Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Find the ability in disability

Published:Wednesday | January 14, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Dr Andre Haughton, Contributor

SOME EMPLOYERS marginalise persons because of their disability, physical, mental or otherwise. In Jamaica, there are no official statistics on the size of the disabled population, neither is there any data on the employment of disabled people.

Nevertheless, based on primary observation, few firms hire disabled people to work upfront despite the advantages that can be had from doing so. People with disabilities should not be discriminated against. They should be given a chance to contribute to the work environment and feel appreciated for the work they do. With this in mind, there are many ways that hiring a disabled person can help to improve the long-term existence of a firm.

1. Unique talent.

Disabled people have untapped resources, some possess unique talents or abilities that might help to make the work environment more productive. Consider Steven Hopkins in his wheelchair. If he wasn't given the chance to explore his talent as a physicist, he would not have contributed so much to science in the United States of America. There might be many Steven Hopkins here in Jamaica, but we will never know if we don't give disabled people the room to explore their talents.

2. Self-determination.

People living with disabilities are faced with challenges every day. As a result, they take a solution-driven approach towards life. If they can't get things done the conventional way, they will invent new ways and this will sometimes lead to innovation in the firm.

3. Build the goodwill of your firm.

Employing a disabled person is not an act of sympathy, it is an act of courage and hope. By employing a person with a disability, you subliminally communicate to your customers/clients that you have mutual respect for all individuals. This will have positive effect on attracting and maintaining clients and customers who care and respect all people as well.

4. Motivate other employees to increase productivity.

Disabled employees pay attention to detail, they are loyal and reliable. If a disabled person does their job well, it will motivate others around them to do same. This spill-over effect will increase labour productivity across the firm.

5. Increase corporate responsibility.

It is never good to hire disabled people for publicity stunts, but a firm can increase its corporate responsibility presence by hiring, training and developing those with special needs. They always improve your brand recognition.

6. Increase awareness.

Hiring a disabled person will help to increase awareness about specific disabilities, some are rare and many people are unaware of them. It will also help people to understand more about disabilities and the abilities within them.

7. Remove stereotype.

A firm helps its employees understand and accept that some people are different by hiring people with disabilities. In this case, they highlight the advantages of the disabled person and dwell less on any negatives that may exist.

8. Build morale and principles in the workplace.

By having a disabled co-worker, individuals learn acts of kindness, tolerance, discipline, respect and an appreciation for their own self-being and existence. The workplace becomes more user-friendly and service oriented.

If you are under the impression that disabled people don't want to work, based on their mental or physical condition, speaking to them gives you a different story. Many want to work, but are sometimes demotivated by employers' approach towards disability.

Many people with disability are very qualified and ready for work. Disabled individuals require more intrinsic motivation and use more effort than other individuals to attain qualifications on their résumés. Firms should also make their business environment more user-friendly for disabled individuals by installing ramps, elevators, special restroom facilities, etc.

Maybe the Government can provide more incentives to motivate firms to hire disabled people, or for disabled individuals to become more entrepreneurial. According to representatives from the Jamaican Centre for Persons with Disabilities, the Government has not been able to properly plan for disabled people due to inaccurate statistics on disability over the years. A database to fully record and store data on persons with disability in the island has been pending since April 2013.

Dr Andre Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton; or email editorial@gleanerjm.com.