Breaking down barriers: creating an inclusive workplace that works for all

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has left workplaces with no choice but to adapt and become more flexible. With practices like remote working more and more common, many now offer options that the disability community has sought for years.

“I think for all employers this has required all of us to really look at our work products, what is involved in creating the work and / or the results, how we assess quality and efficiency, etc. Says Jenn Ramirez Robson, Northwest Center vice president of employment services. “There seems to be a greater awareness that one size does not fit all, and general policies and practices now need to be more granular and individualized. Employers are realizing more than ever that flexibility is key to supporting productive teams.

Northwest Center is ahead of the game when it comes to helping foster inclusive environments that tap into the diversity and unique talents of individuals. For more than 55 years, Northwest Center Employment Services has served as a workplace matchmaker, helping people of all abilities discover talent, develop skills, and find meaningful and useful job matches for all involved persons. The main goal of the organization is a successful job for both the employee and their employer – and not just to help people “get a job”, whether it’s a large Fortune 500 company or a small one. local business – but also to cultivate a path to career growth. and independence.

Since the start of the pandemic, Ramirez Robson has seen many employers discover that just seeing someone at a desk doesn’t always equate to high productivity. “When managers had to assess the quality and quantity of the actual work produced,” she adds, “it caused a shift in mind from perceived productivity to measured productivity. “

It is not surprising that some barriers, both physical and digital, have arisen with this transition. Ramirez Robson uses the example of the Northwest Center, where before the pandemic all of the coaching and prep work for working with clients was done in person. “When the whole state went into lockdown,” she says, “we obviously couldn’t work with clients in person anymore, but we had to be able to bill for that work in order to keep our staff. In addition, we knew it could be detrimental to our customers not to receive this support during such a tumultuous time. “

As a result, Northwest Center switched to remote coaching and rolled out tablets for many clients, even though many had severe intellectual and developmental disabilities and were, historically, non-verbal and unaccustomed to using technology. “To our delight, most clients have adapted perfectly to the new devices, and many of our clients have learned sign language or other new ways of communicating with their coaches so that they can maintain or develop their skills.” , says Ramirez Robson. “Not only were the staff willing to try new ways to accomplish our mission, our clients were also willing to adapt – and they did! “

Ramirez Robson believes that obstacles resulting from fluctuating circumstances (like working remotely) can encourage leaders to break down job descriptions for the positions they manage into quantifiable tasks with measurable results. “We often work with employers to do just that in order to identify roles that might be suitable for our clients who may be able to do part of a job and free up other staff to do more of that. that they are qualified, ”Ramirez told Robson. “If a manager is clear about job expectations and measurable results, it’s also easier to envision different ways to achieve those results, rather than relying on old ways of working. “

Ramirez Robson would challenge employees to do the same. “Think about the work they do every day,” she advises. “Then, if it’s not being measured now, come up with how they would like their work to be measured and their results evaluated. Introduce it to their manager to see if it meets their expectations. Once this is established or confirmed, the employee and manager can work together to explore other ways to get the whole job done and even improve results.

Increased flexibility in the workplace could be a lasting positive to emerge from the last difficult years. Ramirez Robson sees how changing the relationship between employees and managers could be of an incredible result for the work culture. “I see a manager’s role as setting clear expectations and goals for the job, and then making sure their employees have the tools and resources to achieve those goals,” she says. “I call it ‘creating the conditions for success’. It also creates a work culture where it is normal, and even encouraged, for employees to identify the supports or resources they need to be successful, whether related to a disability, life situation, or life. other challenges.

Ramirez Robson acknowledges that it is not common in most workplaces for managers to review job descriptions in this way, or for employees to feel comfortable asking for the support they might need. “At Northwest Center,” she says, “we have experience working with employers in this area and we welcome opportunities to partner with other employers to foster more inclusive workplaces.”

Northwest Center has been leading inclusion efforts since 1965: our founders drafted the first laws to guarantee all children an education. Our therapy, education and employment services for people with disabilities maximize potential and create diverse schools and workplaces that benefit everyone.

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