Disability is not a problem. People’s perception of disability is a problem. This is what the employees of physical asset management company, Pragma, discovered when management started employing physically disabled persons. With the recent appointment of the blind forty-six-year-old Strini Naidoo, as a Customer Perception Officer, this perception was further curbed.
Nanette van Rensburg, Executive PA at Pragma says that since the initial appointment of the first disabled employee, the company and its employees have learnt a great deal about people living with disabilities and a positive change occurred towards embracing such individuals. “Companies are generally not open to employing people living with disabilities, but physically disabled persons can make as much of a contribution as anyone else, are very loyal and have a very positive attitude towards their work. They also add great value to our culture.”
This is extremely evident with Strini, who makes training and working with him both effortless and rewarding. Although training must be approached differently and the trainer needs be more involved in initially becoming the “eyes” of the trainee, the learning curve stays the same and the individual is able to absorb and apply the learnings just as effectively as an abled person. “Strini’s positive attitude leads to higher productivity from everyone and his drive to succeed is infectious. Within two days he was navigating himself around the office and making himself coffee”, says Van Rensburg.
Naidoo’s scope of work requires special software. For this purpose The Job Application With Speaking software (JAWS) has been deployed on his personal computer and he received a special headset to accommodate the computerised voice annotations.
Naidoo says his position involves calling on an existing customer base and requesting them to do online surveys to rate the product and service that they have experienced with Pragma. “The successful completion of these surveys has enormous value in terms of improving service delivery and potential for renewed business opportunities. There are also numerous administrative functions associated with this position and the complexities will start to expand as I become more familiar with the different systems. Primarily my motivation for working here is that the environment is dynamic, the culture motivational, and the management visionary.”
Attie Nieuwoudt, MD of Pragma says that the company strives for equality and this is one area in the business that they are focusing on to improve. “Pragma has 13 disabled employees. Apart from special software for the sight impaired individuals, the company made a couple of alterations in their buildings to make it safe and more accessible for all of these employees. A range of information sessions and continuous communication forms part of sensitising fellow employees on how to engage with disabled persons and how and when to assist. We found that knowledge has broken down all the barriers that existed in terms of the perceptions around people living with disabilities and the fear of engaging with them. Our experience has taught us that no distinction should be made between abled and disabled persons. I would like to encourage other companies to follow our lead and make more workplaces accessible for people living with disabilities.”
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