Over the past few years in Cpl, we’ve developed a close relationship with Trinity’s TCPID initiative and have two permanent employees from the program, along with several other employees who have unseen intellectual disabilities.
As an organisation, it’s no exaggeration to say we’ve benefited hugely from hiring people with disabilities. Not only has it fostered a more inclusive culture within Cpl, but we’ve also learnt a lot about embracing differences rather than being afraid of change and the value of different perspectives.
We’ve also picked up a lot of tips along the way on the best way to remove barriers and manage those with an intellectual disability – I hope this helps you along your own journey to a more inclusive workplace.
1. Research is key
When managing a person with an intellectual disability it’s important to ask questions to fully understand who you’ll be working with and their needs and skills. Just like any other employee, everyone is different and has different needs.
Ask about their disability, their abilities, what they like, what they don’t like, how they interact with people, what causes them anxiety – the more you know about the person the more equipped you are to engage meaningfully in the employment relationship. You should also ask about any accommodations they’ll need so this can be organised in advance.
When hiring Marian, our latest recruit from the TCPID program to join our company, we met with her occupational therapist to understand more about how she worked in groups, what environment best suited her, how she developed relationships – this research was invaluable and we were able to clearly prepare for her joining our organisation.
2. Training & Ownership
Give the person time to settle into your organisation, give them the opportunity to explore your business and see what they like and don’t like. Mei Lin, who has been with us for just under 3 years and has Down Syndrome, she wasn’t mad about working in our IT department, but she got to understand what they do and learnt it wasn’t the place for her.
Make sure that employees with a disability have a mentor or coach and pick this person carefully. Not all people will be suited to the role and it’s an important one, as you will try to get the balance – you don’t want somebody who will smother them or be too protective.
We know from working with Mei Lin that she is a confident and independent adult. Our HR Manager Niamh O’Connor is her direct manager but also her coach. Niamh gives Mei Lin lots of time, lots of encouragement and plans out her work which in effect has resulted in Mei Lin being an asset in our team.
One of Mei Lin’s KPI’s is to produce a monthly publication called the ‘People of Cpl’, whereby she interviews colleagues across the group and produces a monthly publication, she collaborates with our Marketing teams on design and finish, she is so proud of this piece of work and she has full ownership.
Marian produces monthly financial reports that are issued to our Divisional Directors, she is an asset to the Finance team, takes great pride in her work and is an integral part of that team. Again, Marian has full ownership of key tasks.
3. Set a Schedule & Short-Term Goals
Just like anyone else, it’s important to ensure employees with disabilities have a clear purpose and defined responsibilities that fit into the bigger picture. Hiring a person with a disability should never be a tick the box exercise.
To get the most out of your employee we’ve found short-term and very clear goals work best. Deadlines are good, as they keep people focused but with a person with an intellectual disability you may have to be flexible depending on the coping mechanisms to stress.
Routine is equally important. Schedules, breaks and lunch hours shouldn’t change – such changes can affect social skills and although they may seem trivial to you or me, they are quite big to a person with an intellectual disability.
4. Encourage socialising
If you have an employee with an intellectual disability, it’s important that they meet regularly with their supervisor. This will help familiarise them with expected tasks and meetings should be daily or at least very regularly for effectiveness.
Participation in staff events and activities is vital too – making everybody feel part of the team is so important. And finally, be patient, a person with an intellectual disability can take longer to process information or follow directions.
Overall my advice would be to embrace those with disabilities and to focus on their abilities rather than being afraid of hiring someone who doesn’t fit societies norms. There is so much to be gained and I know my own mind and perspectives have been broadened hugely through working with people with disabilities.