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The Value of Communication and People with Disabilities

חסר תרגום בשפה עברית. מוצגת שפה אנגלית
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Jason Mercado

The Value of Communication and People with Disabilities  

“It is often claimed that many large-scale organizational changes fail because of poor communication”[1], moreover there may be much to be said of how organizations communicate to followers with disabilities. Lauren Lee, a blogger for Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), points out that the Center for Disease Control report (CDC) estimates that approximately 61 million people have disabilities that affect their lives, and 19.1 percent of “the United States population is working as a full or part-time employee whilst managing a disability.”[2] This begs the question of what organizations can do to improve communications and what role leaders should play in overcoming these barriers. Moreover, what can employees with disabilities expect of their organization in a modern work environment?

The Challenges of Communication & Disabilities

Even though there are many laws and positive cultural shifts in the treatment of those with disabilities, “feelings of discomfort, rejection or fear during interaction with a disabled person are still prevalent, accompanied by misconceptions about the behavior, personality and achievement potential of the disabled.[3]  Dr. Silverman, Ph.D., of the University of Washington also points out that there certain phenomena that exist in the disability community. Silverman observes that employees with disabilities may be subjected to social avoidance, stereotyping, discrimination, condescension, internalization, hate crimes, or even violence.[4] While some of the previously mentioned challenges speak in broad terms, they may imply an added layer of complexity in terms of how organizational leaders shape cross-cultural communication within the work environment. Authors of Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint, Eiesenerg et. al, suggest that quality of life, ethical treatment, and a new social contract are among few items that leaders should address. [5]

For starters, the authors point out that employees who are satisfied with their work experience are essentially more deeply committed and therefore more productive.[6]  Additionally, leaders must address the ethical concerns that affect positive communication in the organization. This implies that the organization must go beyond simply hanging a handicap sign at a parking space. Perhaps, the employee may need a larger screen or a location where they are able to air out a prosthesis.  Such actions promote trust between the employee and the leader that makes work more meaningful while enhancing organizational communication.[7]

A more recent dynamic between ethical practices, employees with disabilities, and modern technology exists today. Trewin et. al, suggest that as advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic engineering become more prevalent, they run the risk of excluding people with disabilities from their design models. The authors illustrate this dilemma by describing an example of where AI does not account for such things as being able to decide terms and service agreements that may automatically generate an automatic “I agree” response.[8]  Additionally, “some inaccessible online testing websites will not disadvantage wheelchair users, but those who rely on assistive technologies or keyboard-only control methods to access the Web may be unable to complete the tests.”[9] The global and multi-cultural implication for leaders in this regard is to ensure that the organization implements inclusive design strategies that incorporate people with disabilities.

“The new social contract is a different kind of employment relationship in which job security is fleeting and tied expressly to whether one’s skills fit an organization’s needs at a specific time.”[10] In this regard “the bottom line is that, all over the world, a person with a disability is less likely to be employed than a person without a disability, often much less so.”[11] Where those without disabilities may in this context, a person with disabilities may never even be considered even if their disability does not hinder them from performing the required duties given that they must remain flexible for a better opportunity where there may be none.  Camisa et. al suggests that, for leaders, there is a more constructive way to address this “Through a series of diversified and individualized paths, WDMP strategies help workers to (a) prevent disease and disability (Disability Prevention (DP)), (b) stay at work (Stay at work (SAW)) or (c) return to work after an absence as quickly and safely as possible (Return to work (RTW)).”[12]

Approaches to Address Challenges in Communications

Eiesenerg et al. discuss some management approaches in organizational communications; Classical, human relations, and human resources approach.[13] “Classical management approaches are represented by a collection of theories that share the underlying metaphor of organizations modeled after efficient machines.”[14] The human relations approach is essentially concerned with human communication and the relationship between people.[15] The human resources approach “is concerned  with employee participation and dialogue.”[16] Understanding how to apply these approaches allows in the context of disabled employees allows for a more positive communication environment.

