When you enter the workplace, you will encounter a number of situations you’ve never dealt with before. This may include learning how to discuss disabilities in the workplace.
There is no official consensus about disability language. While everyone has their own views and opinions, it’s important to learn basic etiquette. You will likely encounter diverse groups of people over the course of your career so it’s a good idea to develop good habits early on!
Here are some helpful tips to consider when discussing disability within the workplace.
Leave the questions at home.
Some people with disabilities may feel uncomfortable answering questions, as it’s not usually appropriate to ask someone about their device. Using assistive devices is no different than wearing prescription glasses – it is designed to increase independence and self-reliance. At the end of the day, these are simply tools to help get the job done, and the people utilizing these technologies shouldn’t be viewed any differently.
Do your own research.
Want to know more about your colleague’s assistive device? It is entirely normal to be curious, but it is often better to make an effort to learn about the assistive device independently. There are many resources and tools available to you such as Google or assistive technology labs, which many larger organizations may offer. I’ve learned a great deal through a variety of YouTube channels that offer many assistive technology demonstrations.
Everyone has different needs so it’s important to be understanding and receptive to how your colleagues want to be treated. The golden rule for interacting with someone who has a disability is the same as interacting with anyone else – treat them the way you would want to be treated. When in doubt, ask them what their preferences are in a respectful manner. This can go a long way in making everyone feel comfortable in the workplace.
Interested in learning more?
Your Human Resource or Diversity Department may have disability etiquette and sensitivity training sessions or resources to share with staff. Open employers don’t become inclusive without having the tools to educate and support employees!
There are some really great organizations and resources available on appropriate language and etiquette to help maintain a great work environment! For example, Scope About Disability is a charity dedicated to helping people understand disabilities. They’ve created a social media campaign called ‘End the Awkward’ aimed at helping people understand disability and learn proper disability language and etiquette.