This is the third in a series of 5 blogs focusing on the typical components that businesses think they need to be “ready” to intentionally employ people with disabilities. (see first blog if you want to know what I mean by “ready”)
As I said in the first one, there are 2 points of view related to “ready”:
1. The person is not in a position of authority or influence to make their company “ready”, but they can see flaws in the current status
2. The person is in a position of authority and influence but doesn’t see the priority in creating the “readiness” or doesn’t really understand what “ready” looks like.
Today we are addressing “readiness” for disability awareness.
Conventional wisdom of most leaders (and individual contributors) is that everyone in an organization must be trained on “how to talk to and engage with a person with a disability”. The fear behind this impulse is the desire not to offend anyone and concern that there are different “rules” that should be obeyed.
I would like to provide two perspectives on whether or not a company needs disability awareness and etiquette training for all employees in order to be “ready” to create efforts to include more people with disabilities in the workforce.
Yes, you need it – our country (and perhaps the entire world) is obsessed with political correctness and I appreciate the desire to shape a culture of thoughtfulness and courtesy. In addition, because the assumption is held by more than half of society, it’s helpful to give everyone something (a tool or resource) so that they feel prepared to interact with this new workforce.
No, you don’t need it – when you dig into disability awareness, you realize that many people in the existing workforce have disabilities and therefore, it seems a little incongruent to say you need special rules how to talk to co-workers who are already present. AND disability etiquette is 90%general etiquette
– e.g. treat everyone as an adult with respect; ask before offering to help; and manage to employees’ strengths - it seems a little silly to wait for it before starting to hire.
I understand, people with disabilities seem very different, and many workplaces don’t have a respectful polite culture and there are a few specific instances where disability etiquette can make a difference. And so, the “better safe than sorry” approach can be beneficial.
Let’s be realistic, most disability etiquette training is very time consuming and not offered as “just in time”. Chock full of every possible example of what to do in a variety of situations with a person with each type of disability. The statistics bear out that you may not work with a person who is blind within the same 2 years that you work with someone who is deaf. Disability is so specific to disability types and severity that it’s almost always a better use of staff time and resources to just introduce the specific etiquette and awareness when it is needed.
This isn’t a popular view. I know I’ll get some comments from disability advocates and others who have not been treated well and feel that the only prevention is full-fledged disability awareness training…. However, in my experience:
· If a manager is a good manager of people, then they are a good manager of people with disabilities.
· If a co-worker is courteous and respectful to their fellow colleagues, then they will be polite and respectful to their fellow colleagues with disabilities.
· And, most people who go through disability etiquette/awareness end up overwhelmed, afraid and confused.
An effective disability awareness program will allow for limited seat time, flexibility and just-in-time capability. I’ve heard there is at least one other effectively designed to provide that. And I’ve also created one, but my point here isn’t to sell my training. Rather, I prefer that you remember that most disability etiquette is respect and courtesy combined with not being intimidated by the disability. Because it’s the person, not their disability, that doesn’t require any specific additional etiquette. Start with the person first.