Disability inclusion at work is about more than hiring people with #disabilities. An inclusive workplace values all employees for their strengths. It offers employees with disabilities — whether visible or invisible — an equal opportunity to succeed, learn, be compensated fairly, and advance. Ms. Manique Gunaratne did an awareness programme on “How to make an inclusive workplace” at Hidramani Garments in Wathuragama in July 2022.
Companies spend a significant amount of money developing staff, whether it is on team-building days, attending conferences or enhancing technical skills such as coding languages. Part of the budget should go towards honing soft skills to nurture a positive culture among the workforce. While additional forms of training might involve presentations, role-plays, and task-based problem-solving, companies may not have considered basic sign language to complement the existing training provision. Yet, there are ample reasons to support implementing Basic Sign Language training as part of the staff’s ongoing professional development due to following reasons:
01. Your customers will thank you: There is a lot of buzz around the area of customer experience. While many Managers are busy mapping customer interactions and implementing email automation, some people will find it harder to access your perfectly designed customer journey. If your team embers can understand the barriers and communicate with a hard of hearing or deaf customer, that person will gain a positive experience of your company. You benefit from increased customer opportunities and accessing a new market by understanding how to make your promotions and offers more accessible, increasing sales.
02. Your workforce will be more inclusive: If someone joins the team who is hard of hearing or deaf and communicates in sign language, they will feel more included if staff members have some knowledge of sign language. The team will also feel more confident in approaching their deaf teammates.
03. Supporting each other: If you include sign language training as part of your workplace development programme, it could be fun to foster a “sign language only” the hour in the afternoon where those who need to speak to each other can sign. This will give hearing members of staff the chance to practice their new skills with each other and deaf colleagues the opportunity to offer support and be more fully involved in their team’s development.
04. A chance to develop empathy: One of the most important soft skills you can adopt in the workplace is empathy. Learning sign language or any other language is a fast track to becoming more empathic. As a language learner, the struggles that come with not being able to communicate fluently mean you experience a sense of humility. This means that, if someone joins the team whose first language is not English, co-workers will know to adapt their speech and gesturing to help the newcomer understand better.
05. Improving non-verbal communication skills: Important non-verbal signals can be frustrating. Being able to read another’s body language helps you know your next move in a business situation, so honing those skills is vital for a successful outcome. By learning sign language, your team will improve their ability to pick up on non-verbal cues and will therefore become a better asset in the boardroom or on the sales floor.
These are just a few great reasons to implement Basic Sign Language training among the staff members in the companies. The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Specialised Training & Disability Resource Centre conducted training in Basic Sign Language from March to May 2021 for staff members of companies. Ms. Chammi Dias and Mr. Janaka Sampath were the Trainers for this certificate course.
MANIQUE GUNARATNE Administrative Vice President – Internet Society Sri Lanka Chapter