Labour Laws

Code of good practice on disability in the workplace in South Africa

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1.1. The Employment Equity Act, No. 55 of 1998 in South Africa protects people with disabilities against unfair discrimination and entitles them to affirmative action measures.
1.2. The Code is a guide for employers and employees on key aspects of promoting equal opportunities and fair treatment for people with disabilities as required by the Employment Equity Act (the Act).
1.3. The Code is intended to help employers and employees understand their rights and obligations, promote certainty and reduce disputes to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy and exercise their rights at work.


The Code cover the following aspects:
i The definition of disability;
ii Reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities;
iii Avoiding unfair discrimination and achieving employment equity during the employment cycle (from recruitment to termination);
iv Confidentiality and disclosure;
v Employment benefits; and
vi Employment equity planning.

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  1. Magteld Smith Reply

    What is confidentiality inofrmation of a person with a disability/ies in the workplace in South Africa? Any disability needs to be diagnosed by a medical practioner/specialist, moreover, all disability -related information is clearly medical in nature (e.g. vision impairment, mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability, hearing impairment, epilepsy to mention a few)and the Employment Equity Act (EEA)under the Constitution stated no lesser level op protection to someone with one disability than another, it seems an appropriate extension to consider all disability related information to be medical information and to hold it with the same degree of confidentiality. What about the regulations regarding privacy of information or doctor-patient relationship?

    Information regarding disabiltiy is considered highly confidential in developed countries, secure files with limited access, and is only to be shared on a need-to-know basis. Therefore, the employer need to have knowledge about a specific disability to accommodate an employee with a specific disabilty according to their specific need and not the perception of special treatment. If the employer would not do anything differently to accommodate the employee as a result of knowing the information regarding the disability, then it would probably be inappropriate to share such information?

    An example, an employee is hearing impaired. What information should be shared with the employer? Is it not appropriate and expect that the employer should know enough about how to accommodate the person in the workplace by providing e.g notetakers, sign language interpreters, listening devices, hardcopies of meetings and information….. Is a letter from the employer to the Human Resource Manager or supervisor not enough that indicates that the employee has a medical diagnosed disability and that certain accommodation measures need to be in place to fulfil the organisation’s mandate for employment equity?

    The assumption and perception that a person with a mental disability is totally dysfunctional and intellectually impaired. Moreover, that all hearing impaired persons are making use of only one mode of communication e.g sign language.

    It is not that to many uneducated busy bodies are involved in a highly specialised field, namely, disabilty? Is it an excuse for not using common sense in applying the regulations and the Constitution, using good sense, and acting in good faith towards the privacy and confidentiality of a person with a disability?

    Do people with disabilities live in an “abnormal environment” in South Africa? Therefore, it is argued that there is hardly any change for a person with a disability to survive in the workplace without specialised people based on the medical-social model and specific disability legislation. How does government as an employer treats public servants with diabilities in the workplace? Do we have any leadership in this field?

    • Magteld Smith Reply

      Communication in the workplace for people with a hearing disability.

      If you have deafness or hearing loss, communicating at work can be difficult, especially if your colleagues don’t know what to do. It’s worth remembering that many people who shy away from talking with you are just nervous of making a mistake or offending you. There are many ways to improve communication with your colleagues.

      It’s a good idea to tell people the best way to talk with you. In most cases, they will appreciate your direct approach.

      Explaining your hearing loss to colleagues

      Your colleagues may know little or nothing about your particular hearing impairment. To communicate effectively with you, they need to know specific details. Suggestions include:
      Avoid the blanket statement, ‘I’m deaf’. Instead, describe the nature of your hearing loss. For example, you might say: ‘I have trouble hearing voices if there’s a lot of background noise’.
      Tell your colleagues how best to talk with you. For example, tell them it will help if they speak more slowly. Ask them to be a reasonable distance from you and to make sure that their face is adequately lit.
      Ask them to raise the volume of their voice slightly and use appropriate visual clues.
      Ask them to rephrase rather than repeat things you have difficulty with, and write down critical information such as dates, times, addresses, telephone numbers, peoples’ names, and amounts of money.
      If you have more hearing loss on one side, tell people which is your ‘good side’. Explain that gauging direction can be difficult for you.
      Explain how your specialised devices (such as a FM system) work and let them know if you wear hearing aids, cochlear implants, sign language or use a speech processor.

