Disabled People South Africa briefing on education, employment & accessibility challenges

Public Service and Administration, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation

05 March 2013
Chairperson: Ms J Moloi-Moropa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The meeting was the first of two meetings to address a number of disability issues and challenges. Representatives were invited from the disability sector, Departments of Women, Children and People with Disabilities and Departments of Education, in an attempt to find cross-cutting solutions to address the challenge of transforming society to ensure that disabled people were welcomed and mainstreamed into all sectors.

Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) noted that disabled people faced a host of discriminatory practices, including human rights abuses, which were often not brought to the fore. Attitudes and economic practices posed the greatest hindrance. South Africa had many good policies, but, as pointed out, this did not automatically translate into providing food or access. Some departments had offices on the status of disabled persons, but others had delegated this function to other departments and it was not being coherently or uniformly addressed, particularly at local level, where there were also difficulty in interpreting the policies and issues. The  instruments put in place to measure South Africa’s progress in dealing with disability issues were not effective and the rural areas were not reached. Transport, access, reading materials for the blind, deaf facilities and privacy were all raised as major concerns for which frameworks and structures were needed. Although the Statistics South Africa survey assessed that 5.6% of the population was disabled, DPSA thought it was closer to 10% and if the broader definition was used, that included those unable to care for themselves or used assistive devices, the number could be as high as 19%. DPSA and other NGOs lacked resources and were not given enough real support at all levels to significantly address attitudes. Although state departments were “chasing” the 2% disability target, they still tended to employ at lower levels, often failed to make reasonable accommodation, such as employing personal assistants or assistive devices, and did not retain staff. The Ministry of  Women, Children and People lacked enforcement powers. Five steps were suggested to address the issues, namely sensitisation, workplace profiling, reasonable accommodation, access, and different recruitment facilities. Disabled peoples’ organisations had to be funded and proper incentives were needed to further disabled employment.

Members questioned the statistics on disability, asked how DPSA suggested that accountability be enforced, and asked about private sector commitments to meeting targets. They questioned the relationship and special focus of the disability organisations. They lamented the fact that this meeting was not receiving enough media attention. They asked how disability was categorised, although also commented that people tended to be employed simply because they were disabled, without considering their specific skills. They suggested that DPSA should perhaps forge relationships with the Sheltered Employment Factories if it had not already done this, and suggested that more visible campaigns were needed. They noted that more active engagement of parents was needed into education bodies and collaboration was key to addressing most of the problems raised. One Member commented that he was involved in the Paralympics movement, and it was found that sports federations were not equipped to deal with rural or disabled issues. Another noted that it was distressing that sportspeople had a dedicated department, yet disabled people would be referred to the department of Health, or Social Development, when seeking assistance. There was also a perception that funding, and even employment of disabled people, was racially skewed. The Committee agreed on the need to open up more spaces and provide resources.

Meeting report

Disability challenges: General briefing on education, access, employment issues: Disabled People South Africa briefing
The Chairperson welcomed all members and invited guests, noting the attendance of representatives of Disabled People South Africa (DPSA), Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD) and the Ministry for Basic Education (DBE). Two days had been set aside to pursue matters raised in a previous meeting by DPSA, which had led to a commitment that this Committee would take up matters that required attention by the Department of Public Services and Administration.

She noted that overall, state departments were not meeting their mandate to ensure at least 2% employment of disabled people. One of the major needs was to find out why, in many cases, disabled people were employed but soon exited from these jobs. The different departments and structures should hold each other accountable, and thorough research was needed to find the best solutions. There was a need to transform society and ensure that disabled people were welcomed and mainstreamed into all sectors of society.

Mr Robert Masambo, National Chairperson, Disabled People of South Africa, appreciated the commitment from this Committee and noted that the engagement was geared to discovering how South Africa could be transformed and cease to marginalise disabled people. Although this organisation had a similar acronym (DPSA) to the Department of Public Services and Administration, it actually predated the Department by ten years. The organisation was proud to note that some of its Members were MPs and were sitting in this Committee.

Mr Masambo noted that there were multiple discriminatory practices facing disabled people. However, the worst and most prevalent were perhaps the attitudes and economic practices that hindered disabled people; although South Africa was quite advanced in the policies it had, which were well thought out and which addressed disability as a human rights issue, the problem lay in implementation of the policies.

