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Disability in the work place

Publishing Date : 18 September, 2017

Author :

An expert shares her personal, professional experience and gives an academic perspective as she interacts with Reporter, OAGENG BATENEGI.

She is currently reading for her PHD in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene at the University of British Columbia in Canada. She says she grew up with a “rather eccentric uncle” whom she loved. The now late uncle had disabilities, she narrates. He had epilepsy and possibly undiagnosed mental health issues, she added. Bojosi Gamontle from Mahalapye in the Central District, said all his life, her uncle was not able to engage in productive employment. This is because her uncle had to leave school in his early years due to disability.

The uncle later passed away in 2000 when Gamontle was studying for her first degree in Occupational Therapy in Australia. She had initially chosen the course while at the University of Botswana, primarily because she wanted to assist her uncle and other people living with disabilities.

“My uncle may have passed away, but what remains for people with disabilities is limited access to education and work opportunities,” Gamontle told this publication. She added that the issue of this vulnerable population is not limited to the African region. “In fact it is such a global phenomenon that even the ‘land of free’, just a little over 20 years ago introduced “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)”. The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against qualified people with disabilities.

Gamontle is of the belief that though the situation may have improved in this country since her uncle passed away, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. “Even if policies and guidelines have been introduced, without proactive implementation outcomes can be minimal”, Gamontle is adamant. She posts that even with ADA itself, evidence shows that a decade after its enactment, gains in employing people with disabilities had declined due to lack of proactive recruitment and general negative organisational disability culture.

The occupational health expert argues that some of the reasons why organisations may not hire persons with disabilities may be concerns of reduced productivity levels, perceived associated costs and the need for increased occupational safety. “Contrary to these beliefs, internationally, some organisations which inexpensively and successfully integrated people with disabilities into their workplaces reported improvements in diversity to their teams; reduced absenteeism; safety records; lower turnover rates and overall achievement of organisational goals,” she argued.

Gamontle added that there are many practical steps that an organisation can take in order to increase their recruiting and retaining qualified persons with disabilities. These includes but not limited to; assessment of the type and degree of physical disability and/or cognitive functioning, recommendation of assistive and/or adaptive equipment such as hand-splints; orthosis, back-braces, wheelchair, environmental modification (e.g. installation of ramps, changing workstations to suit the person’s dis/ability). An occupational therapist can assist with this process.

She added that the other is minimising health hazards in the workplace. These includes evaluation and measurement of biological (e.g. mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB), chemical, physical exposures, recommendation of control measures such as engineering controls (e.g. installation of ventilation systems etc.), administrative measures (e.g. work rotation, safe practices), personal protective equipment (e.g. respiratory protection programs). An occupational hygienist or another certified occupational health practitioner can provide leadership in this area, she emphasised.

Gamontle emphasised that there are still improvements to be made in order to increase access to educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For these to be achieved, it will take ongoing collaboration by people with disabilities, their families, health professionals, potential employers and policy-makers, she said. “There is also a need for increased research in order to continually evaluate changes experienced by people with disabilities, in engagement, participation and productivity in the work place,” she added.



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