Employers have been challenged to overcome their fear of the unknown that has over the years led them to overlook employing people living with disabilities, to grow a more inclusive workforce.

There are close to 100 000 persons living with disabilities in Botswana. According to the Quarterly Multi Topic Survey quarter four of 2021, only about 11500 are employed, leaving thousands out of the job market.

Recently, the Botswana Council for the Disabled hosted Dr Kedibone Seutloadi, guest lecturer and consultant at Diabalwa Professional Services, to discuss how and why a diverse and inclusive workforce is important for the business community, as well as for national development.

The virtual meet also served to launch Dr Seutloadi’s ‘Disability Sensitisation in the workplace’ ebook.

Dr Seutloadi, explained that it is time to challenge the way we think about disability when it comes to employment, adding that one of the barriers to employability of people with disabilities is reasonable accommodations.

These are meant to ensure that everyone is able to participate on an equal basis. They include training of persons with and without disabilities, recruitment and selection, benefits and privileges among others which tend to disadvantage people with disabilities.

“Some employers think they will incur more cost restructuring the working environment to make it friendly,” she shared.

But she says this should not be the case as besides being a long term investment that will be fruitful for both parties, technology has unveiled useful mechanisms for persons with disabilities to utilise. Language used in the workplace can also be problematic but is one often taken for granted.

“The language we use can be so dangerous and reinforces the negative stereotypes. Avoid language that suggests that the person with disability is frail, sick and depends on others.

“Words and phrases like 'handicapped,' 'physically challenged,' 'suffers from or victim of,' should be avoided. That person is not a victim. They have all the right to be there to use all the abilities they have, that they would have been hired for,” Dr Seutloadi explained.

“In some documents you find written “PWD” to refer to people with disabilities, we are not acronyms, why do we believe others should be? If you are confused and do not know what to write, its better you just refer to the person by their names.”

Her book, which Dr Seutloadi described as an indispensable tool for human resources to master compliance while nurturing their diverse and dynamic workforce among others, does not only have real-life examples of situations for HR professionals but also gives a simple but broad overview of disability in the hopes that it will help others have open and honest conversations.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Botswana Council for the Disabled, Moffat Louis said there is a need for the civil society to work together with the business community and government to see how best to create opportunities for and absorb people with disabilities.

He acknowledged some of the efforts that government have put in place to enhance the participation of persons with disabilities in formal employment.

Among them is the internal arrangement within government to have a list of graduates with disabilities sent to the DPSM through the disability office and then when it comes to placement, the Directorate of Public Service

Management would then apply affirmative action to fast-track their placement in jobs.

“That has yielded some fruits with quite a number people with disabilities working in government through the initiative.

“The private sector has also made a small improvement in being inclusive and bringing them on board, even though it is not structured,” Louis observed.

Still, he said unemployment remains prevalent among people with disabilities, a situation that inevitably robs them of their dignity and diminishes their roles in the community.