We all fear the unknown. Helen Keller said: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” There lies a lot of truth in these words especially, when focussing on disabilities within the workplace. When employers and employees have a better understanding of the variety of disabilities they may encounter and learn how to deal with this in a sensitive but practical manner, it will help them to overcome the natural fear they may have when employing and interacting with a disabled person.
Still, to this day, many companies are not open to the idea of employing people with disabilities. Once employed, however, it is usually a low-level job with limited to zero growth. Disability Awareness and Sensitivity Training, offered by The Mindspa Institute, will empower staff with knowledge on disability in the workplace helping them to make better business decisions when creating an inclusive and diverse workforce.
Begin by understanding how The Employment Equity Act, No. 55, 1998 defines persons with disabilities. It basically states that a person with a disability is someone who either has a long-term physical or mental impairment or a combination of both which might substantially limit prospects of entry into or advancement in employment.
Some disabilities are physical, such as using a wheelchair, and others are non-visible, for example epilepsy. Either way, it remains the employee’s choice to disclose that information to the employer. However, take note that when an employee decides to keep their disability confidential employers are not obliged to provide reasonable accommodation within the workplace. If the person with the disability decides to disclose the information, the employer should still get their consent to share this information with their team members. This will help team members to be accommodating towards the person with the disability. On the other side, although it is deemed as discrimination, employees might feel that disclosing this information will hamper their chances to employment or growth within the company. It is a hard choice to make.
It is also important for team members and colleagues to understand how to accommodate employees with disabilities. There is a certain etiquette to adhere to, which is different depending on each disability. Because of the sensitivity of disability in the workplace, it is important to educate employees not only on the appropriate etiquette but also proper language and terminology. Things like how to communicate, offer help, respecting space, parking etc. Other examples include standing while talking to a person using a wheelchair is not recommended as it stiffens their neck. To smoke, chew gum or let your hair cover your face whilst in a conversation makes it difficult for a person with impaired hearing to read your lips.
Physical work or the work environment also changes in some cases. These will obviously depend on the specific needs and the nature of the impairment. It can include things like adjusting facilities to be more accessible; reorganising work stations; changes to training and assessment materials and even adjusting work hours.
During the training course The Mindspa Institute focusses on The Employment Equity Act and the Code of Good Practice on the Employment of People with Disabilities. The course also discusses various tips on how to retain staff with disabilities; how to help them; how to recruit, train and help them with career advancement to name but a few points. For a full course outline visit the website.
The bottom line is that we all are different and, on the journey, to foster good working relationships and healthy growing companies, we need to educate ourselves on working together as a diverse workforce not discriminating for any reason. The training and knowledge on the sensitivity of disability within the workplace will equip both the employer and employee to understand and practice this better professionally and personally. Each person deserves a chance to be successful and we are all obligated to assist one another.