Diversity and Different Abilities

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I love these diversity styluses! Each one is different, but they do exactly the same job.

It really excites me when corporates give disability in the workplace the recognition it deserves. This week, Siemens Park in Midrand, Johannesburg invited me to be the keynote speaker for their DiversABILITY Awareness Programme. They recognise that all employees have different abilities and besides wanting to comply with employment equity laws, they value the contribution and success of a diverse workforce.

Part of my presentation is sharing my own story. I do believe we need more role models of people with disabilities who have achieved career success. A profound moment for me was when I met a new client early in my therapy career. She had recently lost an arm and a leg in an accident. Throughout our session, she kept asking, “But Nicky, how did you get a job?” It was the first time that she imagined that her disability may not be the end of the road for her.

I know opportunities for that young woman are challenging without access to education. I was fortunate to attend mainstream schooling before inclusive education was even recognised as law. Through working hard academically (and focusing on what I CAN do!) I achieved a full bursary through the Department of Labour to study Clinical Psychology.

Disability is not limited to the physical. From my clinical experience, my presentation also focuses on the “hidden disabilities” that are not as easily understood in the workplace. These disabilities are not readily disclosed as employees fear confidentiality being broken, discrimination and stigma. The challenge is that without disclosure, companies aren’t able to make reasonable accommodations. By law, companies need to keep this information confidential and not discriminate for the entry or advancement into career opportunities. The more we share our stories, the more likely that the stigma of mental health can be addressed.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations for psychological disabilities:

  • Flexi time for Psychology and/or Psychiatry appointments.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones in an open office environment for a variety of disorders (ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder or other challenges related to attention and concentration).
  • Positioning of work station/desk in an open office against the wall or in a quieter area (particularly for attention and concentration problems and anxiety disorders).
  • Work from home options in times of distress (anxiety and mood disorders) if sick leave is not essential.
  • Referral to Employee Wellness Programmes.

Many corporates are recognising that people with disabilities make good employees! Our different abilities can be used as an advantage to the inherent requirements of a job. For example, SAP has a recruitment campaign for applicants with Autism Spectrum Disorder as they realise that they have exceptional skills when it comes to attention to detail for coding and IT work. They have included phenomenal mentoring programmes for their employees.

People with different abilities are a source of valuable skills and assets and can make a positive contribution to a more diverse and represented workforce.