Achieving a diverse workplace that includes people with disabilities requires changing the attitudes of people who do not know enough about people with disabilities. People must accept that people with disabilities can make meaningful contributions to the workplace. Employers can take positive steps to promote disability as a valued form of diversity to include in the workforce.
The most important thing you can at work is make people feel included in the organizational culture, even if they have a disability or another trait that makes them seem different. One area where the company can incorporate more diversity is in the choice of images of employees and customers in various advertisements and publications, both in print and online. Diversity isn't limited to skin color -- you can use images of people with visible disabilities in your publications. These kinds of pictures can have a huge impact and help you convey your message. Images of diversity in your company pictures can help your organization represent people who may be your audience.
Encourage managers and people sitting on interview panels to look beyond their own biases towards people with disabilities. For example, job candidates might provide voluntary information about themselves before a job interview and request disability accommodations. When people who have identified as having a disability come to the interview, they should be treated like other candidates. It's best to focus on the essential functions of the job, and candidates will have the obligation to describe how they can perform those functions. Candidates may choose to discuss what accommodations they might need. Encourage the interview panel to be open and responsive to this kind of discussion.
Improve Customer Relations
Working with co-workers with disabilities and understanding their perspectives can also help employees understand diverse client groups. For example, in a social service agency, employees will work with clients who need understanding of how disabilities affect their lives. You can ask if people on staff with a disability -- whether known or unknown to the general staff -- would be willing to join a committee and advise on how to make agency procedures more responsive to clients with disabilities. They might make suggestions such as offering cancelled appointments to people who call in at the last minute, perhaps because they can only come in when they are feeling well, and offering home visits to people who can't come into the office.
Focus on Management's Role
It falls to managers to co-workers in helping people with disabilities feel they're supported in the organization. For example, managers must be willing to work around employees' limitations when their disabilities affect their work. Consider the example of a person who is normally in good health but occasionally has a seizure that causes a temporary panic in the workplace. A manager can talk with the employee about what actions to take if the situation occurs again and ask to share that information with immediate co-workers. Managers must understand that it's not appropriate to make negative comments about the employee missing work or disrupting the work day, to punish the employee because of the seizure.
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