There is no stopping Bernadette

Bernadette Rigney is a successful marketer, business owner and award-winning entrepreneur. She is also no stranger to the day-to-day challenges faced by people with disabilities. Bernadette was born with a rare condition called Arthrogryposis, which limits the range of motion in her hands and legs. But do not for a minute think that this stands in her way.

In fact, her passion is to create equal opportunities and fairness for all persons with disabilities. Being a protagonist and making a difference in so many people’s lives, Bernadette says that seeing a dream come true for someone is the greatest reward, as is changing the perceptions of companies and organisations regarding the great value that comes with employing persons with disabilities.

“Going out and being a voice has become second nature, I already know I have to put up quite a fight. I’ve been lucky enough to convince many to be more inclusive and participated in very successful projects,”

The norm versus the reality

“In a perfect world, it should be the norm to sit on an interview panel and have a candidate in a wheelchair pitch at the interview without the panel members having panic attacks that no one sensitized them for the candidate,”

Bernadette says.

Bernadette says that some of the biggest challenges within the workplace for people with disabilities in South Africa is that the majority of companies wait for Government Departments such as SEDA and SETA to roll out with projects or initiatives that will benefit them from a SARS TAX perspective.

“Sadly, they only get presented with learnerships as an option to be more inclusive,” she says.

While companies may believe that by rolling these out, they are doing great work, the fact is that through these initiatives, the average graduate or qualified person with a disability can receive a stipend of only R 4000. “Disabled individuals are living below the poverty line,” she says.

Breaking the stereotypes

Bernadette says we have a long way to go to break long held stereotypes, and she does not mince her words. “Just the thought of appointing a Disabled Director, Lawyer or Engineer scares corporate SA,” she says.

Among the many services offered by Fability, Bernadette’s Business Consulting and Lifestyle company, are programmes to empower high potential individuals to pursue their career goals and reach their full potential.

Along with this is a service to assist companies to comply with Legislative Acts and to effectively roll out their Employment Equity Policies to reach BBBEE targets in Disability.

Bernadette says that she has been fortunate to work with amazing clients who appoint Fability for this very reason – to find high potential disabled individuals. Working with open minded teams is exactly why she started Fability.

When asked if she feels that South Africa is on par with the rest of the world in terms of accommodating people with disabilities, Bernadette says international companies in South Africa are way more advanced than government departments for example.

“I’m speaking from experience as I’ve worked with both for long periods. South Africa perceives disability as charitable cases whereas in foreign countries, it is discriminatory to even think this way,” she says.

In terms of accommodation policies in place for people with disabilities, Bernadette says that while companies in South Africa do have these in place, if there is no buy in from the top, it becomes an HR “problem” and this is when the communication and rollout does not take place effectively.

Some of the biggest challenges

As a person with a disability, Berndadette says that one of the biggest challenges to date has been transportation, and says that she might not have started her own business had it not been for problems with transportation when she was working full time. “I recently started using Uber Assist and how amazing!” she says.

She says that the highlights of her career are many, but one that stands out as one of most memorable and exciting was working with government on the 2010 World Cup.

Having been born with Arthrogryposis, Bernadette is certainly familiar with the day-to-day challenges that persons with disabilities experience. “If you are born disabled, it’s pretty normal adapting to challenges and circumstances. I think when you become disabled it’s a lot more difficult”.

She says that in terms of finances, the challenges are significant. “I sometimes compare monthly finances with my brother and sister. When physically disabled, you may require drivers, assistants and innovative devices which is triple the amount of an average able body person. In the workplace, persons with disabilities may earn a fraction of what they spend. You do become reliant on family or a sustainable side-hustle just to keep up with general expenses,” she explains.

Going digital

Along with the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had, there has been progress in an area that Bernadette is passionate about – digital transformation.

“For years I have been asking corporates to go more digital. This was my dream”.

Working remotely, for Bernadette along with many persons with disabilities, can really open opportunities. “I made the decision to work from home indefinitely. Happy me,” she says.

Building professional and personal brand experiences

Over the last six years of running Fability Marketing and Recruitment, variety seems to be at the core of her success.

“In terms of Social Responsibility initiatives, I love to mix it up a bit from a charitable initiative one year or fashion and modelling the next to career focused workshops. I was so excited when an Advertising Agency contacted me in June to work on a project for Casual Day having worked with this team initially in 2014. This this year we are collaborating with Disney. With the increasing unemployment rate in Disability, I instantly accepted the role to assist the sector over the next few months,”

she says.

And if being a passionate advocate for disability rights and a successful businesswoman is not enough, Bernadette has recently launched her own perfume range. Watch this space to find out more about this exciting business venture.

Remember your “why”

Bernadette’s advice to other persons with disabilities to inspire them to follow their dreams particularly when it comes to owning your own business is this: “Do not give up. Remember your “why”. Running a business has its ups and downs but if you persist, it’s worth it!”

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