By Jorge Mendes
September is International Deaf Awareness month, in commemoration of the first World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf, which took place in September 1951. This year’s theme “Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights” has been and remains core to our business’ customer and employee engagement for the last two decades. This month it is essential that we reflect on the importance of building an inclusive society, which recognises the everyday struggles, challenges, and barriers that people living with disabilities face.
15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability and as a society, we have the responsibility to promote inclusion within our homes, social and professional communities.
One of our key members of staff, Lavinia Koopman, who has been with Vodacom for 25 years and is Executive Secretary to the Network Operations Officer, was diagnosed with profound sensory-neural hearing loss in both ears in June 2018. Using various assistive technologies (ATs) such as hearing aids and listening devices, Lavinia can once again effectively communicate with all those around her. To ensure maximum benefit from her expertise, we had to quickly educate our staff and create communication methods that allow us to maintain effective conversations.
As part of our commitment to provide staff living with disabilities access to programmes, tools, and technologies that they may require, Vodacom has established a Disability Employee Forum. The forum consisting of staff living with disabilities and staff who have family members living with disabilities. The role of the forum is to raise awareness of disability and to co-create disability policies and processes. Accommodating staff with specific needs and focusing on each individual’s ability empowers each person to reach their full potential.
Besides focusing on maintaining a barrier-free workplace for employees living with disabilities, focusing on the needs of consumers living with disabilities is equally important to us. Over the last decade, we have strived to promote inclusive technologies and processes, which drive digital inclusion. Together with disabled people’s organisations, we place a special focus on meeting the needs of senior citizens, persons with visual impairments, and persons who are deaf and hearing impaired. By meeting their specific needs, we enable everyone to stay connected, live a better life today, and to build a better tomorrow.
As Vodacom, we believe technology has the potential to be a great equaliser and driver for an inclusive South Africa. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), digital innovation can bridge the gap that exists in accessing ATs and promote the inclusion of persons living with disabilities. ATs are systems, hardware, software, and services designed to improve the everyday lives of people living with disabilities. Through technology, persons living with disabilities can participate in all aspects of life. People need to benefit equally from the rapid developments in ICT to enable them to partake in an inclusive and barrier‐free information society.
Being proactive in developing a community that embraces individuals living with disabilities will enrich not only our communities but our individual lives as well. I encourage all South Africans to be patient, understanding and accepting to ensure we create a community where everyone feels welcome. Vodacom remains committed to leaving no one behind as we continue to invest in improving our products and services to cater to our customers living with disabilities.
(Jorge Mendes is Vodacom’s Chief Officer for Consumer Business and has been with Vodacom since 1994. He has held several executive roles in the business within South Africa as well as our African operations in Tanzania, DRC and Mozambique).