As an able-bodied person, you take a lot of things at your workplace for granted. When you need coffee filters for the machine, you reach up to get them out of the cupboard. When you need to go to another floor for a meeting, you take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. When you need to wash your hands after using the bathroom, you reach over the sink to get soap from a dispenser on the wall.
For people with disabilities, navigating the able-bodied world is a nightmare, especially when there is no consideration given to their needs, which are different.
You might not have the power or budget to overhaul your workplace and make it more disabled-friendly, but there are some things you can do:
Listen to the needs of your employees
You can make all the accommodations you might deem necessary for a disabled employee, but because you don’t understand how they experience the workplace, there may be more you need to do.
Be empathetic and give your employees the freedom to speak to you about their needs so that you can find ways to accommodate them where possible. Don’t make assumptions about what they need. Instead, allow them to discuss them openly with you.
Modify where you can
Use the facilities you have and make them more disabled-friendly. For example, store files and other documents a disabled employee might need lower down in cabinets. The employee can access them without having to ask for assistance.
You can have an electrician move plug sockets so that they are higher off the floor so that a disabled person in a wheelchair can plug in their laptop charger without any challenges. Install ramps instead of stairs and make sure there are no uneven surfaces so that people using electric wheelchairs can move around the workplace.
Keep corridors and pathways clear
You’ve probably had a delivery come in and, not having anywhere else to put the goods, told the delivery person to put them in the passage. There’s still enough space for people to get past, but what about people in wheelchairs? The boxes in the hallway are restricting their movement and complicating things for them.
Whenever you’re tempted to change the layout of the workplace, even if it’s by having a few extra boxes in the hallway, think of how it can affect others, including disabled employees.
Educate others about disabilities
A lot of people feel uncomfortable around someone who is disabled, making them unsure of how to act and what to say. Often, they’ll say or do something that will offend the disabled person without intending to. This leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and tension in the workplace.
Often, the reason people feel awkward is that they don’t understand the disabled person’s situation, and they fall back on inaccurate misperceptions and stereotypes. This is something a lot of disabled people have experienced in the workplace, leaving them feeling isolated and burdensome.
What further complicates matters is the fact that not all disabilities are visible, and so they are not necessarily apparent to coworkers. Examples include learning differences, mental health disorders, severe pain, and fatigue. Coworkers are more likely to be insensitive if they aren’t even aware the person has a type of disability.
Managers need to be trained about disabilities and how to create an inclusive work environment that embraces everyone and their diverse abilities. Their leadership will help disabled person integrate into the workplace and gain acceptance from their coworkers.
Employees might also benefit from sensitivity training to help them understand their coworker’s position and allow them to become more sensitive to their needs.