Who is actually disabled?Thursday, September 9th, 2010
We are sometimes asked “How do you deal with disabled people?”, and the answer we give is “As you would deal with other people”. If we have to explain further, we point out that most of us require a bit of help now and again to do our jobs, some of us more than others. Our needs differ as do the difficulties we have to deal with, and the good employer recognises and responds to them.
One problem is identifying who is disabled. Imagine a line of ten men. The one on the far left is perfectly fit and able, plays a lot of sport and keeps himself in peak condition. The one next to him is similar, perhaps not quite in tip-top condition, and has banged his toe. The next man sprained his ankle a while back and, whilst it has healed, he still gets a twinge if he walks too far without a rest. The next is getting on a bit in years and, whilst he can walk alright, cannot stand for long periods. And so on, each man a bit worse than the previous in his ability to walk and stand until we reach the last man who can neither walk nor stand and is confined to a wheelchair. Which of them then is disabled?
Another problem is discerning what is a disability. Three perfectly fit welders have to lift their equipment off the top shelf of a workshop and then climb into a small space to do a bit of welding. The 1.7m tall man is fine. He can reach the top shelf to get his gear and then climb into the small cavity to start work. The 1.6m man cannot reach the top shelf so needs help in the form of a stepladder to get his gear, and then is away. The 1.9m man can reach his gear with one hand but has so much trouble fitting into the confined space that his manager has provided him with a longer lance and a mirror to enable him to do the job. None of these men are disabled yet two have to be given help to do their job.
The point is that we are all different and, depending upon the job, some people have more difficulty doing it than others, be that because of a physical or mental impairment or because they do not match the equipment or arrangements tailored to the average person. Therefore we should put aside attitudes that view people with ailments as being a problem group in society. People differ, why is unimportant, the fact is that they do and, if we are to make best use of them, we need to recognise and respond to their particular difficulties in doing their job.
When you are considering someone for a job, regardless whether or not they appear to have a disability, ask “Will you have any difficulty doing this job and, if so, what can we do to help you?”. Make this standard practice. The law in fact provides a definition of disability and, if the person meets this definition, you are required to pose that question and take appropriate action, failing which you could be fined heavily. But if you ask it of everyone and respond properly, you need not worry about the law.
If you do not know how to deal with the declared difficulty, seek expert help. In the case of, for example, the blind or deaf or people with mental health problems, there are national organisations who bend over backwards to give advice and help, and your local authority almost certainly has a council that can put you in touch with nearby organisations who have expertise on a wide range of human difficulties. Someone may be able to work more efficiently if they have a stool or a modification to their tool or workstation, which points to the fact that the greatest source of expertise is likely to be the person concerned. So ask the question and do what you can to deal with any expressed difficulty.
Do this and you will get the greatest efficiency from your employees. And incidentally meet the requirements of disability discrimination legislation.