The use of disabled personnel in CCTV control rooms

December 2002 Surveillance

The question of disabled personnel working in CCTV control rooms is one that is raised relatively often and is increasingly being acted on.

On one hand, people see the opportunities for disabled people to become involved in meaningful contributions to work and operational outcomes, but on the other, they are concerned about whether they will handle the level of work demands and potentially long shifts. One of the factors driving their involvement is that Government legislation in South Africa and abroad is increasingly incorporating the prohibition of unfair discrimination on the basis of disabilities. In our case, disabled personnel are also included as one of the designated groups for empowerment purposes. Considering how disabled personnel can increasingly become involved in the security workforce, therefore, appears to require strong consideration.

There appears to be some ambiguity over what constitutes a disabled person. In many cases the disabled term tends to be associated with people in wheelchairs. However, there are a wide variety of types of disabled classifications, due to anything from birth issues, accidents, illnesses, and physical conditions. Different legislative documentation also provides different definitions of what constitutes disability. Documents such as the Compensation for occupational injuries and diseases act, The military pensions act, the Social assistance act and others vary from giving precise details of what constitutes levels of disability to providing broad definitions.

The Employment equity act, in a definition of terms indicates that 'people with disabilities' means people who have a long-term or recurring physical or mental impairment which substantially limits their prospects of entry into, or advancement in, employment. It is therefore important to look at the prospects of disabled personnel for CCTV (and other control room operations) in the context of their disabilities and what they are required to do. While blindness obviously makes a person unsuitable for CCTV, being in a wheelchair may have little affect on their ability to do surveillance. Thus, many disabilities may have no or little bearing on the person's actual capacity to perform CCTV operations, although the working environments and access may be part of the reasons for not promoting implementation of disabled personnel more. The recent involvement of disabled personnel as part of the teams in the Commonwealth Games, and the superb performance of some of them emphasises that disabilities must be placed in context.

There appear to be three main factors responsible for hesitancy over the employment of disabled personnel besides the physical capacity. These are:

* Concern over physical capacity to do the work.

* Concerns over stamina of personnel to handle the demands of the work environments.

* Appropriateness of facilities to accommodate disabled personnel.

As discussed, the physical capacity to handle demands will depend on the nature of the disability. In the control rooms at Sussex Police, one of the biggest and most prestigious CCTV operations in the UK, disabilities range from people with severe back injury to crones disease, diabetes, MS, and even an operator with two artificial legs. Having been involved in training most of the management team and operators at Sussex Police in surveillance skills, I can personally vouch for their abilities, keen insight into CCTV, and ability to handle the demands much like any other operators who have been on courses. In fact, Richard Hoare, the CCTV manager for Sussex Police indicates that the detection levels for these operations is comparable if not better than any in the UK. Kimberly Police in South Africa have also recently implemented a policy of recruiting from disabled groups and there are a number of other operations in South Africa where disabled individuals are working effectively.

Physical stamina and sustained work involvement can be an issue in the conditions among a number of disabled personnel. As Richard Hoare points out, Sussex allow diabetics to absent themselves for short periods in order to administer insulin and other similar accommodations to working practices. They have been following principles in this regard that are now required under UK law (Disability discrimination act). Properly managed, the physical tolerances of many disabled personnel can be accommodated within standard working practice. Indeed, while some physical disabilities may detract from performance, other compensatory development may actively enhance people's suitability for the surveillance environment. Hoare points out that the possible risk of additional sickness absence is accepted, although a robust view of any abuse is taken. In his experience, managing 32 staff and their two supervisors is not impacted to any degree because of one person's disability or another's character. He is of the opinion that managing a people business will always bring challenges and disability does not feature as a significant part of the process. Getting able-bodied personnel to maintain involvement can be just as difficult a process as many control room managers will know. Effective shift management is a crucial part of this and is something we will look at in a subsequent article.

One of the central aspects relating to employment of disabled personnel is that while the willingness may be there, physical facilities and control room design may prevent the best intentions. Control rooms and consoles are at the best of times not the easiest environment and often suffer from inappropriate design. By accommodating design features into the control room from the beginning, many of these problems can be solved relatively easily. For example, in the initial design of workstations for the Cape Town city centre scheme, we ensured that wheelchair access to the consoles was provided for and we checked line of sight to all monitors. This was a simple process that not only benefited disabled personnel, but created a better working situation for all operators. Things like reach to controls and instrumentation in consoles also needs to be addressed, a need that shorter operators often share with disabled personnel. Hoare points out that they have generally found that only very minor adjustments are necessary, for example, a 3 or 6" section of the control desk can be removed to facilitate the operator getting closer to the equipment controls or a special chair may be required for those with spinal problems. In many cases just getting disabled personnel into the control room may be an issue. However, with legislation increasingly prescribing better accessibility to buildings for disabled personnel and particularly those with wheelchairs, this is likely to become less of a problem in future.

The provision of employment opportunities for disabled personnel is not a philanthropic endeavour. In many cases it can make good business sense as empowerment leads to motivated and dedicated staff. Hoare's comments on Sussex personnel are notable in this respect. With the experience of employing disabled staff for a number of years now, he comments that the staff bring a level of commitment to the role which is hard to find in many able bodied staff, although they now have a 70/30 mix of disabled/able. This mixture has benefits to all in that one individual's skill in one aspect of the role can support another who is relatively weak in the same area. Perhaps the scenario at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester where we saw disabled sportsmen and sportswomen joining their able-bodied colleagues is something we are going to see more of in our security operations in the future.

Dr Craig Donald is an industrial psychologist and specialist in human factors in security and CCTV. He is the co-developer of the Surveillance and Monitoring Assessment Exercise (SAMAE) for the selection and placement of CCTV operators and presenter of the CCTV Surveillance Skills training course. He can be contacted on telephone 011 787 7811, fax: 011 886 6815, or e-mail: [email protected]

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