Very recently, life has changed dramatically. Having experienced several stages of de-confinement, we have discovered a new normal. The work world wasn’t spared and has been forced to examine their business practises. They are constantly evolving under government guidelines. Staffing procedures, job searching and how work in general is organized have changed. Several organizations have begun de-confinement plans, preparing for new directions in the workplace and their practises. Indeed, most had adopted a telecommuting model.
COVID-19: Test Lab for Understanding Better the Handicap Situation
COVID-19 has led us to review work methods that force many people to live in a handicap situation, i.e., working remotely, socially distancing, wearing protective masks, etc. In addition to workers, companies have been in a situation of change, requiring a mode of operations that no longer works in a normal context. Entire economic sectors which before the crisis were sailing smoothly along have had to ask for government help. COVID-19 has helped us realize that being productive is difficult to separate from the context. The context gives us time to adjust and when we experience difficulties, humans need support to be successfully productive.
When Abnormal Becomes Normal
The COVID-19 situation exacerbated several pre-existing issues (e.g., access to services for people in a handicap situation, mental health, lack of healthcare personnel, etc.). In addition to worsening these problems, the crisis created accommodation challenges for a large number of people. Some may still find it difficult to adjust to telecommuting, working with their children around or facing limits on their sports activities. Personally, the new reality of telecommuting under confinement made me realize that even I can experience more difficult times, especially since I’m an extrovert who enjoys people, and a variety of activities and work environments. On March 16, I returned to SPHERE. Like many people, I had to change the way I worked: my apartment – my personal space – became an office and living quarters. These changes are occurring throughout society. Now, it’s normal to line up to enter a store, something that was unthinkable before. COVID-19 has pushed us out of a societal standard that may lead to workplaces that are better adapted to people in a handicap situation.
Social Benefits of Adapting
To adapt a work environment for a person in a handicap situation, change is necessary. Accommodations can benefit all employees. To illustrate, let’s take the example of wearing a mask. The mask for a deaf or hearing-impaired person is a significant barrier to communication. To remedy the situation, entrepreneurs have created a partially transparent mask. In addition to reducing the limitation experienced by people in the deaf community who practise lip reading, the mask could benefit everyone with a smile; studies have shown a smile produces good feelings.
What can be done to promote the employment of people in a Handicap Situation?
Thinking outside the box has been necessary since the beginning of the crisis in order to see the world differently and adapt different sectors of the economy. To reduce the inequality associated with employment access, it’s important to take a systemic and creative approach. It’s necessary to act by taking into account personal, environmental and lifestyle factors.
- What are the people’s strengths? What are their obstacles?
- What are their abilities? What are their limitations?
- Is there a diagnosis that can help us understand their situation? How does the person perceive their diagnosis?
- What are the resources and frameworks set up by society to facilitate the integration of people in a handicap situation into a job (e.g., subsidies, laws, public transport, etc.)?
- What are the services, existing networks to facilitate their employment integration?
- How does the job sector targeted by the person function?
- Is there a gap between how the person functions and how the targeted company functions? Is it possible to propose reasonable accommodations to the employer?
- If the accommodation doesn’t appear to be reasonable, is it possible to set up the unreasonable portion by seeking subsidies to reduce the employer’s cost?
- Does the person need to develop skills to address the gap?
In short, COVID-19 shows us that it’s possible to adjust quickly to a situation, but it doesn’t mean one approach will work with everyone or every situation. Crises are opportunities to learn how we can organize ourselves differently in society. This crisis may raise employer’s awareness to the potential of adapting the workplace to include more people in a handicap situation.
An article by Marc-Olivier Beaulieu, Project Officer, SPHERE.