September is Disability Month, which presents a great opportunity to talk about how employers can easily accommodate an employee with a disability.
We all know we have a duty to accommodate, but what does that look like in practice? Disabilities can be hidden or apparent, so establishing open and honest communication channels with employees is essential to identifying individual needs and keeping everyone happy and productive in the workplace. The little things can make all the difference! Take some pre-emptive steps to ensure accommodation is an organic part of your organizational culture.
Some easy ideas to help employees with disabilities (hidden and apparent!) feel supported and empowered in your workplace:
- Show emotional and social support for employees with disabilities: Demonstrate your willingness to accommodate at all stages of employment, beginning during the recruitment process. Ensure interview locations are accessible, and ask candidates if any accommodation will be required when scheduling a meeting.
- Reduce triggers: If you haven’t already, consider getting everyone on board with a scent-free or scent-reduced policy. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference to an employee who might be suffering silently from environmental sensitivities from cleaning products or a coworker’s vanilla-scented hairspray.
- Scan the room: Re-position office furniture to allow clear access for employees who use mobility aids. Do a walk through and remove obstacles to make your workplace easy to navigate.
- Provide the tools: Accommodation doesn’t have to mean thousands of dollars in specialized equipment. The next time you purchase for the workplace, allow your decision making process to include considerations of how the equipment might be adjusted in the future for easy use by an employee with a vision impairment, hearing impairment, or arthritis. (Does that headset have adjustable volume? Is the keyboard ergonomic? Are the phone buttons easy to read?)
- Check in often: Take a few minutes with employees each month to ensure that any new or changing accommodation needs are recognized and addressed.
Disabilities aren’t always immediately apparent. They can be invisible, and the category of hidden disabilities encompasses more than just mental illness. Conditions like asthma, diabetes, learning disabilities, chemical sensitivities and chronic pain also fit under the invisible disability umbrella. Foster an atmosphere accepting of diversity that encourages employees to communicate their needs. Work together to come up with strategies to meet the needs of employees with disabilities, while respecting confidentiality concerns.
Making appropriate accommodations for employees with disabilities should occur as a natural part of the management relationship. Focus on employee abilities and strengths, provide opportunities to check in, and take on some little changes.
Your Engaged HR Assignment
Take a walk through your workplace and try to see it from the perspective of someone with a disability. Focus on the simple fixes – are there obvious steps you can take to make your workplace more comfortable for everyone?