In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on hiring and retaining talented professionals with disabilities. And, great strides have been made to provide reasonable accommodations where needed to ensure these individuals are able to perform their jobs optimally.
For years, however, success in the professional realm has been linked to an employee’s ability to minimize, or outright hide their need for accommodation. And despite recent efforts to shift this perception from a sign of weakness to enhanced efficiency, unconscious bias still remains. This is true both on the employers end, and on the parts of professional with a disability.
Today, we have an opportunity to shift the paradigm from viewing accommodations solely as an individual need, to a call for inclusive culture. Through this lens, accommodations become the means to enhance engagement and collaboration across organizations while still empowering the individual with the tools needed to excel.
A central component to creating this inclusive culture for organizations is the capacity to self-reflect. And, coaching can be crucial in setting the stage for this skill. I see this regularly in my role as accessibility consultant with The Coaches Training Institute and in my own coaching practice.
Co-Active Coaching holds that how you show up is as important as what you do. In designing accommodations, this means not only addressing what professionals need to perform, but also exploring the softer elements of fostering engagement, expression, and collaboration. Thus the focus of accommodation design broadens to empowering the team as a whole.
Engaging inclusion within your organization starts with three easy steps.
In inviting our colleagues to articulate their own vision for how the culture could better support them to thrive in their work, they can collectivity design agreements about how the team wants to be in relationship to each other and their goals.
For example, the agreements set by a team with several strong extroverts and a person with a sensory processing disorder may include ways to hold quiet moments within meetings for reflection or a signal to pause during moments of intensity. This not only supports the teammate with processing challenges, it also enhances team communication though more considered speech.
With co-designed agreements setting the foundation, team members discover a collective lens through which they can all approach their role. Within Co-Active Coaching, this is known as Designing the Alliance and offers teammates a safe space to operate within.
Encourage the Challenging of Assumptions
With a Designed Alliance in place and an increased feeling of safety, new opportunities emerge to point out what has previously been stepped over. Form a perspective of inclusion, this deepens team awareness around unconscious bias in service of shifting beliefs that limit cohesion.
This ability to challenge assumptions around the status quo empowers individual teammates to approach topics from new angles. The result minimizes the impact of groupthink, increases the potential for creative problem solving, and heightens engagement throughout the team.
In my own experience at CTI, questions arose regarding how my speech pattern from Cerebral Palsy might limit the impact of my coaching. As an organization, we collecttively became curious, delving into our underlying assumptions. This exploration allowed us challenge assumptions around how coaching was understood and delivered that ultimately led to a deeper interpretation of the Co-Active Coaching model throughout the company.
Connect Employees to Their Passion
In looking at accommodation through a lens of coaching, we step beyond asking simply what is needed to do the job to explore the passion each person brings to their role. Through powerful, exploratory questions, we tap deeper levels of fulfillment that create fresh and resonant dialogue. The impact of which is innovative solutions that serve the whole team.
In a recent CTI coaching course, a student requested a sign language interpreter. The cohort chose, collectively, to include the interpreter more fully in the group dynamic. This led to a whole new design within the classroom where all students’ learning was re-enforced through watching the interpreter’s physical expression.
By engaging with an employee or team around how their passion connects them to their work, their productivity increase as does their willingness to express unique ideas, amplifying creative synergy. This is key in building a culture of inclusion and empowering teammates with and without disabilities to bring their whole gambit of experience to the work environment.
When these three elements are put in place and utilized efficiently, an environmental shift arises where employees can embrace the totality of who they are vs. seeing aspects that don’t fit a given mold as unnecessary elements to be left at the door. Here, accommodations for professionals with unique and different abilities become less about what they need and more about how their perspective uniquely informs and enhances to the work process.