On Monday I sat in a Zoom meeting with other Disabled people. We were discussing vaccine accessibility challenges. One of the statistics discussed was the unemployment rate of the Disabled especially since the pandemic started. I wasn’t surprised to learn that most of us were dismissed within 6-18 months of the pandemic. This piece, I write as another unemployed statistic in this country.
There is nothing out of the ordinary with the unemployment stats which were released on Tuesday. They reveal the age-old finding that Black women are the most affected by unemployment. This is very unfortunate when you consider that in a fatherless country, Black women are also raising children alone. So unemployment impacts a larger unseen group of people in this country.
When I was forcefully terminated from my job after refusing to sign a document that would have meant I would never get legal recourse from them, I took the matter to the CCMA. It was referred to the Labour Court and I’m in the process of finding legal assistance. I couldn’t file with the Equality Court at the same time. My disability was the reason I was dismissed. After job hunting for almost three years, I am aware that getting back to the job market is practically impossible. Employers look at the disabled as a liability.
Pre-covid I went to more interviews than I care to remember. I’d also wrote about the struggles of being skilled and Disabled – having to transition from self-employment. I struggled to find funding for a business when I realised that the world doesn’t take kindly to being immobile. I would attend interviews. Whenever I was asked about how Disability has impacted my life, I was painfully aware about how much harder it will be for me to get back into the job market.
Even with online work, companies still insist on keeping office hours which don’t always work for the disabled. This is another reasonable accommodation which would include flexibility because we are living through an extraordinarily hard time. Our body clocks haven’t functioned properly in a long while. My being able to sit online for eight hours when the job can be completed at any time within the deadline should not be a sign of insubordination. It was for these and many other reasons, I decided to try my luck at self-employment again. Especially now that I can’t move around freely because of the airborne virus.
Employers who hire the Disabled are required by law to provide reasonable accommodation. As any Disabled person will tell you – once companies realise that they might have to spend a bit more to accommodate our disability – they look at dismissing us for a cheaper option. Our government doesn’t care about the rights of the disabled. They are some of the worst offenders when it comes to the abuse of the Disabled. From service to employment – being abused by employers goes unchecked, forcing us into a begging-to-stay-alive stance.
Reasonable accommodation during this pandemic would mean committing separate space for the Disabled, with constant sanitising of the office space and our mobility devices and PPEs. We are living and working through the open plan era of our lives. Even with the airborne virus, it means employers won’t go out of their way to accommodate one/two disabled people. As opposed to when they can get somebody who is able-bodied and with assumed good health over us. Basically those who don’t need a lot of resources to be an intern/administrator.
Whenever I go outside and I come back home, I have to sanitise my wheelchair from the handles to the tiniest corners. The anxiety of going outside had me crying in the shower every time for a few months. This was until I realised that my fear of dying was also a reason I would get fired. If you can’t be physically available at the office then people forget about you, as they did me. It goes back to the culture of out of sight and out of mind. Even when one is included as a Disabled person, it’s an afterthought. Don’t believe me – what do you know about the Paralympics. Exactly.
I’ve read many accounts of how Covid survivors sometimes live with the after-effects for months after they are “cured”. Long Covid is not officially classified as a Disability so employers are still expecting people to be performing at their “normal” level. Inaccessibility and ableism means people will not want to be classified as Disabled. It will mean that their jobs will also be up for the take.
For me to say I told you so should not be something I say to anybody who didn’t understand how being treated like you don’t matter as a Disabled person in this country is our daily experience.
Unemployment is going to haunt us if corruption and inequality continue to be our daily bread in this country. I’ve asked what happens to the poor and disabled during a pandemic in an unequal country. Now I ask, what happens to the unemployed, Disabled, poor and “unemployable” because of inaccessibility? Who is going to help us?
What a horrible way to end Women’s Month South Africa.
Makgosi Letimile is an unemployed reluctant activist, mother and sex worker.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.