Don’t panic, but the candidate has a disability (Guest commentary)

Accomodating an employee with a disability can be easy and inexpensive
By Brian Kon
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/25/2005

You’re waiting in your office. You’ve posted the position for a new receptionist. The candidates are about to arrive for interviews. The first person has arrived and is about to be escorted into your office. The door opens and a person who comes equipped with a smile, an outstretched hand and a power wheelchair greets you. What do you do?

The first thing you need to do is not to panic. Studies have shown that the general public actually has a fear of people with disabilities. Why? Because people do not know what to say or how to act in order to accommodate the person, their disability or the technology that may come with them.

There’s no need to feel uncomfortable. Shake hands and invite the person in. Since this candidate uses a motorized wheelchair, you may need to shift some furniture around to accommodate the person’s needs. Other than that, it is truly business as usual. The interview process should be no different for this candidate than any other who has applied for the job.

So you end up determining that this candidate is the best person for your receptionist position — polite, professional, intelligent and experienced. Now what? Proceed with your standard protocols for hiring. Once the person has received and accepted the offer, then and only then do you find out what accommodations need to be made for this person to assume the position.

Many employers are surprised to find out that accommodating an employee with a disability is relatively inexpensive. Most accommodations can be made for less than $500, but that does depend on the individual and the environmental conditions that exist within your business. Assuming the basic accommodations of wheelchair accessibility have already been met with appropriate entrances, doorways and washroom facilities, the rest can easily be accomplished, usually with a quick trip to the local business supply store. Long gone are the days of specialty equipment and the high prices associated with small one-off products. Today’s basic office ergonomics have already led us down the path workplace accommodation, or at least provided the road map to get there.

The best thing, however, before rushing out to purchase new equipment is to ask the person what they need. The “wish list” of essentials may be relatively small, and not at all what you thought. When in doubt, ask. You may be surprised to learn that this individual not only can, but also prefers to, transfer into a standard office chair to perform daily duties.

The first step in workplace accommodation is attitude. The next is to ask, to find out what the individual needs. Do not assume on someone’s behalf, and do not make the mistake of thinking that two people who use wheelchairs have the same needs. Each person is unique and comes with specific abilities to contribute to the bottom line of your business.

Brian Kon is the provincial sales and marketing manager for Ontario March of Dimes.

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