September is International Month for the Deaf. Nazereen Captieux-Bhana, CEO of Employ & Empower Deaf (eDeaf) – leading provider of (Deaf) Skills Development training in South Africa – unpacks the importance of technology and accessibility to promote employment opportunities for the Deaf.
In 2004, our beloved former President, Nelson Mandela, said the following at the SCOPE Disability Conference: “It is not for them [persons living with a disability] to adapt to the dominant and dominating world of the so-called non-disabled. It is for us to adapt our understanding of a common humanity; to learn of the richness of how human life is diverse; to recognise the presence of disability in our human midst as an enrichment of our diversity.”
The above statement grounds our own philosophy regarding our business as the leading provider of skills development for the Deaf community of South Africa. Our vision is to not only supply the job market with skilled, competent, work ready Deaf individuals, but to educate the hearing community of the value that Deaf persons can add to their industry.
Jesse Kotze and I could never have imagined that the conversation we had about barriers to employment and upskilling, in a small coffee shop in Johannesburg, South Africa, would lead us to becoming recognised as South Africa’s largest provider of Skills Development for the Deaf.
Our challenge as a business, is that many Deaf school leavers, come to our centers with varying levels of education, due to their individual, social, cognitive, cultural, and linguistic needs having not been met. To bridge this chasm between school leavers and job ready individuals, we induct and stream our learners according to their suitability and passion for various learnership programmes which we offer. Our programmes include soft skills, foundational learning competence, Information Technology (End User Training and Technical Support) as well as Hygiene and Cleaning and Wholesale and Retail qualifications.
“Our challenge as a business, is that many Deaf school leavers, come to our centers with varying levels of education, due to their individual, social, cognitive, cultural, and linguistic needs having not been met.”
Learnerships are a government initiative which allows for a blended approach of workplace experience combined with in-class theoretical training. Traditionally, the learning journey at eDeaf, begins with foundational learning competence. Foundational learning competence is a twelve-month skills programme that sets the learner up to excel in the higher-level courses and learnerships that are aligned to our National Qualification Framework (NQF) standards and accredited by the Quality Council for Trade and Occupations (QCTO). FLC has a strong focus on math and English literacy, which are the building blocks for higher learning and critical thinking.
The Covid pandemic forced us to reassess our traditional approach to classroom-based teaching in our centers across the country, as we expedited our online training courses, making our business saleable by offering more courses to more learners in more locations.
Pre-training materials and messages from Deaf facilitators are sent to learners prior to the online sessions, so that everyone is on the same page, saving our learners and facilitators precious time. Learners are also able to access their training courses at any time and go over sections of the material which they are unsure about. Our online learning platform has allowed greater flexibility and self-paced learning as well as improved virtual collaboration. These training courses are specifically developed for the Deaf, by the Deaf, and accessible in South African Sign Language.
“The Covid pandemic forced us to reassess our traditional approach to classroom-based teaching in our centers across the country, as we expedited our online training courses, making our business saleable by offering more courses to more learners in more locations.”
Most importantly, the development of our online technology, has allowed us to bring a scalable business solution to the market for incidental learning. Pivotal fundamentals such Personal Financial Literacy, Time Management, Values & Ethics, HIV/AIDS, are now accessible to Deaf learners. We believe this methodology could be adopted and rollout in any country, since incidental learning is a lifelong, social and academic undertaking.
Environmental considerations as well as cost saving necessitated the business to adapt to a paperless online system for submitting digital portfolios of evidence as is a requirement for the Sectoral Education and Training Authority (SETA). In the past we would print hundreds of pages for learner assessments, assignments, moderation etc. Our digital portfolio platform won us the approval of the Information and Technology SETA. On the 4th May 2022, eDeaf won the “Best Innovation Solution for 2021” from Hyland. From a vision to an internationally recognised solution, eDeaf partnered with IronWill SA, the RODI Company and Pangolin Information Solutions to implement an innovative digital solution that has become the cornerstone of our learning institution.
As a Deaf CEO, I often encourage our clients to look through the eyes of the Deaf person. We must create a conducive environment for accessibility, from interview to exit, that includes meaningful career path development. Diversity and inclusion should be budgeted for in advance, and carefully considered, to avoid token placements of persons living with a disability. This includes provision of SASL Interpreters, posters with common workplace signs, high visibility jackets for warehouse environments, and appropriately branded waistcoats indicating the person is Deaf, to alert customers seeking assistance. We also offer basic South African Sign Language as an online option, eliminating the high cost of fuel, and vastly increasing the number of people we can train through face-to-face facilitation.
The recognition of South African Sign Language as an official language is imminent. Corporates and public services will soon be under far greater pressure to provide accessible information to Deaf persons, and we are ready to meet that demand!
“The recognition of South African Sign Language as an official language is imminent.”
We have already trained over 700 front-line workers to equip them with basic SASL skills within the Department of Health sector, as well as continuing conversations with leading banking services to convert not only consumer education materials but provide interpreter services for their Deaf clients.
As a reputable and recognised learning institution, we strive to constantly raise the standard of post school education. We have trained over 6 000 individuals in the past fifteen years, and we are proud of our placement rate of 80%*.
We are immensely proud of our humble beginnings, and from time to time, when enthusiasm wanes, we recognize the vast scope of lives we have yet to impact. However, passion remains the stronghold that underpins our mission, and we believe this is evident through our commitment to employing and empowering the Deaf community.