Examining the cultural aspects in a global framework, the classical approach may not be a suitable construct as it assumes that communication is unproblematic[17], however, the aforementioned challenges are not that black and white.  The human relations and human resources approach is perhaps the most suitable for organizational members with disabilities. Between the two approaches there is a balance between considering the needs of the employee through a relationship lens, while also considering the placement of the employee based on their skill set.[18]  These approaches may are perhaps best complimented by “interpersonal circumplex model, which consists of the following two main interpersonal (communicative) dimensions: friendliness/affiliation and dominance.”[19]  This model creates a sense of compassion while maintaining a modicum of authority but in a non-authoritative manner.  

The challenges presented, while very complex, can be navigated effectively in the global context through a human approach and an understanding of how to leverage the balance between technology and the human interface. In summary, many of the challenges with regard to employment and communication of people with disabilities, organizational leaders may benefit from the aforementioned proposals: (1) Eliminate culture of bias when considering filling positions; (2) Consider employs abilities as opposed to looking at what they can’t do; (3) Foster an organizational environment that allows two-way communication with those who have disabilities; (4) balance the authority with compassion in a non-authoritarian manner; and (5) consider the use of technology to bridge the gap between employees with disabilities and those who do not have disabilities.

References

[1] Hansma, L., Elving, W. J., & Elving, W. J. (2008). Leading organizational change; The role of top management and supervisors in communicating organizational change. Corporate and Marketing Communications as a strategic resource, 116-127.
[2] Lee, L. (2019, October 29). Accommodating disabilities: Best practices for organizational communication about disability accommodation at work. https://www.hastac.org/blogs/laurenlee/2019/10/29/accommodating-disabilities-best-practices-organizational-communication.
[3] Seifert, K. H., & Bergmann, C. (1983). Entwicklung eines Fragebogens zur Messung der Einstellungen gegenu¨ber Ko¨rperbehinderten. [Development of a questionnaire to measure attitudes towards the physically disabled]. Heilpa¨dagogische Forschung, 10, 290–320.
[4] Silverman, A. (2016). Disability Stigma and Your Patients. Disability Stigma and Your Patients | Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging With Physical Disabilities. https://bit.ly/3kTdUmH. 
[5] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication. Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition, p. 94-99.
[6] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication. Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition, p. 99
[7] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition, (p. 103).
[8] Trewin, S., Basson, S., Muller, M., Branham, S., Treviranus, J., Gruen, D., Hebert, D., Lyckowski, N., & Manser, E. (2019). Considerations for AI fairness for people with disabilities. AI Matters, 5(3), 40-63. (p. 48). https://doi.org/10.1145/3362077.3362086
[9] Trewin, S., Basson, S., Muller, M., Branham, S., Treviranus, J., Gruen, D., Hebert, D., Lyckowski, N., & Manser, E. (2019). Considerations for AI fairness for people with disabilities. AI Matters, 5(3), 40-63. (p. 49). https://doi.org/10.1145/3362077.3362086
[10] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication (p. 94). Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition.
[11] Bonaccio, S., Connelly, C. E., Gellatly, I. R., Jetha, A., & Martin Ginis, K. A. (2020;2019;). The participation of people with disabilities in the workplace across the employment cycle: Employer concerns and research evidence. Journal of Business and Psychology, 35(2), 135-158. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-018-9602-5
[12] Camisa, V., Gilardi, F., Di Brino, E., Santoro, A., Vinci, M. R., Sannino, S., Bianchi, N., Mesolella, V., Macina, N., Focarelli, M., Brugaletta, R., Raponi, M., Ferri, L., Cicchetti, A., Magnavita, N., & Zaffina, S. (2020). Return on investment (ROI) and development of a workplace disability management program in a hospital-A pilot evaluation study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21), 8084, p. 2) https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17218084
[13] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition, (p. 103).
[14] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication (p. 174). Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition.
[15] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication (p. 193). Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition.
[16] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication (p. 205). Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition.  
[17] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication (p. 192). Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition.
[18] Eisenberg, Eric M.; Goodall, Jr., H.L.; Trethewey, Angela. Organizational Communication (pp. 192-204). Bedford/St. Martin's. Kindle Edition. 
[19] De Vries, R. E., Bakker-Pieper, A., & Oostenveld, W. (2010). Leadership= communication? The relations of leaders’ communication styles with leadership styles, knowledge sharing and leadership outcomes. Journal of business and psychology, 25(3), 367-380, p.368.

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