Tips for Working with People with Disabilities

man working at desk with computers in office

The traditional perception of them being helpless and needing care all the time is breaking. The world is opening up many opportunities for disabled people to contribute to the workplace.

Of over 4.4 million people with some form of disability in Australia, nearly half are of working age. This means employers are likely to see more people with disabilities coming into the workforce. The idea of the workplace of the future hinges heavily on inclusivity. And therefore, the inclusion of disabled people is an issue they must take seriously. If you are an employer, working alongside a disabled person requires putting certain things in perspective. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind to foster healthy workplace relationships with people with disabilities.

Building a Collaborative Environment 

A person with a disability must have often been told how they are not suited for a particular task or that they can’t do it well enough. This diminishes their self-esteem, confidence and value in the world. 

You can create a more inclusive workplace by allowing the person to choose whether they can or cannot do the job. Instead of looking down on them, let them have the space to collaborate. They can ask for help when they need it. 

Rethink Your Assumptions

Not all disabilities are visible. Your peer may have a disability that is not visible. Certain illnesses like epilepsy, deafness, mental illness etc, are hard to see or understand. You mustn’t assume the kind of disability they have. You can ask in a dignified way what their disability is. 

People with invisible disabilities can struggle to validate their disability and may face more discrimination. 

Educate Yourself 

If your co-worker has a disability of some sort, you may find it difficult to assist them if you don’t know much about their condition. You must know what the disability is. You can find additional information online regarding their situation. You can maintain a respectful relationship when you are aware of their condition and offer assistance when they need it. 

Know Disability Etiquette

There is certain disability etiquette specific to certain cultures. Make sure you know them and do not interact with your co-worker as though you look down on them. Always focus on their ability and skills rather than their disability. This is a great way to shift perspective at a workplace. Being mindful of your language, asking first before offering assistance, not being intrusive, making accessibility a priority etc., are ways to make your workplace more inclusive and disabled-friendly.

Take a Nuanced Approach 

It’s crucial to be aware of their general needs as disabled people. But it’s equally crucial, if not more, to remember that there is more to them than their disability. Patience, empathy, and kindness are three qualities that will help you strike the right balance when engaging with those with disabilities. Understanding these nuances can go a long way in negotiating reasonable adjustments in the workplace and creating a safe space for employees with disability. 

Making our world more open to all is a sign of progress. Our perspectives shift from occlusive to inclusive when we learn to see others around us as our peers. There are outstanding initiatives, like Workforce Australia, that aim at bringing disabled people into the workforce and providing equal access to opportunity and growth. 

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