Performance and productivity are the bywords of companies that pride themselves on excellence. In such environments, a hard worker is considered an able worker. But can this notion of ability accommodate disability as well? Despite the differences in station, there is nothing that prevents employees with disabilities from achieving the same as their non-disabled counterparts.
In light of the United Nations’ 2018 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we look at ways to empower people with disabilities to ensure inclusivity and equality in the workplace.
The stigma around hiring people with disabilities is an unfortunate precedent built on an absence of empathy and a number of false premises:
- Workers with disabilities won’t perform as well.
- Workers with disabilities have more absences.
- Hiring a disabled worker is costly and therefore prohibitive.
- Having a disabled employee in the workplace invites dispute.
- Workers with disabilities tend to use their condition as a cover/leverage.
The fact is, there is nothing factual to substantiate these claims. On the contrary, a three-year study by DuPaul University showed that employees with disabilities averaged a similar productivity rating as their non-disabled peers. The same study also found that these workers actually displayed fewer absences than those without disabilities.
Adapting the Workplace
When it comes to the cost of accommodating workers with disabilities, employers can expect to spend more. However, this expense need not be significant. Most countries offer tax incentives to help lessen the financial burden of implementing special arrangements such as assistive technology.
Socially speaking, the presence of workers with disabilities is no different than what you’d expect with non-disabled individuals. Disagreements can, and should, be settled amicably. That being said, there is nothing unethical about disciplining or terminating the employment of a worker who consistently fails to meet the expected standard of performance, even if they are disabled. Fair treatment deserves fair work.
Workplace disability management is often confined to a case-by-case basis, but having a wider programme in place can have significant benefits for both employers and employees. Preventative wellness programmes are proven to be highly successful, so it stands to reason that a similar programme for workers with disabilities will perform just as well.
An effective workplace disability programme can:
- Increase the number of employees who successfully return to the workforce post-injury/illness.
- Reduce the cost of disability for both parties.
- Create a safer and more assured environment of employment (ie benefits and income level).
- Minimise the negative impact disability has on the worker’s family and colleagues/superiors.
- Foster mutual trust between all stakeholders through co-operation.
Such a programme is preemptive in nature and should take the needs of the greater disability community into account. Examples include chronic conditions, mental health disorders, long-term pain, musculoskeletal conditions and vision/hearing loss. To put the necessity of having a comprehensive plan into context, consider that a 2016 report by the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention found that one in every four adults in the US suffers from a disability that negatively affects life activities.
Engaging a qualified consultant will allow you to develop a suitable workplace disability programme for your company. The consultant may recommend a number of adjustments, such as:
- Modifications to premises (eg wheelchair ramps).
- Changing a disabled worker’s hours.
- Providing specialised training or mentoring.
- Obtaining or modifying equipment.
- Modifying procedures for employee testing/assessment.
- Making allowances in employee attendance for rehabilitation, treatment and assessment.
A person’s life changes dramatically with a disability, but that shouldn’t consign them to the unemployment office. There are people with disabilities who refuse to let it undermine their career prospects as they are just as capable as people without disabilities. The bottom line is that everyone, regardless of their situation in life, deserves to be treated fairly and with respect.
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