Making the workplace accessible
Marta Zając is a Junior Project Manager for Capgemini’s Cloud Infrastructure Services, based in Katowice, Poland. She has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic condition that causes muscle weakness. She says that being open about her disability and her needs helps to create a more accessible and inclusive workplace.
“I was diagnosed when I was three,” she says. “As a wheelchair user, it has a big impact on my day-to-day activities, and I have personal assistants to help me live the life I want.
“For me, the physical space of an office or other workplace can be a challenge. Doors might be too heavy to move, or scanners for security badges are too high to reach from wheelchair level, or reception desks are too high. I now have a wheelchair with a lift to raise the seat, but before that, even coffee machines were too high for me.
“The great thing is that Capgemini puts a lot of effort into expanding employees’ horizons, sharing information and creating awareness around disability, alongside other topics such as how we can all be more eco-friendly and look after the environment.
“The more we talk about and discuss something, the more aware people become. It means that if I need to point out a problem with accessibility, my colleagues can help sort things out. For example, I now have a special shelf in the office kitchen, just for me, which is on my level. It’s about consulting disabled people and being open to their suggestions. If you can run accessibility audits and conduct some training, even better.”
Communicating clearly about the ability
Saumya Mishra is a Capgemini software engineer in Kolkata. He says that, as a deaf person, taking time to communicate clearly and openly about his abilities is especially important.
“I’m hearing impaired, and have been since birth,” he says. “It’s often the lack of awareness of disability that impacts me most on a day-to-day level. Non-disabled people often pity disabled people and think they don’t have a future. It’s a misconception. We don’t want sympathy, we want to support.
“For me, communication can be a challenge in the workplace – trying to understand what others are saying, and explaining to others what’s on my mind, can take time. If more people knew sign language that would be a great help. But sometimes improving communication is basic, such as writing something down to make it clear for me.
“If a non-disabled person doesn’t know much about my disability, I can explain it to them and maybe even teach them some sign language. It may feel like it will take some extra effort to communicate with someone who is deaf, but remember that we also want to share opinions and experiences, and shouldn’t be underestimated.
“When we don’t take time to communicate clearly, that’s when misunderstandings can happen. But when non-disabled colleagues are friendly and open with disabled people, and they really understand each other, they can unite to face any challenge. It makes work easier and they grow as a team.”
Creating understanding and inclusivity
Wim Nieuwenhuize is a coach at Capgemini in the Randstad, the Netherlands. At the age of 27, he was diagnosed with choroideremia, a degenerative condition that causes a progressive loss of vision. He says that finding the right role at work lets people of all abilities flourish.
“When I received my diagnosis, it was hard to accept,” he says. “When you’re struggling to come to terms with your situation, it’s almost impossible to explain it to others. But after taking that first step, you can start to take control of your life.
“Now, whenever I work with new colleagues, I tell them directly about the condition and what I need. I’m always thinking ahead to try to keep control of my situation. I have to communicate when I can’t see things or need help.
“For example, when we do a desk move, everything needs to be geared around which way I’m sitting. This is because, although I need a lot of illumination in order to see, I can’t face the window because the sun might be too bright. Direct light can be painful for me. These are the kinds of things that really matter to disabled people in the workplace.
“It also helps when your job matches your abilities. I became an internal coach at Capgemini in 2015. I’ve always loved working with people, and being a coach involves using my eyes less. Listening and talking takes less energy for me than reading and typing. Capgemini funds my training and creates the circumstances in which I can do, and can keep doing, this job. They always help me, and say ‘yes’, and are supportive of people of all abilities. In some ways, we are on this journey of acceptance together.
“These are life lessons that everyone can learn. When you have a specific need, you discover so much about human nature, and about your own abilities and those of others. I’ve found that helping others is the deepest wish of most people. When we accept our circumstances, communicate our needs, and put that positive energy out there, we can see it reflected back.”