There was a need to commission studies to answer the question to what degree were people with disabilities being subjected to inequality and poverty. He noted that whilst much fervour and attention was paid to the serious issues of discrimination against women, it was a sad fact that women, men and youth with disabilities were subjected to many violations of their rights that were not addressed.

He noted that systems had been set up at National, provincial and local government systems to cater for disability issues, in that there were Offices on the Status of Disabled Persons in some of the Premier’s Offices, but in some cases these tasks had been assigned to other departments that were not really addressing the issues properly. There was a challenges of lack of infrastructure to deal with the interpretation of issues for people with disabilities at municipalities, and even where these existed, they often did not employ disabled people to deliver on the needs.

Government had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and other international instruments. However, there were concerns that the instruments being used to measure the progress that South Africa had made in addressing disability issues were not effective. Disabled people, particularly those in the deep rural areas, were still subjected to immense ills of society. It was important to put a proper framework in place to guarantee privacy, for the deaf and blind, from their personal assistants and sign language interpreters. He said that nobody could predict the future, and this made it even more important to ensure that proper structures were put in place.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) had reported on the demographics of disabled persons in the country, but he was still insistent that the 5.6% prevalence of disability reported on was not representative. There had probably been a huge undercount because of the instruments and terminology used when collecting and collating information. DPSA was going to use that information to further lobby other institutions to work with Stats SA, to focus on profiling disabled persons.

He said that although the highest ranking officials of the state were committed to changing of attitudes of society towards disabled people, they were not enough. DPSA they also lacked resources to manoeuvre within the spaces they were being given by the state. There was a need to change attitudes throughout.

Failure to meet 2% employment targets
Mr Masambo noted the comment that the state was still not meeting its targets for 2% disabled employment in all departments and said he would outline the reasons why this was not happening. Firstly, more work had to be done to change attitudes about disability, especially amongst senior public representatives and public servants, as they still saw disability from a welfare and medical perspective. DPSA lamented the fact that certain departments were chasing targets, but were not really adding value to employment of disabled persons, in that they were employed disabled people at entry level positions only, and employing them “categorically”. DPSA was adamant that this organisation could itself help in providing solutions and emphasised “nothing about us, without us”. There was one disabled senior state official who had been employed, but had not been provided with a personal assistant, and his spouse had been required to help with overall administration of their office. DPSA emphasised that whenever someone was employed, reasonable accommodation must be provided to cater for needs, as virtually nothing had been done in this direction to date.

DPSA was quite satisfied, in principle, with the amalgamation of the disability sector into the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, but still felt that the Ministry had no “teeth” as it did not have enough authority to hold others accountable for the failure to meet targets.  

Five Steps Approach
DPSA outlined the five steps that could be taken to address the issues. The first was Disability sensitisation, dealing with peoples’ attitudes, addressing biases and stereotypes through workshops that could foster spiritual, emotional and social change of attitudes. Secondly, it was important that workplace profiling be done to know clearly the number of disabled persons on staff and the kind of disabilities. Thirdly, at a departmental level, policies and strategies had to be formulated for the reasonable accommodation of disabled people. Currently, these did not exist. Fourthly, it was still problematic to note that some state departments still lacked the most basic access facilities, such as wheelchair ramps and rails, and that had to be attended to. Finally, DPSA noted that the Public Services Commission had reported that the current recruitment strategies were very ineffective and that a combination of recruitment techniques needed to be used, including directly working with organisations such as DPSA.

Furthermore, DPSA emphasised the need for funding for disabled people’s organisations, as they often reached out to places where state departments could not.

DPSA noted the positive progress in addressing some of its concerns. Sign language had been included into Women’s Day, Youth Day and World Aids Day celebrations. Braille facilities ought also to be included.

DPSA urged that in order to achieve and maintain the 2% employment targets, all departments had to formulate proper incentives to keep the disabled in their employment, and all employees should be reasonably accommodated in their needs.

Transport issues
Mr Masambo said that the state spent a great deal on
subsidising public transport. There seemed no reason why the state then could not force the transport sector to create plans to phase in disability accessibility. Most of the accessible transport interventions were in the urban areas, but very little to no access was provided to the rural areas. There was a need for a universal, inclusive and standardised transport framework across the board.

