As a full-time occupational therapist, when I survived a stroke at 24 years of age, I naively assumed that my degree, motivation and newfound insight as both a patient and therapist would be a synch. But I never imagined the barriers that I would encounter in this process. I soon saw the huge discrimination that exists and starves not only potential employees of self-worth, but also an organisation’s culture.
It is widely accepted that returning to some form of employment after acquiring a disability is an important factor in one’s recovery. It is also a fact that people living with disabilities make an invaluable contribution to a workplace when given the opportunity. But the huge barriers in the recruitment process often prevent their chance to do this. So, how can we enable and foster an employee’s potential, build and sustain good relationships and create a culture of equality and diversity as employers?
In my own return to work, I had been unemployed for four years while I underwent my own rehabilitation. I also had significant physical and emotional disabilities which I had to consider. Although desperate to return to my old life, I confess to feeling so vulnerable and only immobilised by the entire return to work process. I was suddenly reliant on my employer to unleash the skills and strengths that lay dormant in my new disabled skin.
I’m sure it’s often easier to angle our marketing and recruitment to exclude potential employees from applying to join our organization. But it’s likely that the person with a disability has already experienced some discrimination in their feat to return to work. Those like myself may feel that their disabilities are so visible or apparent, that they are disadvantaged from the beginning. Others may have ‘hidden disabilities’ such as fatigue or visual difficulties. They may become so intimidated by the process and desperate to get their foot in, that they don’t disclose this information. Subsequently, without negotiating variable hours or suggesting resources that would enable their optimal performance, they may attempt to self-manage these obstacles and struggle to sustain their role. Are we creating a dishonest relationship from the onset? If an employee feels heard and accepted, it’s likely they will feel empowered to perform at their best. Surely by knowing and accommodating people’s needs we are also maximising their potential?
Recruiting for diversity also enriches the culture you are aspiring to create within your organization. If you’re subconsciously (or consciously) judging a potential employee with a disability, are you also creating a rigid environment where you won’t recruit anyone ‘different’. If we are not flexible in our own strategies, are we also not open to the inclusion of new ideas and the growth that’s necessary for our workplace to thrive? Seeing beyond someone’s deficits and facilitating their potential and performance, you will also build an inclusive and accepting environment.
Many would take one look at my walking frame and visual problems and automatically dismiss my application and possible entrance into that organisation. But with that mindset are we depriving the individual of proving that they are more than their disability? Are we also starving our workplaces of building a culture of acceptance, equality and value?
Let’s choose to inject diversity into our workplaces!