You’ve just hired a new employee. She uses a powered chair. You know she can do the work, but you’re concerned with how she’ll fit in with the team.
Here are a few tips on how to make everyone feel more comfortable, from Ivy Gunter, co-author of On the Ragged Edge of Drop Dead Gorgeous, a book about her experience with a physical disability resulting from cancer.
• Refer to the new employee as a person with a disability, not as a handicapped or disabled person. This puts the emphasis on the human being, not the impairment.
• Inform your staff ahead of time about the disability, particularly if it’s an obvious one. That way, there are no shocked looks to deal with.
• Have your team members introduce themselves and offer assistance. This does not mean providing special help. It means extending ordinary courtesies—explaining where the supplies are, inviting the person to lunch, etc.
• Let the new employee decide on how much information she wants to give. If she says, “Yes, I’ve had an accident,” and doesn’t go into detail, leave it at that.
• Make sure all job-related areas are accessible to her. For instance, if she’s chair-bound, be sure her in-office mail box is within her reach.
• Don’t judge her abilities on a special scale. Simply treat her like anyone else. She wants a chance, not a favor.