Disability Employment Awareness Month

Not Disabled - Uniquely AbledOctober is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Employers find that individuals with special needs can make excellent employees. Often they are content and effective in jobs that others find boring. Most disabled people are enthusiastic about having a job and are dependable and trustworthy.

My first experience with disability employment was a quarter of a century ago when I owned an interior landscape company. A state rehabilitation agency contacted me about my hiring needs and offered incentives for me to hire one of their clients—a young lady who was totally deaf. The agency representative spent a lot of time discussing what I needed and what accommodations we would have to make–primarily structuring the job so the worker would not go into public alone. If she helped with an installation, another crew member would handle all contact with clients.

The agency provided a sign language interpreter during the new hire’s training period and helped with the adjustment. Although Janie learned most of her duties well and quickly, she just couldn’t seem to get the watering right. She poured way too much water into the pot, over-watering the plant and making a mess on the floor. I decided my staff wasn’t doing a good job training her (which was not the norm), and I took over that part of her training.

I demonstrated watering all around the plant to evenly moisten the soil, then I made motions to indicate she should pour water into a particular plant. She poured until water overflowed the saucer. On the next plant, I motioned when it was time for her to stop pouring water. She looked at me with a puzzled expression and pointed to the dry saucer. The supervisor training her had emphasized to the interpreter that Janie needed to water plants thoroughly. “Pour water until it starts coming out the drain hole, then stop.”

A few seconds after I told Janie to quit watering, enough water came out the drain holes to dampen the saucer. We went through the process several more times before I finally realized the problem. Without even recognizing it, I and everyone who worked for me, depended on our hearing to water plants correctly. We heard the water bubbling through the soil, and from experience, recognized when it was almost through the pot. We actually quit pouring several seconds before the water reached the bottom of the soil and the drainage holes. Not being able to do that, Janie had to depend on her sight, and by the time the water was visibly draining, too much water had been added to the soil.

So … we made an accommodation. The duties of the installation/greenhouse crew were divided differently. Rather than dividing up the work by sections of the greenhouse, with one worker performing complete maintenance on all the plants in his or her section, Janie cleaned and groomed a larger shared section, and a coworker watered the same plants. Janie did just as much and equally important work as her coworker, and everything was done, and done well. All it took was a little time to understand Janie’s special needs and a willingness to make a few changes.

A few years after we initially hired Janie, I had a stroke and was in a wheelchair or scooter for five years. I carried on my business just as effectively as I always had, though we had to make a few accommodations for the wheelchair. My boss (me) thought the small time, effort, and expense required to make the office wheelchair-friendly was well worth it to have such an outstanding worker (me, again).  But I had learned that lesson years before when we hired Janie and discovered she was an excellent employee—hardworking, dependable, and loyal—well worth making a few changes in how the installation/greenhouse crew did their jobs.

The video below shows a successful business with a number of special needs employees.

Image: © Depositphotos.com/iqoncept

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