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Disability is a thorn in the side of the skills development strategy
Wed, 23 May 2007 21:00
By Ivor Blumenthal - CEO of the Services Seta
It is difficult to publicly admit. Seven years into the Skills Development rollout it is apparent that even where we are meeting our paper targets established by the National Skills Development Strategy, where Setas are tasked to ensure that 4% of our benefits is spent on people with disabilities, we are nevertheless failing people with disabilities terribly, especially those with mental disabilities.
Yes we meet our targets annually but the question remains whether we have generally improved the plight of the disabled to find meaningful, productive gainful employment.
I was asked recently why I care. In-fact to be specific I was challenged on why I am kicking up such a fuss when the disabled community itself has been silent on the issue to-date? The answer should be apparent. Having insight into the plight of the disabled, I have become terrified for myself my employee’s and my family.
It takes a moment for those of us who have our limbs, who are mobile and have our cognitive senses in-tact to cross that divide, and in that moment to join the ranks of disability. In so doing we can be certain of only one thing. We will, in the process of becoming disabled have entered a quagmire of uncertainty.
Even if we remain able to make a partial physical contribution and hence be able to work within an adjusted context and environment, we can be certain that no employer will actively seek us out, except where they possibly fall-short on their own Equity targets.
Even then, where they have targets to meet we will scare them off when we begin a discussion with them on “reasonable accommodation” and “assistive devices”, on peer sensitisation and management training to be able to deal with disabled subordinates etc. They will very quickly despair and give-up the noble challenge of employing a person with a disability.
Equally we can be sure that where we may be partially subsidised by a disability grant, (if we are able to navigate the challenging bureaucracy of access to these grants) we will spend more than the entire grant (intended to keep us fed and housed) simply becoming mobile i.e. on transport.
Then, when and if we manage to enter a Seta-funded Learnership, we will lose our disability grant because the Learnership Grant constitutes alternative income and therefore disqualifies the person with a disability from receiving such a second grant.
If I am a person with a severe physical impairment I stand very little chance of being included in a funded Learnership because no Learnership has been designed with my level of impairment in-mind. If it is cognitive, then outside of the craft-based Industry, there is almost no opportunity for me to be trained for meaningful gainful employment.
I have called repeatedly for a Ministry for the Disabled to be considered by Cabinet. My own Government Department of Labour has taken me to-task on this call saying that my actions are bringing unwanted attention to those with disabilities when we should be focusing on non-discrimination and integration.
I am in-fact consciously advocating affirmative discrimination in-terms of Government policy in-favour of the disabled. We cannot treat the disabled community as if they are part of the mainstream when they patently are not and require a specialised sustained focus with dedicated resources.
As a Seta having to report to the Department of Labour on our achievements in the field of Disability, besides reporting against targets, and site visits by DOL officials, no individual or Department in Government are interrogating our plans and projects for efficacy and productivity.
No dedicated Department is taking responsibility for reconciling our activities with real needs via sound research, and more importantly no Government Department is actively knitting each of the Departments of Labour, Social Welfare, Health and Education and Trade and Industry into an integrated national strategy with a consolidated budget for supply and demand-side incentive expenditure for the disabled community.
The Services Seta has been berated for offering a disability grant alongside our Learnership Grants and Bursaries. We have been criticised from two avenues.
Firstly some of the other Setas have accused us of breaking ranks and varying the Grants structure unfairly. At the same time some organisations within the ranks of the disabled have criticised us for not offering enough of a disability grant to cater for assistive devices required to be able to do the job and for transport which is a necessity.
The answer to the latter is that if we had more resources we would offer larger grants. The answer to the former is that we recognised long ago that it would be criminal and cruel to only offer our traditional grants where the Learner was disabled and to ignore the exceptionally high expenses over-and-above those faced by able-bodies and of-mind learners where the Learner had a disability.
Our efforts would be doomed to failure were we not to try and cushion the additional financial obligations incurred when employing a Learner with a disability, with some type of a subsidy.
In-fact we are now in the process of developing an additional grant for Disabled Learners which we refer to as a mediated learning grant intended to subsidise the costs of coaching and mentorship by trained councillors where possible.
We are in the process of training Councillors to work as mediators around the country. 100 have begun training on a fourteen module programme to-date.
We have a long way still to go but do believe that people with disabilities, be they mental or physical should be afforded every opportunity and assistance to prove that with a little added help and funding they can be bridged to enter the mainstream of the world of work and be competitive and add value. Surely this should be a strategy of the entire Governments?
This is a call to people with Disability be it mental or physical. Go to our Website at www.serviceseta.org.za. Log into the Scarce Skills section and give us your information.
Tell us where you believe you have skills, qualifications or experience matching our sectoral requirements and we will then do everything in our power to network you with our member companies and investigate with you the opportunities we are able to create for you.