Unfortunately, when many people hear the word “diversity,” physically and mentally disabled populations are not typically the first group of people to pop to mind. As our society experiences an upward trend in the awareness of voices of those in marginalized (or underrepresented) populations, employers should actively work to bring these voices into the workplace. It should go without saying that a qualified, yet disabled person deserves just as much consideration for a job as anyone. Furthermore, organizations should not only be actively hiring the disabled but working to provide them with a welcoming atmosphere in their work environment. Below you will find five ways to promote disability inclusion in the workplace.
1. Connect with Local Organizations and Provide Informational Resources
There are multiple advocacy organizations that specialize in assisting organizations in efforts to train, recruit, and hire individuals with a disability. Reach out to a representative and discuss your business diversity policy and goals; they will be able to provide resources, advice, and insight into making your workplace disability-friendly. Distribute resources to your employees that provide detailed information on interacting with coworkers with a physical or mental disability. The University of Washington has created a simple, yet inclusive resource that details the best way to interact with an individual who might have any one of a variety of disabilities.
2. Create Physical Accommodation
Those with physical disabilities might need certain accommodations to support mobility, especially those with something like severe spina bifida or paralysis. Features like wheelchair ramps must be made available to allow for simple access. Workplaces in most countries typically must meet certain governmental standards to ensure a safe and functional work environment for disabled employees. Beyond ramps, there are a plethora of developments for people in the workplace. This includes desks with modifications for keyboards and more space that allows disabled employees to work comfortably. One of the most important aspects of these accommodations is that they don’t make disabled employees feel singled out. Instead, they’re the kinds of things that anyone can use, disabled or not, to work and get around with ease. Differences should be embraced while avoiding making people with disabilities feel “other”-ed. They want to perform their work like anyone else.
3. Allow Flexibility and Telecommuting
You might have a great employee on your team, but their disability may make it difficult for them to come to work. Telecommuting, or working from home, allows someone to keep contributing their excellence in a safe, accommodating environment. If you believe an employee would benefit from telecommuting, you should talk to them about it. Tell them that you would expect the same quality of work, just from home. If commuting and coming to work has been difficult for them, they are likely to be receptive to your idea. Of course, the in-office environment must remain accessible no matter what. Be flexible in working with these employees; perhaps they could come into the office a couple of days a week and telecommute on the others. The in-office days would allow you to meet with them and check on their progress. You can help them set up a practical system for delivering their work. Just be sure to maintain open communication with them to make sure that the telecommuting system is working for you both.
4. Provide Open Support Networks
This goes hand-in-hand with the first recommendation. Partnering with an advocacy organization can provide information on how to best promote effective communication channels with disabled employees. To support employees with disabilities, you need to be as active as possible in learning about what they go through. Even if you can’t completely put yourself in their shoes, you can still gain an understanding and be genuinely empathetic. Listen carefully to their insights and advice. They might tell you something that you hadn’t considered before. While you shouldn’t be speaking for disabled employees, you should be showing your support. Be sure to encourage open communication with not only disabled but all employees. When someone presents you with a problem or concern, actively work with them to find potential solutions.
5. Have Patience
If you find yourself feeling shamefully frustrated by someone with a disability, realize this: they feel your frustration but to a much greater degree. Their disability might affect you for maybe eight hours a day. However, it’s something they must carry with them everywhere they go. Understand that people with disabilities are not helpless. They just need certain accommodations. By being patient, you can show them just how much you value them. If you have any concerns, you should address them in a private manner. Commend them for what they do well and ask them if there’s anything you can do to lighten their load. They might be reluctant to speak up for fear of being reprimanded. Make sure they know that you are here for them. Further, be an active advocate for them. If you hear someone expressing an insensitive negative opinion or grievance about a disabled individual, don’t be afraid to take a stand, as long as you are not embarrassing the target or putting them in the spotlight.
You need to make your workplace one where everyone feels both safe, included, and comfortable speaking up when the need arises. For any disabled employees, there must be proper accommodations and respectful treatment. By ensuring your workplace is one of decency and respect, you can foster organizational pride. Do everything you can to treat your employees with respect and never stop seeking more education and insight to make sure the work environment consistently adapts to be the most positive atmosphere for all employees.
McKenzie Brower is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for DiversityInc Best Practices. She writes for an array of human resources and training blogs. She is a strong supporter of social justice causes and encourages others to have an active voice in promoting equal treatment and opportunity for all.