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Working Effectively with People with a Disability

A person with a disability can offer much in the workplace.  You should also remember that not all disabilities are physical, or obvious.  A disability can be (like myself) being in a wheelchair.  The disability can have many forms.  Disabled people are different (as are we all) however, with some strategies and flexibility and understanding, you can make it easier for a disabled person to work in your business.  If you are disabled, perhaps you can share some of these ideas with people in order to help them to help you make life a little easier. 

Here are my top tips for working effectively with a disabled person:

  1. Education for the business owner

It’s not always the case that a disabled person is less productive.  In fact, sometimes it can be the opposite as they have learnt well how to deal with their disability and are appreciative of employment opportunities, so will do their best to be productive.   Often they can be more focussed as well.  A non-disabled person can be exceedingly unproductive – chatting with co-workers, wasting time on Facebook, making personal calls and so much more.   A disabled person knows their limitations and often has had a lifetime to adjust.  They will get results; it just might be in a different way. 

  • Educating the other workers

Getting the rest of the team onboard becomes necessary.  They need to realise that things may have to be done a little differently.  Asking someone in a wheelchair to “just run upstairs and grab me a … “ is somewhat difficult.  However, ask me to cover the phone whilst you “run upstairs and grab a … “ is very do-able.  Teach the team to be open and willing to be a little flexible and welcoming of the disabled person will go a long way to helping them settle in.  Your business and systems and documented processes may need a bit of a tweak – but it is well worth that little bit of effort.  A bit of myth-busting and helping the team to understand the challenges that some disabled people experience might help them see the other person’s perspective and help them to be more kind.  Co-workers (and bosses) will need to learn to be a little more flexible in some cases.  You may have to have a few sessions with the team (perhaps even individually) to help them adjust to the idea, be welcoming of the new person and recognise that different is not always bad. 

  • Adjusting the workplace

Having a clear and open discussion with the disabled person (or their caregiver if appropriate) will help you understand their needs.  Perhaps desks need to be spaced out a little bit more, or pathways made clear.  You may have to install wheelchair access or ramps and certainly if you need help with that, VIP Access can definitely assist.   In other instances, it might just be as simple as not putting the coffee cups up in a high shelf, for example – something often very easy to change – it’s just about being considerate and opening your eyes and mind to the needs of another person.  Remember this concept also if you are setting meetings at another location or there is a change of venue. 

  • Making use of assistive technology

Technology in all areas, including assisting the disabled has come a huge way of late.  There are Apps, technology, IT and all sorts of tools to make someone’s life easier.  Possibly a special headphone or keyboard are required, although check with the person as they may have their own equipment and quite happy to bring that to work.  If not, it’s about asking questions to find out what equipment is needed, where this equipment can be purchased and the process to have it installed. 

  • Consider involving caregivers in interviews and planning

In some instances, it will help to involve the caregiver in the induction and initial training processes (and possibly even ongoing training).  The caregiver can not only help the employee to settle in but may well be able to give insight and feedback to the employer in order to make it work as easy and well for everyone involved.  It may be that the caregiver will need to attend the workplace for a period of time to help the person settle in; if this is the case be sure to make them feel welcome and accommodate them extra space or furniture. 

  • Help if it’s needed

Be sure that as a leader or supervisor or co-worker that you follow these practices and educate the rest of the team to do the same.  Firstly, don’t assume someone needs your help.  Remember that people with disabilities have often had them for a long time (if not for their entire life) and are quite capable of doing things.  In fact, you coming in to ‘assist’ might actually cause a hindrance.  Having said that, if you have the opportunity to hold a door open, it’s always good manners and often appreciated.  That applies to anyone.  Also, be sure to not touch their equipment or lean on it – this is for both your safety and theirs.   Speaking of safety, you may need to adjust safety plans to account for the different workers in your team. 

  • Improve how you communicate

Interestingly, these tips work well for every person in the workplace, but for someone disabled even more so.   Be sure to maintain eye contact when you are speaking so that they can see your lips and so that your words are not garbled because you are facing another direction.  Allow the person to finish their own sentences – which again is just good manners with anyone.  If someone has a mental disability, don’t talk for them or interrupt them.  Use clear sentences, simple words and direct concepts.  Be sure to always stop and listen to a person.  If the person is in a wheelchair, talk to them at the same level, so that they don’t have to strain their neck and be constantly looking up.  

  • Give honest feedback and appraisals

The disabled person should be treated like every other employee.  Just as they deserve the same level of pay for the tasks or job they are completing (compared to a non-disabled person), so should they received (and be willing to accept) honest feedback on their performance.  Any performance review should include asking the employee how they think they have performed, asking their supervisor and, of course, sharing that feedback.  Most of us are keen to improve, grow and be part of a productive community – the disabled person is no different. 

  • Focus on health and wellness

This should occur for all employees.  Encouraging good diet, suitable work breaks and a pleasant work environment will make working at your business both more enjoyable and more productive.  We’ve all heard the phrase that a happy worker is a productive worker – and it’s true.  Help all your team to become more productive workers who look forward to going to work, being there and who, in turn, are absent less, more productive and generally have a high ‘care factor’ in their work.

I hope these tips will help both workers and employers in having disabled employees who are productive, happy and safe.   If you are requiring any building adjustments, including wheelchair access, ramps, adjusted furniture, bathroom facilities, rails etc, please just give us a call on 07 3807 4309 or email [email protected] and ask us how we can assist.  We are also a NDIS registered provider. 

Contact VIP Access today for a friendly discussion on how we can be of assistance.