According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, when the national unemployment rate was 10.1 the rate for those with disabilities was 13.9. With this group reflecting an almost 4 point higher rate of unemployment than the general population, there is a strong likelihood that you are also screening candidates disabilities. Would you like some suggestions to improve your communication with these job seekers?
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy offers a wide range of informational resources from print to electronic media on topics ranging from employment law to communicating with people with disabilities. Here are a few suggestions they offer:
• Extend common courtesies to people with disabilities. Extend your hand to shake hands or hand over business cards. If the individual cannot shake your hand or grasp the card, he or she will tell you and direct where you may place the card.
• If the person has a speech impairment and you are having difficulty understanding what he or she is saying, ask the individual to repeat themselves, rather than pretend to understand. Listen carefully, and repeat back what you think you heard to ensure effective communication.
• Go ahead and offer assistance to an individual you may think needs it, but wait for your offer to be accepted before you try to help.
• When speaking to a person who is blind, be sure to identify yourself at the beginning of the conversation and announce when you are leaving. Don’t be afraid to use common expressions that refer to sight, such as “See you later.”
• To get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm. Look directly at the person, and speak clearly in a normal tone of voice. Keep your hands away from your face, and use short, simple sentences. If the person uses a sign language interpreter, speak directly to the person, not to the interpreter.
• If you encounter an individual with a service animal, such as a dog, do not touch or distract the animal. Service animals are working, and it breaks their training to interact with others when they are on duty.
• Try to put yourself at eye level when conversing with someone in a wheelchair. Never lean on or touch a person’s wheelchair or any other assistive device. A person’s assistive device is part of the their personal space, and it is disturbing for anyone to have his or her personal space invaded.
• For individuals with a cognitive disability, you may need to repeat or rephrase what you say. If you are giving instructions on how to perform a task, you may also need to give the instructions in writing.
The best communication advice for employers and job seekers is to relax. Anyone can make mistakes. Offer an apology if you forget some courtesy. Keep a sense of humor and a willingness to communicate. Applying these basic principles will benefit everyone.
Claudia Magallan is the Disability Navigator for Workforce Solutions Workforce Solutions- Gulf Coast ensuring that customers with disabilities utilize all the services offered by Workforce Solutions. She has over 5 years of experience building relationships in the Houston Community and working with job seekers with barriers to employment.