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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


KLEYNHANS, Ronel  and  KOTZE, Martina. Managers' and employees' attitudes towards people with physical disabilities in the workplace. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.3, pp.404-418. ISSN 2224-7912.

South Africa experienced drastic changes in the political arena during the past two decades. These changes have given rise to improved management of the diverse South African population, compelling the effective management of people with disabilities. "People with disabilities" can be defined as people who have a long term and recurrent physical or mental defi ciency which significantly hinders the possibility of gaining access to, or of being promoted in employment. Disability is an international phenomenon that elicits local, national and international commentary. People with disabilities represent a big proportion of those who want to work, but often remain unemployed because managers do not acknowledge their potential. The main reasons for the exclusion of people with disabilities from the main stream are negative attitudes and bias from people without disabilities towards them, as well as a lack of awareness of their abilities. Therefore, people without disabilities show different responses to people with physical disabilities, ranging from negative responses on one end of the continuum such as exclusion, to positive responses on the other such as mutual adaptation. Attitude can be described as an idea (cognitive component) inspired by emotion (affective component) which predisposes a certain category of behaviour (behavioural component) to a specific class or social situation. Furthermore, there are several factors which can influence the attitudes of people without disabilities towards people with disabilities, such as the strategic priority that managers need to give to people with disabilities. In view of the above, the purpose of this study was to investigate the attitudes of managers and employees towards people with physical disabilities in the workplace. It is a quantitative study which made use of a survey research. The respondents who were involved in the study were managers and employees from several large and small companies in the Free State who were students at the school of management of a local university. The Scale of Attitudes toward Disabled Persons (SADP) was applied and completed anonymously. Sixty three respondents participated, consisting of 33 managers and 30 employees. It was apparent from the results that the attitude of both managers and employees towards people with physical disabilities in the workplace was neutral. A neutral score can be interpreted as the absence of a positive attitude, apathy towards people with disabilities or denial of the potential of people with disabilities. This neutral response can be interpreted also as an unwillingness of people without disabilities to express their true attitude towards people with disabilities. Therefore, answers that are seen as socially desirable are given instead of answers reflecting the respondents' true attitudes. Whatever the case may be, the result in practice is that people without disabilities do not make a purposeful attempt to employ or utilize people with disabilities fully. It can also be an indication of the uncertainty of managers and employees about the ways in which the needs of people with disabilities should be addressed, as well as how interaction with these individuals should take place. Therefore, people without disabilities prefer to interact with people who are similar to them. This has the further implication that people without disabilities prefer to employ people who are similar to them. This research, to a certain degree, underwrites previous research claiming that people with disabilities experience work related discrimination and unjust treatment. This includes reduced benefits and opportunities of working overtime, as well as unrealistic expectations about their inputs, and different negative behaviours towards people with disabilities. Negative attitudes towards people with disabilities are not verbalised blatantly, but do come to the fore in the apathetic attitudes of employees and managers towards them. From the results obtained in the study, several recommendations can be made such as that managers need to develop a heightened awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce, and more specifically of including people with disabilities. The legal aspects, as well as the implications of the employment of people with disabilities, must be brought to the attention of employers as well as employees in organisations. By implementing different attitude changing strategies in organisations, a pro-active attempt is made to create a heightened awareness of the needs and potential of people with disabilities. It also follows from the results of the research that an attitude scale, standardised to the South African context and distinguishing between different types of disabilities, can be developed. The scale must be available in more than one language and be suitable for persons with an educational level of grade 12 and higher. Finally, in any further research on the attitude of people without disabilities towards people with disabilities in South Africa, an attempt must be made to obtain subjects who represent the diverse South African population. In this way, an attempt can be made to standardise the scale for the South African context.

Keywords : diversity in the workplace; disability in the workplace; biases against people with physical disabilities; attitudes against people with physical disabilities.

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