As a manager or business owner, you can’t prepare for every employee situation you might find yourself in. An employee who becomes disabled is one that can cause both confusion and concern for the entire company. Here are some ways you can prepare your business now for any unforeseeable changes in an employee’s abilities.
There are many government agencies and nonprofits whose sole purpose is to provide help to those with disabilities. Consult these resources. And if the employee has become disabled while working for you, focus on the skills that inspired the company to hire him or her in the first place. The only difference now will be how the individual executes those tasks. In some instances, you won’t be able to offer a reasonable accommodation in the same function; however, you may find a more appropriate role in another department.
Since all disabled employees are protected under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s important to be familiar with the law. This will allow you to best represent your organization internally and to the public. You’ll find there are programs that encourage employers to hire those with disabilities. Tax credits are also available to help cover the cost of accommodations, and government agencies offer assistance in acquainting disabled employees to their workspace. Being knowledgeable and confident that you can handle any situation will help you help your employees.
Produce a set of steps so everyone on board knows their role. For example, if someone loses his or her eyesight, contacting a nearby blind center would be an appropriate first step. Where is the closest center? Who will initiate the call? While larger corporations typically have a human resources employee who has been trained in handling disability protocol, smaller businesses may have to do research to ensure best practices.
In some cases, a newly disabled employee will have to take time off work to attend rehabilitation classes. This retraining phase will vary from person to person, so be prepared for time off and modified work schedules. There are also organizations that will supply adaptive technology and bring experts to your job site to help with this transition period.
Hire an Expert
Organizations can benefit from hiring outside resources to lecture and train employees. You can even introduce a Disability Awareness Month to increase the knowledge and understanding of the entire staff. This can be a relaxing and fun environment to learn. The fear of asking a “wrong” question is what holds many back from gaining perspective and being educated. Offering a space to inquire freely will create a more knowledgeable and conscious workforce.
Don’t be too quick to file a disability insurance claim or let a disabled employee go. This cold reaction can hinder the employee’s self-esteem for years to come. The unemployment rate among blind people of working age sits at an alarming 70 percent. This is disheartening, considering the abundance of adaptive technology currently available.
So whether you are hiring an employee with a disability or you encounter an unfortunate situation in the future, it’s best to continuously foster a knowledgeable staff. Prepare for an array of employees, and create protocol for diverse situations.
Belo Miguel Cipriani is a freelance writer, speaker, and author of Blind: A Memoir. Belo was the keynote speaker for the 2011 Americans with Disabilities Act celebration in San Francisco and was a guest lecturer at both Yale University and the University of San Francisco. Amber Clovers, his first work of fiction, will be published in 2013. Belo is a Lambda Literary Foundation fellow and a fellow with Yaddo (a premiere artist colony), and he loves his guide dog, Madge. He welcomes anyone to reach out to him at belocipriani.com or on Twitter @Beloism.
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