“You’re hired.” These are powerful words. In the case of persons with disabilities (PWDs), they’re powerful enough to change lives.
My life was forever changed the first time I said those words to a PWD worker applying to work at our family business. For the last two years, I’ve been working as the head of Human Resources for PWDs, particularly for the deaf and hard of hearing—a role I take very personally.
It’s always an emotional moment when they find out they’ve been hired. The look on their faces, it’s like they’ve won a million bucks. It’s not about the money. It’s about acceptance. I know because I was born deaf. And I’ve spent my life fighting to be accepted.
Always on the outskirts, these men and women have spent years, if not all their lives, sitting in the dark, alone with their doubts. They work like there’s no tomorrow, because for all they know, there may not actually be one. As a person with a disability, you get used to being locked out of opportunities. Not many workplaces are welcoming towards us. Given a chance to prove what they’re capable of, these men and women often outperform everyone around them.
Growing up, I always wanted to build something for myself. I fought through therapy, through school. Graduating was a huge victory for me. But then the real challenge began: Getting a job.
PWD workers know this all too well, and many of them are incredible workers for it. Those who find themselves in a position to open doors for them, you might want to keep an open mind.
Experience is expected in the workplace. You gain that experience by learning from small tasks to build skill sets that ready you for greater responsibilities. No group of people are as observant and innovative as PWDs, constantly studying the world around them in order to better understand it.
And when things get rough, you need workers that know what it’s like to persist in the dark. To confront challenges, think outside of the box, and get things done. That’s the kind of perseverance PWDs bring to the table. If you can manage to look beyond their disabilities, they’re not too different from the rest of your workforce. It so happens that some can’t hear, some can’t see, and some can’t move around as easily. But they find ways to thrive and shine.
Ironically, even abled people can be disabled by choice. Some don’t hear, some don’t see, and some don’t move when things go awry. The difference is, we overcome.
Of course, it’s not always easy working with PWDs. Like with any collaborative effort between groups, it takes a lot of communication. And communication means compromise. If your employee is deaf, be open to learn sign language. Know that they make the same effort reading your lips and writing on a notepad. Working with a PWD is a fantastic opportunity to learn how to be more observant, more protective, more patient. Characteristics that make one not only a great worker, but a great person.
PWD workers aren’t liabilities. Give them a chance and, with a little adjustment, a little sensitivity and creativity, you’ll see just how productive your company can become. These workers don’t only do things better, they do them differently, and that’s an asset you’ll never find anywhere else. Give them your support, and encourage them to be proud of being who they are as people, beyond their disability.
The divide between PWDs and the rest of society is wide and runs deep, and made worse by the societal and environmental barriers we have created. But we can remake these barriers into something more inclusive, something better.
Seemingly simple things like a lack of communication, a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding or the willingness to. These have resulted in a cycle of silent struggle—of settling for less than what we deserve. It’s high time we break that silence. So here I am, a person with a disability, reaching out.
The talent and the work ethic are there. You just need to recognize it.
Cristina Guanzon is a tech entrepreneur and young professional advocating for the inclusion of PWDs in the workplace.