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Communicating with Workers with Disabilities After the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, work during the pandemic has taken new forms and new strategies for success. Many of these strategies are also practices that help employers accommodate workers with disabilities. Employers and colleagues are working in new ways and supporting workers in diverse circumstances. In the post-COVID-19 future, more employers may learn how job performance improves when workers’ diverse needs are met. Consequently, more employers may continue to use diverse work strategies and hire workers with disabilities. For example, employers may be more open to communicating with workers with disabilities after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communicating with Workers with Disabilities After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Many workplaces are now using technology, such as video-conferencing, to connect workers in different locations. This and other remote communications, like phone and email, help distanced workers share ideas or projects. Moreover, they also give workers some of the social benefits of working and of being part of a team. Now that workers are avoiding in-person contact, they need new strategies for socializing with colleagues and boosting morale at a distance. For instance, they can extend any Skype meetings or conference calls they have arranged. Remote workers can then stay online for a few extra minutes and chat.

When conference calling is not a good option, workers may set up departmental email threads, group chats, or group texts. Having these channels open throughout the workday creates an atmosphere where colleagues can casually turn to each other and ask questions, point things out, or share jokes and stories just as they would when in the same physical space.

People gaining comfort with these flexible communication strategies may adapt just as easily to the communication supports, accessible formats, or communication devices that future colleagues with disabilities use. For example, some people may use:

  • Sign Language interpretation, in-person or remotely through Video Relay Service (vRS)
  • Speechreading
  • Captioning
  • Writing, texting, or email
  • Braille, on paper or a computer Braille display
  • Large print
  • Accessible digital files or websites
  • Verbal descriptions instead of images or gestures
  • Hearing aids and assistive listening devices
  • Communication boards
  • Augmentative or alternative communication devices

These supports, formats, and devices empower workers to communicate freely in ways that are natural for them. Natural communication allows workers to easily share their ideas and develop collaborative relationships with colleagues. Workplaces open to communicating with colleagues and clients in a variety of ways have access to a larger pool of qualified and skilled workers.