Braille accessibility
Mr Masambo said it was
important that Braille learning materials should be standardised in public institutions, as there currently were no public Braille facilities.

Accessibility through TV
He noted that there was some progress for the deaf, as sign language interpreters were provided for the news, and subtitles were provided for some programmes. However, there was a clear need to do more.

The Chairperson noted that it was part of this Committee’s work and commitment to address disability issues. Three other ministries would also present on their commitments to mainstream disabled people. She noted that some of the key interventions that were needed included reaching and maintaining the 2% disability employment targets, and prioritisation of Braille learning materials.

Mr J Marais (DA) asked whether DPSA had statistics on how many people in the country actually had some form of disability. He noted that South Africa had ratified the UNCRPD, but said that the conditions and requirements in that document were not clearly translated into provisions in state legislation and therefore were not being enforced. He asked how DPSA could attempt to ensure that the state and Parliament accounted properly and acted in accordance with their responsibilities under the Convention.

Mr Masambo said that Stats SA counts came to the conclusion that 5.6 % of the 51 million persons in the country were disabled. However, DPSA believed that this was an under-count and that probably closer to 10% of the population was disabled. DPSA believed that Parliament bore responsibility for ensuring that the UNCRPD and South African obligations were fully reflected in national legislation.

Mr Masambo added that in addition to Stats SA reports the latest census had, for the first time, used a different measuring instrument to categorise disability. This picked up patterns that corroborated the suspicions that the numbers were closer to 10%. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had, two years ago, released a report that on average, every country probably had disabled people at 10% to 15% of their total population. The categorisations there included sight, hearing, communication, and mobility, as well concentration and the ability to care for oneself. If the statistics also included those with severe disabilities, that might amount to 6.7% of the population. However, if the broader interpretations were used, then this would bring it closer to 19% of the population. He explained that this was because a hearing or physical disability that could be alleviated with certain aids might not be categorised in some studies as amounting to full disability. That illustrated the importance of assistive devices, as even Oscar Pistorius would never have reached the heights he had without assistive devices. DPSA agreed that the state must provide assistance with mobility issues for the disabled.

Mr Marais did not believe that a 2% disability employment target was sufficient and said that if the public sector was failing to reach this target, he wondered how the private sector would do so.

Mr Masambo said that DPSA had found that out of 47 departments, seven departments had reached or surpassed that target in 2012, as listed in the presentation. At provincial level, there was some compliance with that target. Often, DPSA would be told by departments that they were unable to find suitably qualified disabled graduates, but DPSA had in fact been working in certain provinces, and would proactively approach departments and present qualified disabled graduates. The DPSA noted the contribution of the Sheltered Employment Factories, but wanted to see that there was skills development and movement from there to the open labour market. Because these factories were operated on a private business model, they posed the risk that the disabled persons became exploited, as they were permanently employed there all their working lives.

Mr Marais asked about the relationships between the National Council of People with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPD), and DPSA, and said that both were affiliated to the South African National Disability Alliance (SANDA)?

Mr Masambo said that SANDA had been formed when departments were demanding a unified voice on disability issues. This was somewhat ironic since others had never demanded that different political parties must only ever speak in unity and come together on issues! There were differences in their focus as disabled people could not be ‘classed’ as a homogenous group. Essentially, NCPPD was a service organisation, linking people to service points. DPSA was, and remained, an advocacy group. There was therefore no duplication of purposes, not was their any confusion of functions amongst the disability organisations. DPSA was a cross disability organisation, NCPPD only dealt with only those with physical disabilities, and DeafSA and BlindSA were geared to the specific needs as their names indicated.

Mr D Du Toit (DA) asked that if there were journalists present at the meeting they should kindly take note of and publicise these important issues. He was pleased to see that there were also representatives present from other departments. He asked if DPSA could clarify for him the categories of disabled people – for instance, mobility or communication impairments – as he said it was important to recognise and formulate appropriate responses for each of those different challenges. He commented, in regard to employment, that it was surely better to ensure that a person was a taxpayer rather than a tax burden, and said that nobody would want to be a burden and would prefer to make active contributions. He asked why the state was not doing more to assist those who were disabled to become enabled taxpayers.

