8.5 Tips for Preventing Ableism in the Workplace
We’ve heard a lot about “-isms” lately, and it’s a good thing such conversations exist, but there may be one “-ism” you don’t hear or pay attention to as often: ableism.
Ableism is any statement or behavior directed at a disabled person that denigrates or assumes a lesser status for the person because of their disability. This includes social habits, practices, regulations, laws, and institutions that operate under the assumption that disabled people are inherently less capable overall, less valuable in society, and/or should have less personal autonomy than is ordinarily granted to people of the same age.
How do we see this in the workplace?
Perhaps the most obvious form is a lack of options for physical access. Does your building provide handicap parking or ramps? What about height-adjustable desks and chairs, adequate lighting, or read-aloud programs and alternative text?
If these don’t sound familiar, but you’re wanting to begin implementing more accessible options, you may not know where to start. That’s okay, because here are some steps to follow for preventing Ableism in the workplace, and tips for best practices:
1. Recognize that every employee has value.
This is most important, especially for anyone hesitating when it comes to hiring someone in the disability community, or adapting for those already under your payroll. Realize that able-bodied people are only a portion of the population ready and willing to work. The U.S. unemployment rate of people with disabilities is nearly twice as much as the rate of people without - Look at all of that untapped potential! If you already employ people with disabilities, reflect on how they are treated in your culture. Is there equal value placed on that community versus the able-bodied community?
2. Understand “spoon theory”.
If someone has a chronic disability, there may only be so much energy, or “spoons”, available for the day. The daily activities we perform could take more spoons for a disabled person to complete. For instance, an able-bodied person could get out of bed, make breakfast, travel to work and finish their first meeting before using up one spoon. Whereas those activities may require two or three for someone who is disabled.
3. Do your research.
Take it upon yourself to learn as much as you can about disabilities and what effects they may have on people. Understand, an able-bodied person cannot completely fill a disabled person’s shoes, but doing your research can help grow your empathy for this community. It will also help you realize the various ways accessibility can be increased around you.
4. Ask them!
One of the best things you can do for someone who is disabled, is participate in conversation to understand them and their needs better. Ask for their ideas on how to create a more accessible environment.
Another way to be more inclusive is to make sure you’re using their preferred language - ask them how they would like to be identified. There are two generally accepted ways of identification: person-first and identity-first. An example of person-first would be stating, “a person with (insert disability),” while identity-first uses “disabled person.” When in doubt, “someone in the disability community” is always accepted. Each person has the right to decide which they prefer, so if you’re unsure - just ask.
5. Believe them.
This is closely tied to asking questions; believe the answers they give you, and believe them when they are expressing concerns. Don’t assume a person with a disability is making up symptoms or trying to get attention. It is tiring and disheartening to constantly advocate for themselves, and they shouldn’t have to.
6. Provide accessible materials and work space.
This includes - but is not limited to - desks, rooms, and materials such digital copies and text size. What it all boils down to is making accommodations, especially those that are particularly curated. Ensure that each disabled person is accommodated specifically for their needs. By doing so, you will also ensure a safe and comfortable environment for everyone in the disability community, who is a part of your organization.
7. Allow remote work.
A person has already created an accessible and comfortable environment for themselves in their own home. Sometimes they would prefer - or perhaps it’s necessary - to remain in what is familiar and useful, to allow them to contribute their best.
8. Finally, be an advocate.
Speak up so they don’t have to. Be the first to suggest an alternative location which provides accessible entrances, or include alt text on your company website. Be mindful of the ways you and your organization can do better, and take action to improve.
Bonus Tip: look for your resources.
There are websites that translate text to braille, for example. Brainstorm ways you can provide and allow options.
Why does any of this matter?
People in the disability community want to contribute, they want to show their value and worth… but the space has to be accessible.
What can you do to prevent ableism in your workplace? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!
Thank you Allie, for your amazing presentation on ableism to the Your Clear Next Step team! We have learned so much and are doing what we can to start implementing your 8 steps!