At work and in the community, the self-esteem, performance and job satisfaction of employees with disabilities are profoundly impacted by the attitudes of co-workers and peers. Negative attitudes in the workplace or in social circles are often the greatest barriers to inclusion and career advancement for people with disabilities (even in an environment with a strong commitment to these policies.)
There are about 334,000 BC residents with disabilities of working age according to Statistics Canada. Of that number, the underemployed group of people with disabilities includes about 71,000 British Columbians who are either unemployed or not working but able to.
Employing people with different abilities has many benefits that aren’t commonly known. For example, in a Forbes survey 56% of companies with more than $10 million in annual revenues strongly agree that diversity in your workforce drives innovation. Collaboration leads to success.
Here are 6 ways that you can help create a more inclusive society and workplace:
1. Ask first and follow their lead
Don’t assume people need help. Ask if they need anything to make the process more effective or easier for them. They are the experts on their needs and how to best meet them. If they do ask for help, ask for specific instructions on how you can help.
2. Speak clearly, listen well
If you are working with a person who has a developmental disability or other cognitive issues, use clear sentences, simple words and concrete concepts. Gauge the pace, complexity and vocabulary of your speech to match theirs. Unless you are informed otherwise, remember they can make their own decisions. Allow people with speech impairments to finish their own sentences. Don’t talk for them or interrupt.
3. Speak directly to people
Make eye contact and speak to people directly, even if their personal care attendant or interpreter is with them. When a person who is deaf has an interpreter, the user will look at the interpreter as you are talking. While this is happening, focus your interaction with the user. Also, if you will be speaking for some time with a person in a wheelchair, sit down so they don’t have to strain their neck to look up at you. Do not lean over a person in a wheelchair.
4. Be aware of personal space
Some people who use a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, walker or cane, see these aids as part of their personal space. Similarly, never start to push someone’s wheelchair without first asking the occupant’s permission. Don’t touch, move or lean on mobility aids. This is also important for safety.
5. Be flexible to family members of people with disabilities
Many people with disabilities have family members who care for or provide companionship. In many cases, the spouse of a person with disability may leave the workforce because of their spouse’s needs. Being flexible to the needs of family members keeps British Columbians in the workforce and reduces any compounded impact on the household and the province’s labour force.
6. When setting meetings, check accessibility
Confirm a meeting place in advance of the meeting and send detailed instructions on the accessibility of the venue. Ask if there is anything you can do to prepare for the meeting to make sure everyone is able to participate fully.
Don’t forget that mistakes happen! The important thing to remember is to just ask questions and take a person’s lead. Some of these tips can feel awkward the first time. Especially if you’re asking someone you’ve just met or is new to your company.
We naturally try to avoid awkwardness and may unknowingly try to avoid interacting with colleagues with disability, creating a real feeling of exclusion in others. Once you get over that first time, it quickly gets easier. Conversely, asking someone about their disability gets more difficult and increasingly awkward every time you avoid them. Don’t let the awkwardness get in the way.
Did you know?
Eligible Canadians with disabilities can receive up to $90,000 in government assistance with the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). Completing the RDSP and Disability Tax Credit applications can be challenging, so Vancity has partnered with Ability Tax and Trust Advisors, providers of the Equal Futures RDSP program, to provide an easy, efficient and free service for eligible individuals to learn about, qualify for and open an RDSP. Learn more about this service.