Mr Masambo stated that the different categorisations could be found on the DPSA website, but in fact employment equity would not want to “categorise” people. The purpose here was to determine not so much the specific interventions, as the fact that reasonable accommodation interventions were needed for disabled employees. DPSA fully agreed that children in particular needed to be mainstreamed. DPSA had made proposals on the “back to school campaign” to the Departments of Basic and Higher Education, as well as to the DWCPD, and would welcome the opportunity to partner with them. DPSA fully agreed that if disabled people were absorbed into employment, they would become taxpayers. Insofar as medical aids were concerned, there were definitely new challenges that needed to be addressed in relation to people with disabilities.

Mr J Williams (ANC) asked whether there were any instances in which the state, private sector or other institutions had implemented the DPSA’s five step plan successfully. He asked how DPSA would suggest that the privacy issues for the blind and deaf must be addressed. He asked why the DPSA thought that good intentions of individuals were not translating to actual change on the ground. He asked whether there were any provinces or municipalities who had reached the 2% target and asked if there were best practices identified that the DPSA could share with the Committee.

Mr Masambo asked that Parliament should perhaps use the Annual Reports from departments as a barometer to check whether there had been progress in changing attitudes to the disabled. He noted, however,  that good policies did not automatically translate into a plate of food or accessible modes of transport. DPSA had engaged senior officials to try to get them to hold their subordinates accountable for failure to meet targets, to implement policy on disability and other key performance indicators.

Mr E Nyekemba (ANC) commented that the inclusion of other departments in the meetings was informed by this Committees work. He commented that the Sheltered Employment Factories (SEFs) were one attempt by the state, even if it was only partially successful, to support factories in absorbing the disabled, in tandem with state departments. DPSA perhaps also needed to forge relationships with those SEFs. He suggested that DPSA needed better and more visible campaigns to raise the flag on a number of issues, since the report from the Employment Equity Commission showed that the private sector was taking little affirmative action to employing people with disabilities. The legislation on employment equity was binding on both the public and private sectors.  He also wanted more elaboration on the funding needs.

Mr Masambo said that DPSA had already resolved to become more visible and hoped that the media would assist it in this regard. It planned a number of campaigns. He agreed that the legislation was binding on both sectors, and DPSA would also like to know what was happening in the private sector. In relation to the ultimate outcomes, a process should be followed to bring the UNCRPD conditions into national legislation so that they were effective and binding. In relation to funding, he noted that the DPSA was an NGO, and did not get any public funding. It had previously received some international funding but when South Africa became a democracy that funding had ceased, as the funders had expected the State to take over the responsibility for the disabled, through the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

The Chairperson said that she hoped that everyone present had noted that Members were taking ownership of the issues being discussed. However, it was obvious that the Committee and the whole of able-bodied society needed to do more. Disability was a very broad subject, and it encompassed concerns on labour, women, children, people with disabilities, and involved also the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME). This Committee was trying to partner with other appropriate departments and committees. There was a need to open up more spaces and provide resources and the Committee would need to look into whether the departments were responding to the issues by formulating programmes. It had been said that it was unacceptable for a public representative not to know sign language. This Committee had lobbied for a permanent class in sign language, disability and gender for public representatives.

She commented that during oversight, the Committee had found that many parents were not participating in School Governing Bodies or other teacher/parent associations in schools for the disabled, especially in rural areas, and it was necessary to consider how they could be supported and their involvement in the schooling promoted. The DPME would be tracking progress on disability. She commented that collaboration was very important in engaging with the issues raised.

The Chairperson added that during a previous presentation by DPSA, it had presented a costing for employing a disabled person, and this should be done by any department when hiring a disabled person, to get to grips with the challenges, and try to isolate the reasons why disabled people tended to leave the jobs.

Mr Marais commented that he was involved with the Paralympics movement. He noted that “inclusion” had become a buzz-word in sport. At the high-performance level, sports federations for the able bodied were doing quite level. However, at the lower level, when they were asked to go to rural areas to find and develop talent, the federations knew very little. They were particularly discriminatory towards those with disabilities. He welcomed the increase in the disability grants, but he commented that it was disturbing to note that the amounts paid to those with disabilities was below the average wage of farm-workers whereas they shared at least the same basic needs.  

