FIFTEEN people with disabilities started their new jobs as data capturers at the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) yesterday in a ground-breaking move by the organisation to integrate and empower people with disabilities into the workplace.
At an induction ceremony on Friday, Coega chief executive Pepi Silinga, welcomed the employees saying the importance of such a programme should never be under-estimated. Silinga also challenged other local and regional business to follow suit and employ higher numbers of people with disabilities.
“We challenge other entities to meet and exceed our efforts and use this as a platform to multiply the opportunities available to people with disabilities. In fact I would like to challenge Discovery, based here in the Coega IDZ, to do the same and set a precedent for these types of initiatives,” said Silinga.
Silinga also said the organisation would learn from the new employees, who have a range of disabilities including visual, hearing and physical, to improve the CDC’s readiness to take in higher numbers of people with disabilities.
“We are very happy to see you here today. You will help us traverse a journey to refit the CDC building so it is comfortable and appropriate for everyone who works here – because we all deserve dignity,” said Silinga.
“There is a general ignorance in society about the challenges people with disabilities face and I want you to make yourselves vulnerable –let us know if you experience a problem. You need to be advocates, because if you don’t it’s easy for people to continue ignorantly as if all is well. We will support and assist you and likewise you will do the same to help us. I am more than convinced by the appropriateness of the steps we are taking to become a leader in ensuring employment diversity.”
One of the new employees, Amanda Wellem from Zwide, who is visually impaired, said the opportunity meant she could become the person she used to be. “Before I lost my sight I worked at Home Affairs and I was an independent woman and breadwinner – overnight I became blind after a retinal detachment and I lost my job just like that,” Wellem said.
“I went totally blind in the one eye and in the other I can only see shadows. I was completely traumatised and I couldn’t accept the situation. But in the end I told myself I have to look forward. So I taught myself brail and met people like me in the same situation who taught me how to cope and become independent again. But of course finding a job was a struggle. That’s why this opportunity at Coega means so much to me.
“I have told myself that I am back, I am going to be the Amanda I used to be. I have to thank Coega for giving me the opportunity. I am now a motivation for my friends who see me excelling despite my disabilities.”
The new recruits will be working on a critical information, communication and technology (ICT) project as the CDC streamlines its data capturing processes using the Project Information Management System (PIMS) application.
Over 500 projects would be moved over to PIMS and the recruits would be responsible for dedicated and committed information input over a period of three months. The new system would be employed to report to key CDC stakeholders, clients and funders.
The call for applicants with disabilities went out in May and is empowerment-orientated, said Thandi Rayi, CDC corporate social investment manager.
“We had 15 spaces available, but the upside is that we now have a database of people with disabilities that we can draw on for similar future initiatives,” she said, adding that this was the first of many programmes which would focus directly on placement and training of people with disabilities.
“Although the contract is only for three months, there might be scope for an extension and we are very focused on training and skills development. The intention is to upgrade the new employees’ skills base to a higher level than when they came into the programme. There are also further training opportunities that will be available after the project is complete.”
The recruits will undergo a month-long mentored training programme with “full blown support” including review stages and training in Microsoft Excel to both ensure skills development and the credibility of the information input before they start the more complex data input.
Silinga added that the recruits would also be able to refine the skills they need for future sustainable employment.
CDC corporate services executive manager, Zuko Mapoma, said this initiative formed part of Coega’s agenda to be a change agent for the better. “We have to lead from the front and it is for this reason that we decided to take a stand and lead on this one, employing higher numbers of, and fitting out our building to better accommodate, people with disabilities.”
The successful applicants are all leaders in their respective communities, many sitting on committees and boards of various associations, including the Quad-Para Association, the National Council for the Blind, the Port Elizabeth Deaf Association and ward committees and forums.
“For me this is a great opportunity – what we always cry is that we don’t get these types of opportunities because of accessibility of information,” said Zolani Runeli, who is also deputy chairperson of the Quad-Para Association.
“It’s very important for people with disabilities to gain independence and getting a job enables you to move from being a burden on your families to becoming a provider and an asset. You are able to really be a big brother to your sisters and can buy meat and things the family needs. Coega is providing us with an opportunity to contribute to our families and community. I am excited and also a bit nervous, but overall I have good feeling about it.”
The 1995 White Paper on the Transformation of the Public Service identified a 2% disability equity target for the employment of people with disabilities in the Public Service, with a deadline of ten years. By April 2005, the reported percentage of employees with disabilities in the Public Service was only 0.15%. The deadline for this target has since been extended twice – first to March 2010 and most recently to 2014.