      If you suffer from tinnitus or Meniere’s disease, let work colleagues know how this might affect you. For example, you may become dizzy and nauseous and need to lie down. You may not be able to drive or operate machinery at this time.

      Learn about hearing loss

      Communicating with a colleague who has hearing loss can be difficult when you’re unsure of what to do. If in doubt, ask them. The person appreciate your efforts to improve communication. They won’t think you’re rude or drawing unnecessary attention to their hearing loss.

      It would be a good idea if all staff members were trained in deafness awareness. You might want to suggest this to your manager. You can get professional advice on adapting the workplace and staff training from government and community organisations.

      It will also help if all staff members learn some of the basics about hearing loss, such as:
      All deaf or partially deaf people have different communication needs.
      Not all people with a hearing impairment feel the same way about their disability.
      Most people with deafness will have some residual hearing, but will show no outward signs of how much they are able to hear. The amount they can hear may fluctuate, depending on environmental factors and their emotional or physical state.
      Most people with deafness and hearing loss communicate orally (by speaking). Their individual language levels may not be an indicator of how well they are able to hear.
      People who have had a cochlear implant usually cannot hear anything without using their speech processor.

      Talking face to face with a colleague with hearing loss

      General suggestions for talking face to face with a colleague who has hearing loss include:
      Make sure you have their attention. This could include saying their name, getting into their line of vision, waving at them or touching them on the shoulder.
      A person with hearing loss needs to see your face when having a conversation. Make sure your face is well lit. Don’t stand in front of a window, for example, because the back-light shadows your face.
      You may need to move to a quieter location.
      Allow your colleague to see your face directly at all times. For example, don’t look around or drop your head, don’t eat or smoke, and don’t cover your face with your hand.
      Keep eye contact. Don’t talk to them if they are walking away from you, or as you walk out of the door or from another room.

      Effective communication with a colleague with hearing loss

      Tips for communicating effectively with a with a colleague with hearing loss include:
      Identify the topic first – for example, ‘I’d like to talk about tomorrow’s meeting’.
      Use open-ended questions, rather than those that need only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This helps you know whether they understood you or not.
      Speak clearly, but don’t exaggerate your lip and mouth movements – this makes speech-reading harder.
      Speaking too slowly can seem patronising. Talk at a normal pace.
      Speak a little louder than usual, but don’t bellow. Ask the person how best to alter your speech for speed and volume.
      Pause from time to time to allow the hearing-impaired person to catch up and ask questions.
      Body language and facial expression are important. Try not to keep a deadpan face.

      Problems communicating with a colleague with hearing loss

      Sometimes, the person with hearing loss can’t understand what you’re saying. Suggestions include:
      Don’t be embarrassed, uncomfortable or frustrated.
      Don’t make the person feel as though they are the problem. If you have an accent, the person may need time to adjust. Be patient. Rather than repeat the missed phrase word for word, say it another way.
      Use visual cues, like gestures.
      If you still can’t communicate, offer to write it down.
      If they prefer that you don’t write it down, ask them what they would like you to do.

      Meetings and colleagues with hearing loss

      A person with hearing loss may find it difficult to follow the conversation when there are a number of people talking. Suggestions for running successful meetings and conferences include:
      – Distribute a written agenda and typed notes beforehand.
      – Invite the person with a hearing loss to submit any questions they have in writing, if they feel more comfortable doing it this way.
      – Ask the chairperson or the person addressing the meeting to repeat questions from around the table, or from the floor, before answering them.
      – Adjust your speed when reading from notes or documents, as most people read out loud more quickly than they normally speak. This makes it difficult for colleagues with hearing loss to keep up.
      – Present the information visually if possible – for example, Powerpoint displays or written notes.
      If you use videos or DVDs as part of a presentation or for staff training, include captions and subtitles.
      – Install an audio loop. This is a wire loop that encircles a particular area (such as the conference room) and provides amplified sounds to a person using a hearing aid. Sound is fed into the system through a microphone. Only this sound will be heard.
      – Use other assistive listening systems, such as FM and infra-red. Personal receivers can be equipped with headphones or individual ‘neck loops’ for hearing-aid wearers.
      – Make sure the speaker’s face is well lit.
      – Ask the person with hearing loss if they want to use an interpreter.

      Don’t neglect the person with hearing loss when it comes to social conversations. Limiting your interaction to business issues can make them feel isolated.

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