Last Friday’s article discussed how people with disabilities can be an untapped pool of talent that can fill the manpower shortages of an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Whether an organisation is new to recruiting disabled employees or it already has some experience in such an endeavour, ethics and emotional quotient are two governing factors that will ensure that a workplace runs smoothly.

Beyond introducing barrier-free accessibility — such as building a ramp for a wheelchair-bound employee — there is one other thing that needs changing: the mindsets of the disabled employee’s colleagues.

Moving mountains

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So goes the popular expression. Convincing top management to get onboard with hiring disabled employees can be an uphill task. They need the assurance that such an initiative will engender tangible benefits.

When making a case, hard data is a requisite, but an overload of it makes presentations impersonal. So, substantiate presentations with findings from research studies, and enliven them with real-life examples that tie back to the company’s values and business goals. This makes for a more compelling argument.

Grooming the culture

An employee may appear indifferent to his disabled colleagues, choosing not to interact or work with them directly. Such behaviour could be misinterpreted as hostility when it belies the employee’s fear of saying the wrong thing and offending his colleagues.

Therefore, there is a need to properly train employees on etiquette so they can learn to be more sensitive in their conduct.

Disabled workers can also ask to have the floor and use the opportunity to share with their new colleagues personal details they feel comfortable sharing. This way, they can also break the ice.

When it comes to integrating disabled employees into the team, management needs to take the lead and show by example.

Han’s, a chain of restaurants in Singapore, employs more than 40 employees with disabilities.

Managing director Han Choon Fook starts every morning by greeting disabled workers and helping waiting staff with their duties. His rationale: disabled employees feel happy working in an environment where the boss is willing to help. By walking the talk, Mr Han sends a strong message that disabled workers should be treated the same as more able-bodied employees.

Human resource personnel should also work in tandem with other departments to raise the company’s profile as one that is friendly to disabled employees. Achievements and contributions by employees with disabilities should be highlighted in marketing collaterals.

Such visibility and recognition will, in turn, encourage other disabled individuals to approach the company, as they know they will be welcome there.

Reviewing recruitment strategies

If hiring disabled employees is a novel initiative, then it stands to reason that a new recruitment approach is needed to achieve the desired outcomes.

Traditional recruiting methods such as job ads and job fair booths may prove ineffective. Visually impaired individuals may have difficulty finding help to read job ads. Wheelchair-bound persons may avoid job fairs altogether due to accessibility problems.

Partner educational institutions, community organisations and disability support groups to suss out the right connections. These entities work closely with the disabled and, as such, they are the best people to recommend and support someone with special needs on the job.

Setting expectations

Disabled employees must be held to the same productivity and workplace standards expected of their counterparts. Lowering expectations would in fact come across as discriminatory, in addition to sowing seeds of discord between disabled and more enabled employees. Remember, disabled professionals are not any less competent; they just have special needs.

Employees with disabilities can take the initiative and ask to have an open discussion about any concerns they have. Their supervisors should then draw up accommodative policies to cater to these needs — without compromising on the standards of delivery of work.

A continuous pursuit

Both employers and employees must be willing to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives implemented. When addressing issues, sensitivity is a two-way street.

Employers have to be tactful and probe the issues without being invasive. Conversely, employees with disabilities should not see discrepancies as opportunities to discount the efforts put in by management; rather, they are opportunities for improvement.

 

Article by Nicholas Goh, chief executive officer of Verztec Consulting, an ISO 9001:2008 global content consulting company. For more information, visit www.verztec.com