Value added of the disabled in companies

Maribel Campo. Collaborator with the Centre for Diversity. Instituto de Empresa

29 March 2005

If real population statistics* were used, one in 20 workers would have some kind of disability. Yet it is still unusual to find disabled workers in companies today

Responsibility, persistence, desire for success and the will to win are all positive values in the personnel selection of any company. These values take on special significance when there are several candidates with the same qualifications. These values are found in a high percentage of the disabled.

One could think that the daily difficulties resulting from a disability wear down a person’s ambition, turning attention from occupational objectives to their own special needs. Actually, the opposite is true: disabled persons, used to setting and obtaining difficult goals, do the same at work.

A similar effect can be seen with the sense of responsibility with which disabled workers face the challenges of a new job. They are aware that they have more to prove than others. Perhaps that sense of responsibility is a defense against compassion, favoritism or positive discrimination which still haunt the workplace.

Years of experience working with others who coexist with my own disability confirm a theory: the presence of disabled people in a work environment is positive. Is it because the will to win acts as an example and a motivation for their colleagues? Or is the diversity itself an element that enriches the work environment?

It is usually thought that integration of a disabled person in a work team can be difficult and lead to conflicts or breakdowns. Nothing could be further from the truth. The effect of strangeness and fear of the unknown, which might be an initial barrier, are overcome immediately and become instruments for integration and learning for colleagues. Though unavoidably, the disabled worker does attract more attention from those nearby, unintentionally becoming a focus point.

*Survey on disabilities, deficiencies and health (INE, 1999)

Business owners must value and take advantage of the good fortune having disabled workers can bring. They are a factor that can benefit overall staff performance.

It is particularly helpful in cases where the team has direct contact with the company’s clients. Workers who have contact with disabled colleagues acquire a knowledge of humanity unknown to them. This leads to greater understanding of human nature, an essential component in company-client relations.

Debunking myths

People talk about the higher level of absenteeism of disabled workers. But it has been proven that abseentism’s most frequent causes are depression and stress. Meanwhile, the disabled develop great capacities for control in the face of anxiety. They have learned to deal with more complicated situations than those appearing in the daily work environment, and have grown expert in solving conflicts. Academics call this confrontation strategies or resilience. These circumstances contribute to improving the work environment.

Let’s leave behind the image of business owners who hire the disabled for tax benefits, to meet percentages, follow a corporate standard or ease their consciences because they think they are showing solidarity. Let’s think of business owners instead as professionals who combine knowledge of the relationship between workers and their environment with a wise and progressive business vision.

Let’s forget about disabled staff members as mandatory, unusual, or even concessions. Let’s instead see people who are competent, whose experience of life can bring new views to the company; workers with ambition that can be turned into profit, with responsibility that becomes efficiency, and a fierce will to win.

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