By: Waverly Ann Harris
“I believe courage is external… it’s not the ability that gave you courage, it’s the net,” explains Simon Sinek in his 3 minute YouTube video, Where Does Courage Come From. He describes the safety net that gives people courage in the workplace as a team of people who trust each other and have each other’s backs. “We’re just not that good by ourselves… but you get a team together and we can lift anything and solve any problem.”
This is at the core of inclusive employment, the problem is that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are often excluded from teams. They are often held to higher standards than their neurotypical peers and overlooked as valuable team members. As employment for individuals with IDD has become more of a focus, we have used terms such as job coaching, natural supports, and even accommodations that often signal different treatment for an employee with a disability. The vocabulary we have chosen, along with the intimidation of human resource laws and regulations may cause employers to neglect a pool of talent that would greatly benefit their company and team as a whole. In reality, all employees benefit from the same cultural standards.
Have you ever experienced a failure at work? Of course, everyone has. Have you experienced a team that rallied around you after that failure, helped problem solve, and encouraged you to try again? That is the differentiator and the workplace that we all want and where we all thrive. And this is the same expectation for employees with IDD. Yet, often they are more easily criticized for mistakes and expected to work alongside a job coach instead of their teammates. This does not build trust and it perpetuates the insecurities of individuals with IDD and their family members who are often hesitant to take the risks required to have meaningful, paid employment.
Company leadership should feel empowered to take steps toward diversifying the team and incorporating individuals with IDD. Many companies have found that by including individuals with disabilities, the company morale as a whole increased and the team became stronger, positively impacting employee retention and productivity. In a study done by Bonaccio, Connelly, and Gellatly, et al. (2020) they evaluated specific concerns from employers and found data to either validate or dismiss those concerns. From the research, they found that hiring individuals with disabilities had a positive impact on the attitudes of their coworkers, specifically due to employees with disabilities showing a stronger sense of commitment to their work, which influenced their team members. They also found that trust was built between coworkers when an employee voluntarily disclosed an invisible disability with coworkers because it expressed vulnerability and the ability to take risks which sparked a catalyst for social change in the workplace.
At Friends Life Community, we discuss the importance of having a safe place to fail and have the support to take risks. This is a philosophy that we practice in support of the Friends (adults with IDD) and also within our team. For the Friends, it is important that they are given the space to try new things and the expectations that they will need time to practice. When things don’t go as planned, it provokes all of us to evaluate how it can go better. Sometimes when the Friends fail to achieve their goal, it’s not because of their ability or level of practice, it is because we did not give them adequate instruction or set clear expectations. This is the same for all employees in the workplace. As a team, we understand that no one achieves their successes alone, and therefore, we don’t let anyone experience failure alone either. We expect team members to take reasonable risks in order to be innovative with programs.
There is risk involved in all perspectives of employment, however, employers have the power to lower the risk for all employees based on the culture they establish. For individuals with IDD to be successful in the workplace, they need to be a part of the team. They should be allowed to have the space to practice their skills and have support in problem-solving as a team when things don’t go as planned. They will be most productive when they are able to practice their strengths and perform their interests. And they will often thrive and repeat good work when they are told what they are doing well. These success factors are no different for any employee.
Bonaccio, S., Connelly, C.E., Gellatly, I.R. et al. The Participation of People with Disabilities in the Workplace Across the Employment Cycle: Employer Concerns and Research Evidence. J Bus Psychol 35, 135–158 (2020).