Stigma’s Power Is in Silence
The stigma of persons living with disabilities in the workplace and beyond continues because we do not talk about it. People often choose not to discuss what they don’t understand, and that is why myths about disability continue to persist. Studies across North America continue to report employees with disabilities have fewer sick days and higher loyalty, thus staying longer. So, why the concerns? Education of your existing team is crucial to building the foundation required to ensure a healthy, happy workplace filled with diverse people. Silence can no longer be an option in the workplace, and leaders must replace it with honest conversation.
Where did you first learn about disability (for example, schoolyard, TV, news program, etc.)? How was the source of your knowledge of persons with disabilities defined by that experience? Expand on these questions by posing them to your team (based on your comfort level).
Everyone Has Had, Has or Will Have a Disability
We need to reflect on not just what disability really means but also the fact that at some point in our lives we will all experience the additional challenges living with disability can present. Whether episodic (i.e. a broken leg from skiing that will return to normal), developmental (i.e. born on the ADHD spectrum) or acquired (i.e. brain injury from a car accident) we must remember stigmatizing persons with disabilities is stigmatizing you and everyone you care about. One need not think hard to bring to mind a person they care a great deal about living with disability right now. After all, everyone has had, has, or will have a disability so who are we stigmatizing?
There are five categories of disability: Physical, mental, cognitive, sensory and invisible. Are you aware of some of the types of disabilities that fall under each? If not, now is a great time to look it up—and feel free to share your wealth of knowledge on the matter. After all, knowledge is power.
Even When Architectural Barriers Are Removed, Attitudinal Ones Still Remain
Anytime you walk into a newer hotel the doors will sleekly open and the entrance has an easy-to-manage surface. I imagine people with luggage, families with kids in strollers appreciating the ease of access to the front desk. This hotel is welcoming to persons with disabilities; at least for people with physical disabilities—and that is great news because we want a welcoming space that can be accessed by anyone using a wheelchair or other assistive device for physical reasons. The fact is, it may not be a very welcoming place for people with other types of disabilities and without proper training the staff are unlikely to understand how to equalize the playing field for any guest, no matter what their accommodation need might be. Attitudinal barriers are where stigma lives, created by the perpetuation of myths as they relate to people with disabilities. Remember, just because there is a ramp at the door does not mean the space is inclusive of persons with disabilities, because disability is much more than just physical. It is the attitudinal barriers that must be addressed first and foremost.
Identify an accommodation in your workplace that is not physical in nature. If you cannot find one, consider adding one.