Addressing Disabilities in the Workplace

I’m not quite sure how I stumbled upon this topic, but thought it might be an interesting issue to address.  Most likely it affects a larger audience than we may think.  Imagine your life somehow being altered one day in a way that you could have never imagined.   Maybe you were performing yard work and fell off the ladder and strained your back or broke an arm, or a worse-case scenario involving some type of debilitating accident.  All things that we would never wish on anyone, but could happen at any time to any one of us.  What would you do in this situation?  Or better yet, how would you react to others that are not as capable as you are to perform work?  When individuals feel they can’t be themselves in the workplace, they may not fully engage as part of a team or in their individual work assignments.  Their issues may be so extreme that an disability2employee feels they need to hide their disability due to embarrassment.  All behavior that can lead to low morale, increased absenteeism, decreased work productivity, and even retention difficulties.

One of my recent blog posts referred to the importance of leaders and leadership within the workplace.  Leaders are so crucial for ending this type of behavior.  Open, effective communication, as well as clear channels for feedback can optimize discussion opportunities, shutting down these patterns and turning them into positive situations.  Every organization is unique, but all have room for improvement.

How can management/workers embrace these differences in the workplace?

  • Acknowledge differences such as ethnicity or disabilities. Everyone is unique and has positive attributes.
  • Involve management in activities outside of the workplace that allow interaction with employees. Employees will feel more comfortable by having their differences acknowledged and these events be a way to be creative and have fun!
  • If someone has a disability that affects their mobility, rearrange furniture and objects within the office to allow for wheelchair accessibility or improved mobility in general.
  • Make eye contact when discussing a disability with an employee or co-worker. This will show your empathy and concern for their situation.
  • If someone has a learning or is visually or hearing impaired, offer and provide assistance as needed.
  • Be patient.

Most times, companies will have Human Resource Departments in place to properly address these individual situations, but if you are a small business owner, you may not have this resource.  disabilityDiversity training is another way to develop awareness and to increase employee sensitivity to such issues.  Training opportunities are offered from small colleges, to community centers, and can offer invaluable information to address diversity within the workplace.  By learning this specialized skill set, you’ll be able to address concepts such as: time management, physical contact and personal space, communication patterns amongst different personalities, conflict resolution, and self-worth, just to name a few.

The more comfortable your employees are within their work environment, the better the output will be in the long run.  Training is a short term investment for a long term solution.  It is my guess that as a business owner, you will at some point encounter a situation that involves some type of disability or diversity amongst your employees.  Hopefully this blog can steer you in a more positive direction as to how to be a better leader when this situation does present itself.  Take the high road and be the one that is influential in making the outcome a positive one.  Knowledge is power, and keeping great employees happy in the workplace is priceless.