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Supporting disabled employees in the workplace

Manager talking with disabled employee

By Esi Hardy, Guest Editor and Disability Equality Consultant and Managing Director at Celebrating Disability

There are many articles about the best ways to achieve a diverse workforce and why hiring disabled people makes good business sense. To fully understand the benefits of embracing diversity in the workforce and how to approach it, I’d recommend the following articles for background information as a first step:

Once you have your reasons thought out and your strategy and implementation approach in place, the “difficult” task begins: the task of supporting and managing a disabled person at work. But actually, the parts that might seem difficult don’t have to be, because supporting a disabled employee is just like supporting any other employee.

I think that the sentiment of “difficult” stems from thoughts about the “issues” that surround the taboo of disability. But disabled people are no different to any other person or employee at work: every employee has their own personality, fears, desires, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses.

So now let’s think about the attributes needed to be a good, effective manager. These may include:

  • Creating open communication
  • Fostering and nourishing talent
  • Removing the barriers preventing your employees reaching their goals.

These are arguably all the skills you need to support a disabled employee.

Yes, there are other processes that can be implemented such as reasonable adjustments, flexible working patterns, ensuring access around the building and workspace, formatting documents to be more accessible etc. But this will be a non-starter if the 3 points above aren’t a priority. An open and honest conversation can be the only thing you need to break down the barriers between you and your employee.

It’s a common misconception that implementing reasonable adjustments will be a financial cost to the business. This isn’t always the case. In fact, only 4% of reasonable adjustments have a financial implication. Even then, there are quite often funding resources that can be tapped into – Access to Work being one. Most of the time, the adjustments that a disabled employee may need can be taken care of in house. For example, this could be a desk in a more convenient position, a parking bay closer to the entrance or a lunch break extended by an extra few minutes.

Once you’ve created the environment for your employee to talk to you, seek their advice as to how they can be best supported in their role. As you’ll know yourself, nobody is better equipped to know what they need than the person themselves. After this, you can work together to source the equipment, add the resource and adapt the environment for the employee to thrive.

If I can offer you my 3 top tips to supporting a disabled employee, they would be these:

  • Every employee is unique – a ‘one size fits all’ approach will never work
  • Not all disabilities are visible just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there
  • Don’t let unconscious bias determine your relationship – get to know your employee as an individual.

About the Editor:

Esi Hardy is a disability equality consultant. Through Celebrating Disability, Esi supports businesses and education establishments to develop confidence when supporting disabled employees and customers by facilitating workshops.

Having Cerebral Palsy, Esi uses her personal and professional experience of disability to inform the agendas of her workshops. Find out more at www.celebratingdisability.co.uk.

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