On a scale from one to ten, how high would your employees rate your workplace in terms of creating an environment where everyone feels included, welcomed and enabled to do their very best work?
With 24 percent of American households having a person with a disability, chances are that one in four of your employees are impacted by disability in some way—either the employee themselves might have a disability, or be the caregiver for a spouse, parent, or child who has a disability (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).
Would they agree with your rating? Let’s look at an organization that offers support to achieve disability-inclusive workplaces.
The Viscardi Center is a network of non-profit organizations that provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower children and adults with disabilities. In this brief video, John Kemp, President and CEO of the The Viscardi Center, explains the benefits of fostering a disability-inclusive culture in your organization.
Building a workplace organizational structure that supports disability inclusion is the first step toward successful recruitment, as well as retention and engagement of individuals with disabilities and their family members.
There are a number of practices which can help to maximize this possibility. Some may be familiar, some may be new. Take a look and incorporate them into your daily operations. They should become common knowledge for standard quality interpersonal behavior –the way colleagues treat each other, patients and families.
Use People-First Language to demonstrate respect and sensitivity when communicating to, or about a person with a disability. It shifts the focus from the challenge (or diagnosis) a person has, to a human-centered mindset. Use person-first language, by saying the person’s name or use a pronoun first, followed by the appropriate verb and then state the name of the disability. The table below contains examples although preferences vary depending on the individual, so inquire and adapt to honor their wishes..
People First Language
|“Marcia uses a wheelchair/mobility chair.”||“She is confined to/is wheelchair bound.”|
|“Dan receives special education services.”||“He’s in special ed."|
|"Kim has autisim (or a diagnosis of..)"||"Instead of: She’s austistic"|
Other points to consider:
If an employee has a Physical Disability
- Recognize, if you need to have a lengthy conversation with someone in a wheelchair, consider sitting so you can make eye contact
- Know your workspace. Be aware of what is accessible and not accessible to people who use mobility aids
- Rearrange furniture or objects in a room to accommodate wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility aids and avoid leaning on someone’s mobility aid
- Push someone in a manual wheelchair only when asked
- Give directions that include distance and physical obstacles. (For example, you might give a location as 20 meters away, or mention that there are stairs or a curb or a steep hill).
If an employee is Blind or has a Visual Impairment
- Identify yourself and anyone else with you
- If you have met before, state the context of the previous meeting to jog the person’s memory
- If you are speaking in a group, name the person to whom you are speaking
- Speak in a normal tone of voice
- Clearly indicate if you are moving from one place to another or the conversation has ended
- Clear paths of obstacles
- Describe the surroundings to advise the person of their environment. For example, say ‘There is a chair one meter to your right.’ or ‘Step down.’ or ‘The door is to your right.’ or ‘There are some obstacles in front of you on the left.’
- If offering to act as a guide, invite the person to take your arm and walk about a half a step ahead of the person, then listen or ask for instructions
- If appropriate, offer to read written information
- Guide dogs are working dogs: speaking or interacting with the dog is distracting and inappropriate
- Plan ahead to allow adequate time to prepare printed material in alternate formats (e.g. Braille, large print, audiocassette, or digital format)
If an employee is Deaf or Hearing Impaired
- When securing sign language interpreter services, specify the language(s) required
- Attract the individual’s attention before speaking
- Speak clearly and at a pace that allows the sign language interpreter to interpret for the person who is deaf and to allow this person to respond through the interpreter
- Don’t shout
- Consider captioning
- Write notes or use gestures for one-on-one discussions
- Face the person to facilitate lip reading.
- Keep hands and other objects away from your lips when speaking
- Speak clearly, slowly, and directly to the person, not to the interpreter
- Don’t assume that the individual knows sign language or can read lips
- Reduce or eliminate disruptive background noises (e.g. tapping pens or shuffling paper), since amplification devices are very sensitive to ambient noise.
- Converse in a quiet environment, or move to one, in order to facilitate communication
If an employee has a Developmental or Learning Disability
- Offer and provide needed assistance
- Repeat information when necessary
- Speak directly to the person and listen actively
- Use plain language
- Provide one piece of information at a time
- Ask the person to repeat the message back to you to confirm they understand
- Be patient as some may take longer to process information and respond
- Try to provide information in a way that takes into account the person’s disability
If an employee has a Language or Speech Impediment
- Be patient – don’t interrupt or finish the individual’s sentences
- Don’t assume that an individual with a speech impairment also has another disability
- Try to allow enough time to communicate with the individual as they may speak more slowly
If an employee has a Mental Health Illness
- Get to know the person so you can include them in social or organizational events
- Be confident, calm and reassuring
- If the individual appears to be in crisis, ask them to tell you the best way to help
- Help in crowded, noisy environments or high-stress situations
The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) is a free resource that helps employers tap the benefits of disability diversity. EARN educates public- and private-sector organizations on ways to build inclusive workplace cultures, and empower them to become leaders in the employment and advancement of people with disabilities. EARN offers a free online primer with several disabled diversity resources for your organization.
Employees need to be comfortable and effective communicating with a diverse range of colleagues with visible and invisible disabilities. Delivering a consistently positive encounter is a fundamental skill that requires practice. Practice with feedback makes perfect. With applied knowledge, your organization can reap the benefits of an inclusive and engaged workforce of productive team members, while learning to meet the needs of an expanding customer base.
What resources have you found helpful to support a culture where everyone feels welcome and empowered to do their very best work?