How to Ensure a Disability-Friendly Work Environment

It was former United States president Abraham Lincoln who declared, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Sure, it sounds like a nice, simple quote about the human condition, but it’s the first part that truly stands out. Many are raised to believe that resilience is uncommon, but nothing can be further from the truth.

People overcome a lot of obstacles every day; adversity is something everyone is well acquainted with. Some, however, deal with a lot more than others do. It is an unfortunate reality that many suffer from disabilities. However, just because some people go through more than others do doesn’t mean that they can’t be happily employed.

Disability Doesn’t Mean Unable to Work

Many disabled people work through their afflictions, and as a matter of fact, many succeed regardless. Others are so successful that they can adequately serve as an inspiration to anyone going through a tough time. One prime example would be the dancing barista in Canada whose YouTube video went viral last January.

If disability is no reason to stop working, then it certainly isn’t a good reason for employers to turn down prospective employees either. Several disability discrimination laws exist to help the plight of the afflicted, but regardless of what the law says, there are mutual benefits that companies and individuals can always reap.

Untapped Potential

For one, high-quality employees are not so easily found. Those with disabilities can be a major untapped source of qualified candidates. Companies should not fall into the trap of believing that the range of skills is insufficient. Failing to recognize the potential of these individuals should be rightfully considered a missed opportunity.

Besides the benefits that a company can generate for itself by being more disability-friendly, there is also the direct benefit of enriching other people’s lives. Being employed isn’t just an economic benefit for people with disabilities; it is also a significant psychological and social boost. With that being said, it is clear that the creation of a disability-friendly environment is something that companies need to prioritize.

To achieve such a goal, first, the types of disabilities must be identified.

Disability Types

Physical Disabilities

These can be either temporary or permanent. Oftentimes, physical disabilities hinder an individual’s mobility or physical capacity. Examples include cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and muscular dystrophy, among others. Temporary injuries may include dislocated shoulders and broken legs, which may have been caused by everyday accidents. An extreme example of this is when horseback riding accident left actor Christopher Reeve a quadriplegic. He and his wife went on to found the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

Mental Illness

This is something that can severely affect a person’s mind-set. It influences one’s emotional state and behavior in and out of the office. Prominent examples include clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder. Famous people are not exempt from this. Actress Vivien Leigh was known to suffer from bipolar disorder. Former United States president Abraham Lincoln was said to have fought clinical depression his entire life.

Sensory Disabilities

These are the ones that affect a person’s senses; they may affect just one or perhaps more, depending on the specific ailment. Examples are blindness, deafness, and autism. There are inspiring people who didn’t let these disabilities from accomplishing things. American author and political activist Helen Keller would be one. She was left both blind and deaf after a childhood bout with scarlet fever.

Intellectual Disabilities

Intellectual disabilities tamper with a person’s skill in communicating, learning, and information retention. Some examples include dyslexia, fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays. Among the many names of highly accomplished people with dyslexia are Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein.

Making the Workplace More Disability-Friendly

With those types clearly defined, companies need to show that they take these things seriously. Companies that openly commit to their employees’ needs are immensely attractive; people want to know that they are valued and that those in charge look out for them.

There are several ways to make any company more disability-friendly. Here are some of them.

Keep Employees Informed and Educated

Employees, whether they are disabled or not, need to be kept in the loop. Creating a disability-friendly environment is dependent not only on the management’s understanding but also on everybody else’s. Fortunately, there are ways to make sure that every employee is well educated.

One way companies can do this is to establish a training program to broaden their knowledge. Information resources can be invaluable assets and are a step in the right direction. Companies may also include disability-related materials in the orientation programs to help prepare new employees.

An example of how a company can educate their employees is IBM’s mandatory disability awareness program. Ernst & Young (EY) has received several Diversity Inc awards for hiring disabled people. They also offer disability awareness training for all their employees all over the world.

Communication Is a Must

Although keeping employees informed is a positive for companies, it is rarely enough. Continuous communication between the workers and management is also a must. It can be as simple as an employee knowing that his or her supervisor or manager is approachable regarding disability-related concerns. This can prevent a myriad of problems in the long run.

As an example, Accenture hosts several forums annually for employees. Starwood Hotels & Resort Worldwide has on-site counselors whom anyone can approach. KPMG has a disability network where employees can voice out concerns about workplace conditions and retention. These prominent organizations know how to be disability-friendly, and a clear proof is their encouragement of open communication.

Offer Alternatives and Other Considerations for the Disabled

There are some alternative ways of doing things that employers can consider. Adaptability is the key here, since it can be difficult to anticipate what prospective employees may suffer from. For example, modified tests in braille format can help the blind in filling out applications.

For newly disabled employees, the adjustment period will be undoubtedly rough. Adjustments like altering the premises can be a big help. This can involve widening some doors or adding ramps. If the company is renting an office, looking for places that are already disability-friendly should be a must. Maybe other workers can take over some of the disabled employee’s’ duties, if there is extreme difficulty in performing them. Adjusted work hours can also be incredibly beneficial.

Taking into account the types of disabilities and what can be done for those who suffer from them is one of the most basic things that a disability-friendly company can do. The best thing about this is that any company can become more disability-friendly. It is not overly difficult to accomplish, and it merely takes some time and effort to put into effect.

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Business Writer
Not weird enough for the freaks. Not obsessive enough for the geeks. Thoroughly laconic but will communicate for food/existential expression. Graduated with a Degree in Marketing Management but chose to write for a living instead.