People with disabilities quickly come to understand if talking about their disability will be accepted at work. Behind closed doors, with Human Resources? Sure. This should be a safe space to talk about our dyslexia, our autism, and our depression. But, in the open work environment? People with disabilities may be wearing a mask to comfort those without disabilities. Some people with disabilities have described working in an unwelcoming environment as if their true self has been hijacked and replaced during business hours.
The workplace, the office, the think tank – these spaces need individuals with disabilities to share their strengths! Advocates need to step up in the workplace, creating an inclusive and accepting environment to access these strengths. Here’s how we can start:
Be an Active Listener:
Being an active listener is an action step. It means you DO something. Being an active listener means you listen to understand; you don’t listen to reply. You make yourself utterly available to another person, and you listen with the intent to be thoroughly informed. Be open to hearing things you don’t know about, you disagree with, you already know, or you don’t care about. According to Audrey Bently, a Michigan State University student and a featured story in the Normal Isn’t Real documentary, we may begin to learn that our differences are our strengths. You never know what you will find out when you practice active listening. Conversations between colleagues have the potential to grow the office environment in a positive direction.
Support Your Colleagues:
Show support to your colleagues, not as a person with a disability who works with you. But as your colleague who has a disability. Your co-worker is capable and qualified, or your boss wouldn’t have hired them for their position. Understand if your co-worker is asking for accommodations, the right thing for you to do is support this, not question if they need it. It is not unfair, it is not troublesome, and it is not taking anything away from the company or anyone else. It is removing a barrier that is blocking your colleague from getting their job done.
The last time you were locked out of your computer did you:
A: Call IT and have your need that was blocking you from doing your job accommodated and removed? This, allowing you to do the job that you came to work to do.
B: Have to prove to everyone around you that it was, indeed, a need? Have to prove that you would not be able to do your job without IT support and wait until the situation was discovered as a warranted barrier to begin to work again?
We will say it was option A.
But, people with disabilities deal with option B every day. Supporting your co-workers does not seem like a priority. But, supportive, compassionate, empathetic colleagues have such a positive impact on their work environment that everyone benefits from.
As we discussed, people with disabilities may not be comfortable being vulnerable in the workplace. Therefore, it safe to say most, if not all, of their co-workers, do not know the details of their accommodations. Most employees are not at liberty to share their new-hire (offer) letters. Some do not want to share their accommodations and other personal details that remove barriers and may make them successful in their position. The best thing to do would be not to assume. Roles and responsibilities within the workforce can be very different for different people. Your plate may be very full, but so can someone else’s. Besides, you don’t know the size plate your co-worker is holding. This means it may get full faster, but it is holding all it can.
Do you have any tips on creating an accepting working environment?