Businesses not only have a legal and moral obligation to hire people living with disabilities, but they also stand to benefit financially from tax breaks and government incentives.

This is according to transformation specialist, Roxanne Da Mata Gonçalves of Strata-g Labour Solutions, who says: “Employers cannot keep hiding behind the so-called high costs of hiring people with disabilities. The Employment Equity Act calls for fair representation of South Africa’s demographics, including those living with disabilities within the workforce. Not only are people living with disabilities as efficient as their able-bodied colleagues, in some cases, they even perform better.”

A report, compiled by Accenture in partnership with Disability: IN and the American Association with People with Disabilities, analysed the disability practices and financial performance of 140 companies over 4 years. The 45 companies that Accenture identified as standing out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had on average over the 4 years, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than the other companies without disability policies.

According to Statistics South Africa, the national disability prevalence rate in the country sits at 7,5%, yet employees with disabilities make up only 1% of the workforce.

“To encourage the inclusion of and increase the numbers of people with disabilities in the workplace, the government through its Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) policies has offered tax rebates and tax incentives to organisations tapping into this specific workforce,” explains Da Mata Gonçalves.

She says employers offering learnership programmes to persons living with disabilities can claim up to R 60,000 for the initiation of the learnership, and another R60,000 when the programme concludes from the South African Revenue Service.

“If you had 10 learners at the end of your learnership programme, bringing the tally to R120,000 per learner and a net profit of R2-million before tax, R1,2-million would be exempt from tax, meaning your organisation would only be required to pay a 28% tax fee on the remaining R800 000,” Da Mata Gonçalves illustrates.

Beyond this, employers can utilise the special window frame offered to persons living with disabilities to apply for training through the various Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA).

“The DTi make provision for enhanced recognition from a BBBEE perspective, being able to claim double points learners with disabilities from a training perspective for a as little as 0.3% of the Skills Development target. If those individuals are from a previously disadvantaged background, you can claim against that too.

“From a supplier perspective, Gauteng has allocated 5% of the provincial budget to go towards suppliers living with disabilities,” says Da Mata Gonçalves.

In a bid to create awareness, integrate people living with disabilities into the workforce and allow employers to maximise what is achievable on their BBBEE scorecards, Strata-g is partnering up with JDM Placements to host a workshop next month about the social and economic benefits of hiring professionals with disabilities.

“The point of the workshop will be to speak to structural changes in the workplace to allow for reasonable accommodation and universal access of people living with a disability. A tax specialist will address all areas associated with costs for employers, allaying whatever concerns they may have. The workshop will further ensure that employers get over this idea that it is exorbitant to hire persons with disabilities,” says CEO of JDM Placements, Jacqueline Da Mata.

According to The World Bank, 1-billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Only about 50% of disabled people of working age are in work compared to 80% of non-disabled people of working age.

“There are several business cases which have proven the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities. Employers’ objection around placing employees living with disabilities stems from how much of their operations will be disrupted and the costs associated with reasonable accommodation. But the benefits of hiring professionals living with disabilities far outweigh the adjustment required to create universal access. All organisations need do is to understand how they can capitalise on the various incentives offered by the government and stop infringing on the law by excluding hiring people living with disabilities,” concludes Da Mata Gonçalves.