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Adapting the workplace to improve the Quality of Life of PWDs

Marc Wolwertz

- Global

- Nov 27 2014

Marc Wolwertz

Chief advisor for workplace health & safety, Sodexo Luxembourg

Often companies are afraid that hiring people with disabilities (PWDs) requires a substantial investment of time or money. For these reasons, many avoid hiring from this increasingly expanding workforce. But according to Marc Wolwertz, Sodexo’s chief advisor for workplace health and safety, accommodating PWDs requires a new mindset.

In your experience, how are PWDs viewed in today’s workplace?

Marc Wolwertz: Generally, people still tend to associate the word “disability” with “wheelchair.” This is not only incorrect, but this mindset can negatively influence employers when they consider welcoming an employee with disabilities into the company. Some fear the unknown factors of the disability because they are afraid of what people may say about it – they fear their team’s reaction as well as that of their customer. People tend to think that an employee with disabilities has a negative impact on productivity.

If these are indeed misconceptions, what do people need to know about PWDs?

M.W.: First, people need to understand that many disabilities are unseen and can be completely unnoticed by others. Additionally, both seen and unseen disabilities don’t necessarily require excessive adjustments on the part of an employer to ensure employee well-being at work. It is also important to know that with the right strategies in place, the competence, abilities, skills and value that PWDs bring to the workplace can make colleagues forget about their disabilities.

How can companies design or redesign employee workspaces to increase their Quality of Life?

M.W.: Each type of disability solution needs to be approached with the foresight that will provide employees with tools or accommodations that will, as much as possible, “cancel out” their disability and enable them to feel at ease at work. This revolves more around making small adjustments to increase the comfort of these employees, without necessarily having to make drastic changes to their workstations. This can include modifiable tables and chairs, foot rests, or providing the ability for employees to alternate between sitting and standing workstations throughout the day.

Is there a right way – or a wrong way – to implement these changes?

M.W.: This strategy has to be understood by everyone in the organization and be communicated to everyone for the benefit of everyone. Indeed, the key goal here is that accommodations or changes will benefit PWDs as well as employees without disabilities. The idea is not to create benefits for a single group of people, but rather for everyone in the workplace. This gives everyone the opportunity to improve his or her Quality of Life at work. In short, it is of utmost importance to address changes in a way that employees with disabilities are not singled out as being different but regarded as being equal.

Is it a commonly held belief that physical accommodations for PWDs are costly and complicated to put into place?

M.W.: Yes, it is. But this is a complete misconception. Often times, companies hear of past initiatives that were not done properly or were done in a hurry that subsequently did not yield positive results. Hence the importance to seek the advice of occupational doctors to understand the particular disability; to seek the help of ergonomists to adapt workspaces and materials; and to ensure that the purchased materials will be put to good use by PWDs as well as everyone on the team.

It is true that every adaptation comes with a price, but this price can be very low compared to the impact it has on Quality of Life at work – which in turn positively influences motivation, productivity and team building.

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