If you’ve been managing a team working remotely, you will have been finding new ways to support those employees, keep in touch and keep them going. But have you also been thinking about how you support employees with disabilities working from home?
Providing disability support in Australia can be difficult for some organisations depending on the industry, the role and the employee. It’s especially hard if employees haven’t shared their disability, making it more difficult to identify when an employee has needs that require support. A study by the Harvard Business Review in 2019 said that only 39% of people living with disability inform their manager.
We look at four practical ways you can improve the way you support people with disability who are working remotely.
What is a disability friendly workplace?
A disability friendly workplace is one that welcomes employees who live with disability. By making necessary adjustments to ensure that people with disability feel welcome and valued while providing all the necessary supports to ensure they can operate without obstruction to their role.
If you’re a disability friendly workplace or wanting to become one, your responsibility to supporting employees should extend to working from home arrangements as well as your own business premises.
What is considered a disability in the workplace?
There are many different types of disability and each one can affect people in different ways.
Depending on the industry or the environment, the challenges presented by a particular disability will vary.
That said, there can be some common things to look out for. Learn more about different types of disability and how they might affect people in the workplace and different supports that might be helpful.
Ways to support employees with disability working from home
1. Provide access to assistive equipment and technology
While you might assume that your employees’ home is suited to them and supportive of their needs, the issue is a little more complex. Providing specific remote working support may be important.
While the employee’s home may have a variety of assistive physical or technological equipment available, those may not be the same supports they need to fulfil their work duties.
For example, their dining table may be well suited for them to enjoy meals, but it may not be a healthy setup for them to work at for many hours a day or week.
Things that the employee can do with confidence in the workplace may not be so easy remotely. For example, an employee with hearing impairment might take part in conversations in the workplace with confidence using lip reading skills. However, participating in the same conversations online via video link with delays and technological glitches that are commonly experienced will be infinitely more difficult.
In this case, your employee may benefit from assistive technologies to help support that conversation. Or using alternate communication methods might be far more effective.
The Australian Network on Disability suggests that you ask employees what they need using open questions such as: “Is there anything you need to continue to do your role?” or “Is there anything getting in the way?”. This can be very useful if an employee hasn’t shared the details of a disability.
“By supporting your staff with changed ways of working and / or the equipment they require, you are ensuring the continued productivity and safety of your employees with disability.” Australian Network on Disability (AND).
2. Ensure home workspaces are safe
For all employees, ensuring that their workspace at home is safe and free from hazards, offers good lighting and adjustable seating is important.
Providing these kinds of supports for people with disabilities in the workforce is just as important.
If your employee is bringing equipment home from the office, it is important to ensure they have enough space to safely keep the equipment and work with it.
If you haven’t already had your remote staff complete checklists and training in this space to ensure their health and safety, now is a great time to do this. Use the opportunity to open a conversation with your employees with disability to ensure they’re feeling safe and supported.
3. Set up strong lines of communication
As an employer or manager, it’s incredibly important to ensure that the lines of communication between you and your remote staff are strong.
The Australian Network on Disability suggests that proactively reaching out and keeping in contact with employees is important along with asking all employees what kind of communication works best for them.
Even if your team have been working remotely for some time, taking pause and asking questions at any time will allow them to speak up if certain ways of communicating haven’t been working well for them.
Improving the lines of communication means increasing productivity and employee morale – and that is valuable at any moment in time.
4. Provide mental health support
The ongoing impacts of COVID-19 are causing many Australians to experience anxiety. People in the workforce with disabilities are not immune, and in fact are more likely to experience mental ill health during the pandemic (health.gov.au).
The first step to supporting an employee who may be experiencing anxiety is to talk to them. There may be fairly simple ways that you can support them by identifying work situations that may trigger stress or anxiety and working through adjustments in work processes that can help alleviate those triggers.
If you don’t already offer your employees access to an Employee Assistance Program, consider the benefits to not only to employees with disability, but in fact all of your employees.
Our EAP provides a confidential counselling service to your employees and their families members. This service helps them to work through their personal and work-related concerns.
Find out more about our EAP service. Call 1800 629 277.
Read more about anxiety and supporting your employees through COVID-19.
* MAX Solutions has been awarded Disability Confident Recruiter status by the Australian Network on Disability.