Interacting with a disabled person in the workplace is no different from working with any other employee. Disabled people are just as capable of doing their job as you are, and they don’t need to be treated differently because of their disability. You might be tempted to offer them extra assistance or give them extra time to finish projects, but this isn’t necessary. While you should do whatever you can to accommodate disabled people in the workplace, you don’t need to treat them as though they are less than human. They aren’t.
The first step in interacting with disabled people in the workplace is to accept the disability. This covers a wide range of different ailments, from amputated limbs to deafness and blindness. When someone lacks the physical use of ears, legs, eyes or arms, it doesn’t compromise their mental acuity, which is something you should remember. Acknowledging their disability isn’t going to offend them, but you might come off as offensive if you treat them as though they aren’t capable of doing their jobs. This might take a few weeks of adjustment, but after a while, you won’t even notice disabilities.
If you are an owner or manager in the workplace, you will need to make sure that you’ve provided the individual with whatever he or she needs to do the job. Legally, disabled people are entitled to any special equipment they may need, so you’ll need to make sure accommodations are made. Don’t be afraid to ask if he or she is comfortable. Interacting on a daily basis will help you to notice when something needs to be altered or changed, such as the height on a desk or the maneuver room in a small office.
It is also a good idea to make sure that others are comfortable with interacting with disabled people in the workplace. Teaching sign language to employees when working with a deaf individual is a great step toward improved communication. If one of your employees or colleagues is blind, make sure that he or she has an unimpeded route from the restroom to his or her desk and also to any exits in the building.
As far as day-to-day interaction goes, try to focus on job descriptions and individuals rather than disability. You might work with only one disabled person or there might be several in your office; regardless, everyone deserves to be treated equally. If you notice that one of your colleagues is having trouble interacting with disabled people in the workplace, offer to help him or her adjust. It’s all about building a community of employees who trust and respect one another. Everyone should feel comfortable with coming forward with suggestions, complaints, questions or criticisms.
It is also a good idea to avoid “walking on egg shells”. For example, if one of your coworkers is in a wheel chair, it’s difficult not to notice that disability. If he or she is having trouble getting a drink from the water cooler, offer to assist rather than walking right by. He or she isn’t going to be offended just because you’ve offered to help.
Interacting with disabled people in the workplace shouldn’t be a chore or an inconvenience. Just remember that all of your employees and colleagues are on equal footing, and that everyone deserves the best opportunity to excel at his or her job. Create an environment where disabled individuals can speak up regarding needs or wants, and pay close attention to any office hazards that might impede the safety of anyone.