Most organizations today have not only understood the importance of including diversity in the everyday life at work but are also keen on flaunting their diversity quotient. With organizations trying to be more inclusive, disability diversity in the workplace is yet another variable that has been gaining attention. Legislative measures like the Persons with Disabilities Act (1995) in India not only aim to fight against discrimination, but also propound the need to provide equal opportunities to employees with special needs. Changes need to be made in the workplace, therefore, to not merely accommodate such needs, but to help employees break barriers that society has set.
Recruitment hurdles: The recruitment policy at your organization should be one that is not limited by mental blocks. Neither should you recruit employees with special needs simply to enhance your organizational diversity. A candidate needs to be evaluated only in terms of merit and person-job or person-environment fit and not granted a job either “because of” or “in-spite of” being specially-abled. The job analysis/job description that takes place before advertising recruitment requirements has to be sensitive to their needs as well. Tying up with institutions who provide vocational training to these individuals could be one approach to make things easier.
Tailored accommodation: Recruitment is just the first step. When it comes to the accommodation of differently abled workers, individualization is the key. The needs of every employee are unique and demand customized solutions. Efforts need to be made to tailor accommodations in accordance with what suits the employee best and would allow him/her to perform in accordance with his/her full potential. Care should be taken to see that physical, mental and emotional needs are accommodated. The creation of ramps, making the whole office wheelchair-accessible, railings and rods in washrooms, lighting and auditory adjustments and special computer systems could be small modifications that make a big difference.
A culture of inclusion: An inclusive organizational culture is not created by simply hiring individuals with special needs or trying your best to accommodate their diverse requirements. Integration and optimal participation goes a much longer way than just accommodation. Anti-discrimination policies need to be in place and every employee needs to be made aware of these policies. Though often forgotten, pity and sympathy are also discriminatory in nature. The culture in the organization needs to be one where specially abled workers are neither looked down upon and denied what they deserve nor offered undue favours on account of their special needs. Barriers of attitude and system need to be tackled to encourage full participation. An inclusive culture is a great way to ensure that your employees are happy to come to work.
There seems to be no fixed path to effective integration of specially-abled employees at the workplace. It seems to be an area that would indeed require more time considering the unconscious hypocrisy that most of us are guilty of. We dwell in a “progressive” and “inclusive” society where speaking words such as “disabled”, “disability”, “mental retardation”, “deaf” or “blind” are considered insensitive and nothing less than taboo. While a lot of effort is made to create suitable and sensitive alternatives for these words, it needs to be remembered that these alternatives do not alleviate certain hardships that individuals with special needs face. Maybe focusing on social integration rather than nomenclature would be a necessary shift. Moreover, organizations need to overcome their disability to accommodate employees with special needs in order to tap into a lot of talent and potential that would otherwise go unnoticed.
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