Three managers share their tips on supporting employees with disability

People with disability have unique perspectives and experience, as well as a wide range of skills that can be extremely valuable to your workplace.

Supporting employees with disability requires understanding, patience and empathy. We asked three managers from Endeavour Foundation and our corporate partners what it’s like to work with employees with disability. They opened up about the benefits and challenges, as well as their tips on supporting employees with disability in the workplace.

1. Believe in their skills

Everyone wants to feel valued at work. It’s important to believe and support your employees, whether or not they have a disability. Some people may assume that just because someone has a disability, that they aren’t as capable of working.

Wayne Chauvier, Production Manager at our Wacol Business Solutions site, oversaw the implementation of our Supported Hosted Employment program at a local Coles distribution centre. He shared how the skills and work ethic of employees with disability have produced fantastic results sorting and packing empty milk crates at the distribution centre.

“Coles were absolutely surprised at the volume of work we got through because they had people without disability  doing that previously. We went in and we were pretty much doubling the volumes that they were getting previously,” Wayne said.

The Supported Hosted employees and Coles team have built a great working relationship, creating a positive working environment.

“Our guys are running out of there in the afternoon with smiles on their faces and loving the work,” Wayne said.

2. Treat them equally

People with disability have the same needs, goals and aspirations as anyone else in a workplace. They want to feel like part of a team, and like they are treated no differently to their colleagues.

Employees with disability should have the same access to training, clearly defined role responsibilities, and performance monitoring. This includes having the same expectations in regards to work conduct and performance, and not being afraid to challenge them.

Endeavour Foundation Credit Manager, Monique Barton, supports Chloe who works for the finance team one day a week assisting with invoice processing and other tasks. When she noticed some things being done differently around Chloe, Monique decided to make some changes to ensure Chloe was receiving equal opportunity to feel challenged and supported to grow.

“A supported employee wants to be treated like every other employee. So why would we do things one way for one person, and one way for another?” Monique said.

“When I became Chloe’s manager, there was a lot of hand holding, and now she knows that I just expect her to come in, sit down, check her emails, and get into her schedule,” Monique said.

“I stopped wrapping Chloe in cotton wool, but I still care for her like any other team member.”

As a result, Monique has seen Chloe’s independence and confidence grow as she has realised all that she is capable of.

“Chloe has realised her potential and is ready for new challenges and to take on all the opportunities that may come her way. Her growth is very evident in that respect,” Monique said.

3. Embrace neurodiverse perspectives

People with disability have unique experiences and perspectives. You might be surprised by some of the creative ideas and solutions that arise when you embrace neurodiversity in the workplace.

Matthew Blake works as a Defence Assistance Program Coordinator for the Endeavour Foundation Defence Assistance Program. The program is a partnership between Endeavour Foundation and the Australian Department of Defence that allows people with disability to find employment working on an Defence base. As part of his job, Matthew supports employees with disability to help them settle in at work and achieve their goals.

Talking about the value that the program brings to the team at the Barracks in Brisbane, Matthew shared how having more neurodiversity has resulted in some surprising outcomes.

“I think that neurodiversity in these spaces is something that I've come to really appreciate. I have one way of visualising or seeing a problem, and my supervisor has another way of visualising and seeing a problem. But for someone with autism, for example, those connections are really different. So, we've had some super creative solutions that came from left field but make sense,” said Matthew.

Being open to the unique perspectives of people with disability can lead to great ideas and solutions you may not have considered before. Encourage their ideas and take them seriously.

“If we recognise and encourage that critical thinking, we’ve also got someone who’s growing and learning to apply themselves and feel valued in the workplace,” Matthew said.

4. Advocate for inclusion

For someone with disability to succeed in the workplace, they need to be in an environment that is inclusive and supportive. Accessibility is both physical and social. It includes making reasonable adjustments to accommodate people’s physical needs, but can also include communication styles and attitudes.

Supporting an employee with disability may require you to advocate for change in the work environment. This isn’t always easy to do, as Matthew acknowledges.

“Doing this takes a lot of courage,” Matthew said. “If you ground yourself in why you hired in the first place, in your intention behind it, what you recognise is that intention can inform your resilience when you’re faced with those challenges.”

Matthew advocates for normalising disability in the workplace and recognising when organisational change is needed to increase inclusivity.

“You have to be really truthful to yourself to say ‘do I want disability in this space to succeed?’ and if so, well, what am I going to do, what actions and steps am I going to take, to ensure it does succeed?” Matthew said.

“That’s where advocacy for those reasonable adjustments, for expectation change or attitudinal change, is really important.”

5. Don’t make decisions for them

It’s important to allow people with disability to make their own decisions. Acknowledge that taking risks can be important for allowing people to grow, and encourage employees with disability to take on challenges if they want to.

“For those with disability, don’t make decisions for them. Allow them to have the dignity of risk to choose what they’re willing to go into and to understand for themselves when enough is enough, and respect that decision as well,” Matthew said.

This is a philosophy that Wayne also follows when selecting employees to participate in supported hosted employment with Coles. Wayne believes it’s important to give everyone who wants it the chance to experience the job and decide if it’s for them.

“We don't discriminate against anybody. If somebody shows interest, then we’ll make sure that they're fit to be on site. We'll then give them an introduction to the site and they’ll go out for a day to trial it. And if that's what they like to do, then we give them a choice,” Wayne said.

“We don't want anybody to fail, but we're not going to stop anybody from experiencing a good job.”

Everyone deserves equal opportunity to thrive in the workplace. By implementing these tips, you can create an inclusive and supportive environment for all employees, including those with disability.

Thinking of hiring someone with disability on your team? Contact us to find out more about Supported Hosted Employment or partner with us.

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