Few people realise that about 10% of all South Africans have a disability. And of those five-million disabled people, less than 1% (50 000 people) have a proper job. Is entrepreneurship the solution to South Africa's employment problem, not only for people with disabilities, but every unemployed person?
Entrepreneurship for people with disabilities - and how to make it happen, will be one of the topics discussed at the Airports Company South Africa Disability Conference, which takes place on 6 and 7 September at the Sandton Convention Centre.
The session will explore what opportunities are available for people with disabilities; what conditions must be created to encourage and sustain entrepreneurship, and what bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles need to be eliminated.
American statistics show that 40% of all home-based businesses are owned and operated by people with disabilities. In fact, the United States Census Department says 15% of people working with a disability are self-employed. Owning your own business gives you more time flexibility, and more control over your working environment; which can be advantageous to a person living with a disability
According to Statistics South Africa, census figures of 2001 show that only about 19% of disabled persons were employed compared to 35% of non-disabled persons. Persons aged between 35 and 44 years for both groups reported the highest percentage of the employed. The disadvantaged position of disabled persons could be due to diverse socio-economic and social cultural factors, particularly their low levels of education, discrimination in the labour market and negative attitudes of those they live amongst. These low levels of employment for the disabled population underscore their continued marginalisation and lack of independence within society.
Conference Chair Ari Seirlis
"Rising unemployment can be effectively reversed by encouraging, enabling and teaching entrepreneurship for young South Africans, and promoting it as a viable career choice," says Ari Seirlis, Vice Chairperson of the South African Disability Alliance. Seirlis, who will chair the conference, is himself an entrepreneur with a disability. He was rendered a quadriplegic after an accident, has owned a signage company for 15 years and has been involved in numerous entrepreneurial initiatives over the years.
"Entrepreneurs continually create sustainable job opportunities in this country; for many people, entrepreneurship represents their best hope of finding a job," says Seirlis.
Celebrity shares his story on living with a disability
Well-known Pat Pillai is a teacher, businessman and news anchor at eNews, who became a social entrepreneur by establishing Life College. Living with epilepsy, Pat now creates leaders with champion mentalities. "This same champion mentality is what is needed for South Africa's people with disabilities," says Pillay. He is one of the key speakers at the conference, sharing his journey as a social entrepreneur with a disability.
Programmes to assist entrepreneurs with disabilities
"There are excellent entrepreneurship programmes available for people with disabilities," says Marina Clarke, National Director of Epilepsy SA, another speaker at the conference. She highlights the Pan-African Capacity Training Intervention, which fills the socio-economic gap between government commitments and actual grass-roots delivery.
"The training intervention is designed to create realistic expectations by people with disabilities about establishing and successfully managing an enterprise," explains Clarke. "It also aims to establish instructors to provide entrepreneurial training and support to entrepreneurs with disabilities; and increase economic activity by including people with disabilities."
Able-bodied people can learn much from someone like Mandlakazi Mpahlwa, a co-presenter of Summit TV's 'The Big Small Business Show'. Mpahlwa will facilitate the panel discussion on entrepreneurship at the conference.
"The qualities that I saw in my partially blinded brother taught me that I could convert my small enterprise into a formidable and reputable business, one day at a time," says Mpahlwa. "I have interviewed a number of entrepreneurs with disabilities, and I've realised their ambitions and goals are no different to mine or someone who is able-bodied."
Entrepreneurship knows no bounds
Another entrepreneur who will deliver an inspirational talk at the expo is celebrity businesswoman, role model and TV personality Masingita Masunga. Born with cerebral palsy and after struggling at school, Masingita became a disability activist, daring to push the envelope and change attitudes towards the term 'disabled'. She has been able to beat the odds and make a difference in her life, her family, and ultimately across the country.
She is the Chief Executive Officer of Masingita Masunga Media, with interests in television production, exhibitions, conferencing and publishing. She also owns her own record label. Over the years, she has received numerous awards, including the Shoprite/Checkers Woman of the Year award in 2004. She will be giving a motivational speech in the Expo hall on Friday 7 September.
About the Airports Company South African Trade and Lifestyle Expo and Conference
This three-day expo is the only event of its kind, bringing together people living with any kind of disability, their families, caregivers, employers and service providers.
For more information on exhibiting at or visiting the show, contact: Bette McNaughton - Event Director. Tel (+27) 11 784 4279. E-mail: . Website: www.fairconsultants.com.
For more information on the Airports Company South Africa Disability Conference, contact: Catherine Larkin - CVLC: Tel: (+27) 11 789-7327. E-mail: .
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