Having employees with disabilities means that your workplace needs to be more inclusive of their needs. This can be difficult if you are unsure of what, exactly, this all entails. An inclusive workplace is more than simply installing wheelchair-friendly ramps, and outlined below is some helpful advice to create a workplace that caters to employees with disabilities.
Partner with a skills development facility
Partnering with a skills development facility will allow you, as a company, to create new learnerships that are tailored specifically for those who are disabled and who may need to improve their skills or gain new ones.
If you already have employees who are disabled, these skills development facilities can provide help with their training, especially if they are special needs that you may not be able to meet in the office. Having the correct support in place will allow your employees to continue with their position easily and efficiently, while knowing that they can turn to your partner for support and guidance.
Work on workplace culture
When individuals in your workplace feel as though they are unable to express themselves, they do not feel included in the team and may not participate in team building or engage fully in assigned work.
Open, effective communication from the leadership optimises the opportunity for discussion among employees, allowing those with disabilities the chance to educate others about their needs and disability. If you nurture a workplace culture that is open to learning about others, rather than a workplace that dishes out reprisals for political incorrectness, disabled employees and their colleagues will be able to have open discussions about the needs of each other.
Review and refine job roles
In situations where potential employees do not fit traditional job roles or where current employees become disabled, you should look at reviewing and refining job roles. By doing this, you will better be able to cater to the needs of disabled employees.
To achieve this, you could ask yourself some questions such as, “Am I able to extract suitable tasks from other positions to create a new role that uses the strength of a person with disabilities?’” “Can I make adjustments to the work environment to facilitate the mobility and work of a person with disabilities?” and “Can I offer flexible working hours for disabled employees who may not be able to be in the office every day?’”
Use technology as support
Some disabled employees may be able to make use of assistive technology which can help them to advance in employment. The technology today includes innovations such as text-to-speech for visually impaired employees or captioning software for hard-of-hearing employees.
Assistive technology can also be something as simple as looking for electric staplers for those who have little to no use of their hands, or more specialised software for those who may not be able to use a keyboard to type. By introducing assistive technology, you will be enabling the disabled employees to work on the same level as others, allowing for more productivity and better employee morale.
Think outside of the office
The workplace is not the only place where you should be inclusive of disabled employees. You should strive to make all office parties, conferences and gatherings inclusive of your disabled employees.
Lunchrooms and kitchens also need to be easily accessible for those with disabilities, so be sure that you look into catering for disabled employees before you hire anyone. The lunch areas for disabled employees and abled employees should not be separate from each other, as this may cause tensions in the office. Office parties should be held at venues which cater for disabled people, and conferences should use assistive software.
Use mentors to aid employees
If you have employees who are able to offer advice and help to disabled employees, use them as mentors. It can be especially helpful if the mentor has experience with a disabled person and can help them adjust to office life.
Such help can be particularly meaningful for employees whose disability is not ‘visible’, such as mental illnesses including depression or social anxiety. Having someone to provide support and advice to them while they are becoming used to working in your company will help to make the process easier. A mentor will also learn more about a disabled employee and can help other accommodate their needs by giving thoughtful advice.
If you feel as though you may not be able to accommodate disabled employees, it is not difficult and it can be highly beneficial for your company. Disabled employees should not be treated with condescension or indifference, but require you to learn about their needs and opinions to make a more inclusive workplace. Review and refine your current positions to cater for disabled employees, and always remember to ensure that you have the correct structures for their needs.