Disability should not be a barrier to learning and opportunities

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1 200 students with disabilities from 24 schools attended the 2022 Citi South Africa Disability Career Expo held in Johannesburg last week. This is the largest gathering for promoting and enabling employment opportunities for people with disabilities on the continent.

The event’s aim is to expose disabled learners to corporate career opportunities, to demystify disability in the South African workspace, and unpack the challenges faced by companies struggling to attract people with disabilities into their employment.

Our vision with this careers expo is to provide valid and relevant information to hundreds of students, graduates and entrepreneurs with physical or intellectual disabilities about what exciting opportunities await them,” says Programme Director Sizwe Zim. “We have created an opportunity for these students to meet corporates and to catalyse transformative change in the disability arena”.

While the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities may be widely acknowledged, demystifying, and highlighting the largely marginalised disability sector as well as the sourcing and accessing of relevant skills within this sector remains a challenge. The national disability prevalence rate in South Africa is 7,5%, with disability more prevalent among females compared to males (8,3% and 6,5% respectively).

Lauren den Besten, a Campus Talent Acquisition Graduate at Citi South Africa who is the headline sponsor of this event, says that students and young people with disabilities need to know that there are companies out there that are actively looking for disabled talent.

den Besten joined Citi South Africa in February this year in the talent acquisition space. Speaking in her personal capacity, she says the organisation’s intent focus on diversity and inclusion is what attracted her most to a career at Citi. den Besten, who is herself disabled and lives with epilepsy, is currently completing her master’s degree in philosophy.

Epilepsy is a neurological impairment and falls within one of the five categories of disabilities in South Africa, which also include physical, sensory, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.

She relates to the real fear that many people with disabilities have that an employer won’t want you.

“It is really important that more disabled people are aware that they are very welcome in the corporate space,” she says. “This career expo is a fantastic opportunity for both the disabled community as well as for Citi to show that they care about people with disabilities”.

Speaking more broadly about disabilities within the South Africa context, den Besten says that we have a very progressive constitution, with specific rights for people with disabilities.

“There is always more work to do, specifically considering the socio-economic context that we find ourselves in. Not all people with disabilities have the same experience due to poverty, access, gender and race. My hope at this career’s expo is that the students will feel appreciated, feel that they are accepted for who they are, that they matter just as much as any able-bodied person and that their skills are very valuable. We want these students to know that they can have a fulfilling and successful career within the corporate or any other sector they are interested in”.

Other speakers  at the 2022 Citi South Africa Disability Career Expo included Paddy Slattery – Founder of Mandeville Disability Swimming; Jesse Kotze – Managing Director of eDeaf and Ipeleng “Crazy Legs” Khunou, an athlete who competed in the Two Oceans Marathon on crutches.

Providing some of the entertainment at the expo was DJ Darkness, who found fame in SA’s Got Talent in 2017. DJ Darkness and music have been inseparable since the moment he touched a keyboard. He embodies that being blind and having a physical disability is no deterrent to being successful within your dream career.

Students at the career expo were able to interact with a host of South African corporates to find out more about their bursary and skills development programmes as well as career opportunities within these organisations.