Making the Workplace Inclusive for Those with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities

Making the Workplace Inclusive for those with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities

Workplace inclusion is a popular topic in the media, and while gender and race are represented, we don’t hear much about disabled employees. After all, we exist, and we deserve to be included in these conversations. Employers may know that being inclusive is necessary to having a healthy work environment, but they don’t always know what steps they need to take.

The first and more important step is to make sure the five federal laws protecting us are being enforced, which include the Americans with Disabilities Act. Enforce the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. If there aren’t policies preventing us from being hired due to our disability or being discriminated against in the workplace, that’s not an inclusive environment.

Being aware of different disabilities is also extremely helpful. Disability is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. There are visible disabilities, and invisible, which include mental, learning, and cognitive disabilities, speech disorders, sensory impairments, and mental illnesses.

When it comes to visible disabilities, make sure the workplace is accessible. Are there ramps for wheelchair and motorized scooter users? Does the building have enough room to navigate? Are commonly used paths free of obstructions? Those are important, as getting in the building and being able to move around are key in being able to do our jobs.

Accommodations are also necessary for many disabled employees. Assistive technology helps those with limited reach, speech impairments, and cognitive disabilities. This can be anything from low-tech items to specialized computer hardware.

Something important to keep in mind is that visible disabilities require different accommodations than intellectual disabilities, and employers should have patience and willingness to work with us.

Those of us with intellectual disabilities process information slower than others, and it takes a bit longer to become fully acclimated to our duties. Some of us may need low-stress environments and specific accommodations. Working from home may be beneficial to some employees, while others may just prefer a quieter working space.

As mentioned, disability is not one-size-fits-all and neither are accommodations. Be sure to consult us about accommodations and listen when we express our needs. Don’t assume that works for one of us works for all of us. Suggestions and offers are great, but remember that no one knows our needs better than we do. If we need your help with a task or directions, we’ll ask. If we have interpreters or assistants, allow them to help us determine which accommodations will work best.

Another thing that many employers may not think about is the way they talk to or about disabled employees. Avoid stereotyping us, and examine the kind of language you use. Call out any dehumanizing or offensive language. Not only will it make us more comfortable, working to be respectful towards others often extends outside of the workplace, which is always a good thing.

Treat us just like you would anyone else. Being disabled doesn’t make us lesser people, not does it define who we are. We want to show you what we can do and how we can be an asset to your company. We don’t want any policies that give us special treatment. Don’t be afraid to give us constructive criticism when necessary. If our skills and work ethic aren’t up to par, let us know. If necessary, don’t be afraid to let us go. Keeping us on for fear of a lawsuit is giving us special treatment, and we don’t want that. If you must let us go, we’d want it to be for the same reasons you’d let any other employee go.

Focus on our strengths, look at what we can do rather than what we can’t, and work with that. This will better help both of us figure out which duties will be a good fit. It will also help us feel more confident, as there won’t be as much focus on our limitations.

Have patience with us, listen to us, and do your best to be as accommodating as possible. When you take the steps to create a more inclusive workplace, you’re creating an environment where everyone is respected and valued. By taking these steps, you’re already doing your part to create inclusion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *