Workplace Evolution: Top 5 Challenges Faced by Specially-abled Employees
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Coining the term ‘specially-abled’ to replace ‘disabled’ was perhaps the most significant positive step towards creating an inclusive workplace. Not only did it help in breaking the shackles of incapacity and low self-esteem, but it also reinforced a feeling of empathy in the ecosystem that has proved to be invaluable in downplaying the stigma attached to a disabled person. You will now find people welcoming the specially-abled to the workplace, helping them adjust to their work environment and treating them at par with other members of the team.
However, getting the specially-abled people to the workplace is only one-half of the solution. The other and more significant half is to ensure that the workplace is suitably tailored to provide an optimized employee experience to them. Have organisations actually been able to achieve this? Let’s take a look at the top challenges faced by the specially-abled at the workplace and the possible solutions that organisations can offer to overcome them.
The biggest challenge that promptly comes to your mind is regarding the support of an organization. For a person who has lost a limb, has visual or hearing impairment, it can be distressing to enter and traverse the workplace that has a standard elevator, escalator and staircase; disperse duties at a regular work station. The mentally challenged might face further problems without specific tools to support them.
Solution – It is, in fact, quite easy to modify a workplace to suit the specially-abled. Ramps with guide rails, height-adjustable desks, resting points across the office, at the entrance and vehicle boarding points, sensor-enabled doors, customized office stationery – these are not too difficult to implement. Some of these modifications may also turn out to be a boon for the rest of the employees.
Another challenge is to understand and adapt to the latest technological developments in the organization. For example, a visually impaired person might face difficulty in manipulating touch screens or even operate a computer. Simple things like regulators or switches might also pose a problem. Any regular operation that requires the use of our five senses is an issue for the specially-abled.
Solution - But interestingly, it is the technology that comes to the rescue. Specialized software like screen readers or that can convert speech to text is useful. You might have come across many different tools that have been specially customized for the specially-abled like the real-time text to braille converter, Braille e-reader, real stick to detect nearby objects, gesture-to-speech converter and many other wearables that use specific apps. These tools are indispensable as they provide due assistance wherever necessary.
In customer-facing jobs, it is a real challenge for the specially-abled to communicate with the customers. Understanding what the customer wants to say or entering into any discussion with the customer can cause frustration on both sides, especially if there is speech impairment. Besides failure, it can lead to more significant problems like loss of credibility for the organization.
Solution – Technology can again resolve this issue. You will find apps that translate unintelligible pronunciation to understandable form. Software that can read eye movements and convert to speech is a boon for people with mental disability. However, training is a prerequisite for helping the specially-abled use technology for their assistance. You might think that keeping the specially-abled away from such customer-facing jobs is the best way to avert problems. However, to evolve to a much more inclusive workplace, it is vital to tackle such issues and provide solutions.
This brings you to one of the biggest challenges in the workplace – that of dealing with the stigma that exists among co-workers. When dealing with the specially-abled, employees might have a condescending attitude towards them; team leaders do not delegate work equally among their team members; they tend to give ‘softer’ jobs to the specially-abled. This is sometimes out of concern but mostly to avoid problems and ensure that the job is done well and in time by the more experienced. Doubts regarding the skill level of the specially-abled lead to such situations. This can only trigger frustration in the specially-abled.
Solution – Awareness drives and workshops in organisations is the solution to such situations. Making the employees aware of the specially-abled, their unique abilities and challenges can help to mitigate this problem. When employees are trained to deal with the specially-abled, they will treat them at par with the rest, thus creating a friendly and trustworthy work atmosphere, and giving a sense of belonging to the specially-abled.
It is not only the co-workers that have attitudinal problems in an organization towards the specially-abled; the problem is much more profound. Organisations that hire the specially-abled only to drive PR to end up giving inconsequential job profiles to them, with almost no scope for going up the ladder or assuming leadership roles. This certainly does not help in creating a more inclusive workplace; on the other hand, it only creates strife. The specially-abled might not feel inclined to continue working in such organisations for an extended period.
Solution – This time, the need for creating awareness is among the top leaders of the organization. Understanding what an inclusive workplace means in the global scenario is vital. In-depth research into the advantages of hiring and promoting the specially-abled can help them recognize their real value.
Studies have shown that there is a large section of society that is specially-abled, but educated and having the requisite skill levels to drive productivity in different organisations. They are highly innovative in their thoughts and are incredibly creative. This untapped talent needs to be explored. Successful case studies of many such specially-abled employees show how meaningful it can be to make them a part of today’s thriving workforce. Overcoming stigma and helping the specially-abled overcome fear of discrimination and prejudice can work wonders towards creating a more inclusive organization as well as a better society and world.