For the past two years I have immersed myself in accessibility, inclusiveness and diversity. As a front-end developer, my focus is of course on websites, user experience and technology. But I’m also a late deaf person. This gives me my own unique view and experience in daily life. When using the internet, doing mundane things like banking, ordering food or interacting with people.
Not a week goes by that I don’t talk to others about accessibility and inclusiveness. With both sides, abled and disabled people. That plus my own experience made me realise that in spite of all the good intentions. Inclusiveness still doesn’t get farther than good intentions.
Inclusiveness in the work field
Being inclusive is not like switching on a light. It takes genuine effort, dedication, empathy and hard work. From both abled co-workers and disabled co-workers.
The mantra is that we need to focus on what people can do well. Focus on their strengths. Give them the tools and space to work at the best of their abilities.
A disabled person needs to communicate clearly what they need to do their work with success. Abled co-workers need to understand that it takes a mindset change to create an inclusive work environment. It’s not just accommodating the office for a wheelchair. Articulating well for a hard of hearing co-worker. Avoiding putting bags on the floor creating obstacles for a blind co-worker.
It’s about understanding that being a disabled person comes with baggage. It costs more energy to compensate for being, deaf, blind, in a wheelchair or otherwise impaired. Personally, when I’m out of my safe place (home) I’m always on some kind of high alert. At work, social events, congresses, on the streets, etc.
It’s not only negative things that come with a disability. In my case due to being deaf, I’m always solving problems on the go. I need to do this to adapt to a world that is not designed for deaf people. I’m always thinking in solutions.
It appears that many employers and co-workers expect disabled employees to work just like them. Fast, make overtime regularly, flexible to adapt to anything, see the world the same way. While every disabled person has its own unique needs, one should not assume that they can function the same way as an abled person.
Steps to true inclusiveness
There are several steps a company can take to create a truly inclusive work culture.
Approach an organisation specialised in disability. There are many focussed on different disabilities. Most of them have experts that can give guidelines and tips how to make the work environment more inclusive.
Treat employees as they wish to be treated not as you yourself wish to be treated.
Don’t negatively question your employee/co-worker when they tell you about their disability. It takes courage every time to be vulnerable and tell someone about their disability and struggles. Respect that and don’t use that vulnerability against them.
Create an environment of open communication without judging.
Listen to ideas, feedback and input from disabled employees. They have a unique view on the world.
If the team undergoes drastic changes, it’s a good idea to touch base again with everyone about inclusiveness.