Mr Masambo said that it was of even more concern that when he analysed employment equity reports, disabled white people were generally receiving more than their black counterparts. It was possible that there could be other factors at play, but this was a reality., but the state had said they would do so to only a certain extent.

Ms T Mofolo (ANC) commented that when it came to funding, sports bodies would get some assistance from the Department of Sports, a specific departments. However, people with disabilities were told to approach Departments of Social Development or Health, neither of whom were dedicated to disability. She wondered if each and every department should not be provided with specific budgets for people with disabilities, as a social responsibility, to address funding concerns holistically.

Ms Mafolo added that there were two main business networks for women: The South African Women Entrepreneurs Network, and the South African Women in Construction Association. She wondered why there was no specific “kitty” or budget, within the Department of Labour, Trade and Industry and others, to cater for and grow people with disabilities. Sheltered Employment Factories were sponsored by the Department of Labour, to absorb people looking for employment, but if a disabled person wanted to start his or her own company there was nobody specific to approach.

Ms Mafolo asked why business funding seemed to be skewed in regard to people with disabilities and said that all the disability NGOs that were receiving funding were staffed at the top by white people. Private companies should be questioned as to why they were funding disabled businesses according to colour. Even schools and health were racially skewed in the country.

Mr Nyekemba commented that if the meeting was addressing the non-compliance of particular Director-Generals, the meeting room would be full of media and the stories would be publicised internationally. However, disabled issues being addressed by an NGO attracted no coverage, and he thought that the very fact that DPSA received so little attention in the electronic media was itself discriminatory. Their presentation should be featured on the front pages instead of tucked away in the middle of the print media too.

Ms M Mohale (ANC) agreed that disability issues of disability should be featured in digital, print and electronic media. However, of more significance at the moment was the fact that although policies existed, nothing was done to implement them. There were no consequences for these failures. The 2% target had been in place since 1995, but there were simply no consequences to address the failure to fulfil that obligation, with top officials were still getting performance bonuses

Mr Marais commented that some years ago, there had been agreements to increase women’s participation in the work place, and he had asked why that could not be done for people with disabilities. If the boundaries were not pushed, and people were not held accountable, nothing would happen. He noted the comments on employment equity, but said that disability did not recognise race, and it must be noted that Coca Cola had withdrawn its sponsorships, even for Paralympics. Were it not for the National Lotteries, many organisations for disabled people would have closed their doors. Companies only saw those sponsorships as but another social responsibility, and that was discriminatory.

Mr Masambo commented on some of the issues just raised. He said that in the experience of DPSA, the focus would be on the fact of disability, and not the preference or skills of that disabled person. That was problematic as it was stereotyping of a serious nature that ignored the potential of that person. He reminded Members that these were not “new” rights as the UNCPRD was speaking of rights that had been recognised as early as 1945. Accessibility issues for the disabled always had to be prioritised as these were a major impediment.

Mr Masambo said that in 2012 there had been a debate over the establishment of a Disability Office in Parliament, since all public representatives with disabilities experienced major daily challenges. One of those, for instance, was that one MP whose personal assistant travelled with her was not separately funded, although she was in effect assisting the MP, so that the MP would run out of her travel allowance as her budget was now expected to cover the two people.

Mr Masambo noted that the South African Employers of the Disabled (SAED) was an umbrella organisation of South African corporates. Any company wanting to join was asked to pay a membership fee of R40 000, and, more importantly, would be subject to a disability audit, and would be refused membership if it did not comply with accessibility prescripts. That was an indication to DPSA that Corporate South Africa was taking note of its issues.

He noted that DPSA had in the past met with the President and the Ministers for Social Development and Women, Children and People with Disabilities, and had asked them to build in to the Ministerial Performance Contracts, and Director-General Performance Contracts, as one of the key performance indicators, that tangible progress must be made in enhancing employment and accessibility for the disabled. The indications were that there was consideration being given to that issue. The performance bonuses would then hinge directly on their conscious efforts to promote and employ disabled persons and implement policies properly.

The meeting was adjourned.

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