Labour Laws

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

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5.1 Defining persons with disabilities under the Act
The scope of protection for people with disabilities in employment focuses on the effect of a disability on the person in relation to the working environment, and not on the diagnosis of the impairment.
Only people who satisfy all the criteria in the definition:
(i) long-term or recurring;
(ii) having a physical or mental impairment;
(iii) which substantially limits,
are considered as persons with disabilities.

5.1.1 Long-term or recurring

(i) Long-term means the impairment has lasted or is likely to persist for at least twelve months. A short-term or temporary illness or injury is not an impairment which gives rise to a disability.
(ii) A recurring impairment is one that is likely to happen again and to be substantially limiting (see below). It includes a constant underlying condition, even if its effects on a person fluctuate.
(iii) Progressive conditions are those that are likely to develop or change or recur. People living with progressive conditions or illnesses are considered as people with disabilities once the impairment starts to be substantially limiting. Progressive or recurring conditions which have no overt symptoms or which do not substantially limit a person are not disabilities.
5.1.2 Impairment
(i) An impairment may be physical or mental.
(ii) ‘Physical’ impairment means a partial or total loss of a bodily function or part of the body. It includes sensory impairments such as being deaf, hearing impaired, or visually impaired and any combination of physical or mental impairments.

(iii) ‘Mental’ impairment means a clinically recognised condition or illness that affects a person’s thought processes, judgment or emotions.
5.1.3 Substantially limiting

(i) An impairment is substantially limiting if, in the absence of reasonable accommodation by the employer, a person would be either totally unable to do a job or would be significantly limited in doing the job.
(ii) Some impairments are so easily controlled, corrected or lessened, that they have no limiting effects. For example, a person who wears spectacles or contact lenses does not have a disability unless even with spectacles or contact lenses the person’s vision is substantially impaired.
(iii) An assessment whether the effects of impairment are substantially limiting must consider if medical treatment or other devices would control or correct the impairment so that its adverse effects are prevented or removed.
(iv) For reasons of public policy certain conditions or impairments may not be considered disabilities. These include but are not limited to:
• sexual behavior disorders that are against public policy;
• self-imposed body adornments such as tattoos and body piercing;
• compulsive gambling, tendency to steal or light fires;
• disorders that affect a person’s mental or physical state if they are caused by current use of illegal drugs or alcohol,
• unless the affected person is participating in a recognised programme of treatment;
• normal deviations in height, weight and strength; and
• conventional physical and mental characteristics and common personality traits.


6.1. Employers should reasonably accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. The aim of the accommodation is to reduce the impact of the impairment of the person’s capacity to fulfil the essential functions of a job.
6.2. Employers may adopt the most cost-effective means that are consistent with effectively removing the barrier to a person being able to perform the job, and to enjoy equal access to the benefits and opportunities of employment.
6.3. Reasonable accommodation applies to applicants and employees with disabilities and may be required:
(i) during the recruitment and selection processes;
(ii) in the working environment;
(iii) in the way work is usually done and evaluated and rewarded; and
(iv) in the benefits and privileges of employment.
6.4. The obligation to make reasonable accommodation may arise when an applicant or employee voluntarily discloses a disability related accommodation need or when such a need is reasonably self-evident to the employer.
6.5. Employers must also accommodate employees when work or the work environment changes or impairment varies which affects the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job.
6.6. The employer should consult the employee and, where practicable, technical experts to establish appropriate mechanisms to accommodate the employee.
6.7. The particular accommodation will depend on the individual, the impairment and its effect on the person, as well as on the job and the working environment.
6.8. Reasonable accommodation may be temporary or permanent, depending on the nature and extent of the disability.
6.9. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:
(i) adapting existing facilities to make them accessible;
(ii) adapting existing equipment or acquiring new equipment including computer hardware and software;
(iii) re-organising work stations;
(iv) changing training and assessment materials and systems;
(v) restructuring jobs so that non-essential functions are re-assigned;
(vi) adjusting working time and leave;
(vii) providing readers, sign language interpreters, and
(viii) providing specialised supervision, training and support.
6.10. An employer may evaluate work performance against the same standards as other employees but the nature of the disability may require an employer to adapt the way performance is measured.
6.11. The employer need not accommodate a qualified applicant or an employee with a disability if this would impose an unjustifiable hardship on the business of the employer.
6.12. Unjustifiable hardship is action that requires significant or considerable difficulty or expense and that would substantially harm the viability of the enterprise. This involves considering the effectiveness of the accommodation and the extent to which it would seriously disrupt the operation of the business.
6.13. An accommodation that imposes an unjustifiable hardship for one employer at a specific time may not be so for another or for the same employer at a different time.

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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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