this decade drew to a close, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 3 as the International Day of Disabled Persons. This day was first observed on December 3, 1992. On December 18, 2007, the assembly changed the observance’s name from the “International Day of Disabled Persons” to the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. The new name was first used in 2008.”[1]

In many instances, the focus on disability is not strong enough to improve impact and transformation. It is very prevalent in the workplace that HR professionals are seen to be the ambassadors of disability, because the workplace must ensure that “all” employee rights are upheld and protected. There have been many initiatives to recognise people with disabilities in the workplace, in society and around the world, however the pace of awareness needs more advocates and activists.

The South African Human Rights Commission, under the leadership of Advocate Bonkankatla Malatji (responsible for Disability and Older Persons) , has created the toolkits in “Promoting the Right to Work of Persons with Disabilities for the private sector”[2], “intended to promote awareness and assist employers in the private sector to advance the right to employment for persons with disabilities;”[3](2015) and the Disability Toolkit: Quick Reference Guide and Monitoring Framework for employers”.[4] This toolkits empowers employees with disabilities as well as employers to create an environment that recognises people with disabilities.

Disability still remains a crucial issue in South Africa, with add on issues that relate to gender, access to employment and education opportunities, health care and social injustices, discrimination violence and abuse. As we celebrate the freedom of our democracy, a very high percentage of people with disabilities are still treated unfairly in workplaces, within their family environment and in society. There are many myths about people with disabilities that lack understanding and knowledge, and hence the appeal to create the awareness around the subject.

“Other International studies have concluded that women with disabilities suffered an equal, or up to three times greater, risk of rape by a stranger or acquaintance, than their able-bodied peers. (Nosek M, Howland C, Hughes R, 2001.)  The triple jeopardy syndrome (gender, disability, poverty) has a greater impact on women with disabilities. According to the Triple Jeopardy Report (WDA)  where the sample was taken from Cambodia, “the link between violence and disability and rising levels of psychological distress. In this sample, women with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to sleep badly, feel frightened, have trouble thinking clearly, cry more than usual, feel their work was suffering, feel like a worthless person, feel tired all the time, to think about ending their life and to have tried to do so. Taken together, these feelings and behaviours underline the heavy burden of psychological distress experienced by women with disabilities in Cambodia.”

Sources: Nosek, M. A., Howland, C., & Hughes, R. B. (2001). The Investigation of Abuse and Women with Disabilities: Going beyond Assumptions. Violence against Women, 7, 477-499. 

On the 29th November 2017, the Disability and Employment Seminar was presented by Transformation Integrated Africa and supported by Cowan-Harper Attorneys and the SABPP. The event covered a variety of issues regarding disability, from the Role of HR in Disability, Legislative Update on Disability and Employment, and an interactive workshop facilitated by Trevonica Naidu. More so, the event covered the definition of “disability” and lead the conversation with HR best practice and standards, caselaw, and the toolkit from the South African Human Rights Commission. All the relevant questions were asked and answered, and explained.

The platform was shared by dynamic leadership in the form of Advocate Bonkankatla Malatji, Kerry Gantley (Partner Cowan-Harper  Attorneys), Shahnaaz Bismilla (Associate Cowan-Harper Attorneys), Trevonica Naidu (Managing Director, Transformation Integrated Africa) and Lathasha Subban (SABPP Head: Knowledge and Innovation).


This was one of the many initiatives that create awareness around people with disabilities, and it was a powerful display of advocacy and commitment from the presenters to the audience. This type of advocacy goes with the spirit of celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As HR we can use the opportunity to drive:

  • Awareness through programmes, and communicating to the workforce.
  • Ensure that policies and guidelines are in place.
  • Create promotional opportunities for people with disabilities.
  • Ensure that the environment is conducive for people with disabilities.
  • Recruitment policies should display inclusiveness.
  • Support and implement the South African Human Rights Commission’s toolkit in “Promoting the Right to Work of Persons with Disabilities for the private sector

“Did we ever take a brief moment and walk in the shoes of a person with a disability? The workplace is full of challenges that even people without disabilities find challenging, yet we never just take the moment to experience it from someone who is already disadvantaged because they are disabled. It is important to grasp and realise that disability is a serious issue that needs our support and attention. For too long we have focused on gender and race, and yet employment equity includes disability. Transformation includes “all” citizens of South Africa, which means including the disabled as well. As HR, we have that power and influence within our grasp. It is time we take leadership in the matter, and create working environments that includes, accepts and develops people with disabilities.

As HR we need to remove the “Dis” out of “disability”, and create the “Ability” for people with disabilities to work safely within our workplace. We have to build the awareness around this issue, and create the right type of noise that give people with disabilities a voice and platform to be heard and protected. It’s going the extra mile that creates the impact and difference, and that is in our hands.”[1] Celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities with commitment and create the impact that will promote people with disabilities.

For more information on the SABPP Fact Sheet: People with Disabilities article was written by Lathasha Subban, Head: Knowledge and Innovation of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).  For more information, you can follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website on

South African Human Rights Commission:

Transformation Integrated Africa

Cowan-Harper Attorneys:

[1] SABPP Fact Sheet: People with Disabilities,2017





[1] SABPP Fact Sheet: People with Disabilities,2017