Working with Persons with Disabilities? Communication is key.
Effective communication tips for disability-inclusive employers.
Progressive employers believe in the value of hiring diversely; focusing on skill sets, expertise and experience, recognising that a varied workforce can enhance creativity and knowledge, benefitting the organisation as a whole. Persons with disabilities are an integral part of the diverse workforce in many organisations, ranging from healthcare to Infocomm technology.i
In Singapore, fewer than a third of known persons with disabilities aged 15-64, are employed, according to the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey.ii This relatively under-utilised talent pool holds potential for employers who are hiring and willing to nurture an inclusive workplace that supports persons with disabilities.
An inclusive and diverse workplace has many benefits, such as increased productivity, lower turnover rates and an enhanced company image. The benefits also extend to employees with disabilities, as a job strengthens their self-identity and purpose.iii
Creating a workplace where employees are valued and understood is important for all employees to thrive, and this begins with effective communication. Here are three tips to communicate well as an inclusive employer.iv
Disability-inclusive employers encourage respect, clear communication, and equitable treatment in the workplace.
Prepare ahead of time
When hiring a person with disability, existing employees may be briefed on the disability ahead of the new team member’s first day at work. This is an opportunity for you as an employer to communicate the importance of an inclusive workplace to your team, and provide any relevant information on accommodations that the organisation has prepared. Do consider sharing the new hire’s working experience and how you anticipate they will add value to the team. With this, your employees will know what to expect, and also look forward to meeting their new teammate.
Do ensure that the right terminology is used when referring to the person. For example, when referring to an employee with a physical disability, avoid insensitive descriptions such as “crippled” or “handicapped”, as the use of these words suggests the defining of a group that does not fit within social norms. Similarly, be mindful when referring to employees without disabilities. Use phrases such as “persons without disabilities” rather than “normal people”, as the latter suggests that persons with disabilities are ‘abnormal’, which is not the case.
Your new employee may also have terminology they are more comfortable with. When in doubt, do ask the person for his or her preferences, and use these.
Show respect and consideration
While your employees may be curious about their new co-worker, caution them against asking questions, about his or her disabilities that may be perceived as intrusive or unkind. Instead, encourage them to do their own reading and fact-finding to understand more about the disability.
Do provide employees with disabilities with the same respect and consideration as their team members without disabilities. For instance, refrain from using ‘baby talk’ or assisting them in work tasks without them requesting it. Instead, immediate supervisors may create avenues such as regular one-on-one meetings for them to check-in and ask questions or provide feedback on work matters. As a general guide, empower them to carry out their work assignments, assisting only when asked to.
Communicate and connect
Do ensure that the mode of communication is suitable for the team member with a disability. For example, when speaking to an employee who is deaf or hard of hearing, speaking slowly and clearly while facing them directly will help. Use short and direct sentences as much as possible and use written communication for more complex work-related instructions.
Social interaction and communication are part and parcel of the working experience, and employees with disabilities who find this challenging can also be supported in this aspect. For example, when speaking, pause to give them time to process your comment or question. Being accepting of non-verbal differences when communicating, can help to encourage conversation; for example, some individuals with autism may prefer not to make regular eye contact while speaking but are listening nonetheless and can still have a meaningful conversation or discussion.
Investing in training courses such as SG Enable’s High Impact Retention & Employment (HIRE) Workshop Series can provide the essential knowledge and skills to integrate persons with disabilities in the workplace, and support employers in building a more progressive workforce.
SG Enable - A Valuable Partner to Employers
iv Recommendations adapted from SG Enable resources. Find more information here.