Ensuring equal access for Members of Parliament
- POLICY ON FACILITIES FOR MEMBERS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS & POLICY ON REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION FOR EMPLOYEES WITH DISABILITIES
- South African Parliament
- Country of Implementation
- South Africa
- Subsaharan Africa
- First published
“The new South Africa should be accessible and open to everyone. We must see that we remove the obstacles. Only then will the rights of disabled persons to equal opportunities become a reality.” Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
Context: Before the policies were developed, persons with disabilities were clearly underrepresented in Parliament’s membership and staff. To overcome underrepresentation and to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy equal access to all facilities of Parliament, policies were properly researched, drafted, and developed in consultation with MPs, about 950 employees, as well as disabled peoples organizations, such as Disabled People South Africa, in order to be as inclusive as possible. It took about five years to finalize both policies. In 2006 the South African Parliament’s Policy Management Unit approved the Policy on Facilities for Members with Special Needs and subsequently, in 2009, the Policy on Reasonable Accommodation for Employees with Disabilities. Both policies must be read in conjunction with the 1996 Constitution of South Africa and all relevant legislation, which includes, among others, the Employment Equity Act of 1998. In 2006 and 2009, South Africa’s Parliament introduced policies that contain extensive support measures for Members of Parliament and employees with disabilities. The provision of reasonable accommodation has led to measures that go beyond individual support and that benefit the whole Parliament. These include the establishment of institutionalised sign language interpreter services, a braille production unit, electronic text announcements, and more.
Persons with disabilities rarely become Members of Parliament; and if they do, they need equal access to all parliamentary facilities. South Africa has implemented steps that ensure the inclusiveness of its Parliament and that allow all Members with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others.
Solution, Innovation and Impact
The Parliament’s Policy on Facilities for Members with Special Needs aims to enable Members with disabilities to participate effectively by providing them with the necessary facilities. Members with disabilities must inform the Chief Whip of their party of their needs, who in turn passes the requests to the Secretary of Parliament. The Secretary can provide for several facilities, contribute to the salary of assistants, or pay specialized transportation costs. The implementation is carried out by the Facilities Unit. The Policy on Reasonable Accommodation for Employees with Disabilities entitles employees to reasonable accommodation and facilities. Employees are responsible for informing their respective managers, and their disability status is kept confidential. While the Human Resource Executive implements this policy, the Policy Management Unit monitors its impact. Covering costs for reasonable accommodation Both policies cover the costs for ‘reasonable accommodation’, which means to appropriately modify and adjust so as to enable persons with disabilities to work as effectively as others. This concept is a core element of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Systematic removal of barriers The provision of reasonable accommodation has led to measures that go beyond individual support and that include the establishment of institutionalised sign language interpreter services, a braille production unit, electronic text announcements, as well as additional travel benefits for Members of Parliament with disabilities or who have disabled family members. - By shifting the costs for reasonable accommodation to the Parliament, Members and employees with disabilities can achieve equal results in relation to participation and productivity. - There is a long-term impact to the policies in terms of the progressive removal of physical barriers and increased access to parliamentary information and communication – e.g., braille documentation and specialised transport services.
Funding, Outlook and Transferability
Other legislatures and government departments have used both policies as the basis to develop their own policies. Both policies can be easily replicated at the Cabinet, provincial, and local council executive level (public representatives) as well as by departments and other institutions.