Building a workplace for everyone

Managing diverse abilities in the workplace – an employee’s advice on what managers and teams should know.
Building a workplace for everyone

Volvo Group employee Vincent Deltour does not want his disability to be treated like a taboo. He wants to talk about the fact that his vision is severely impaired, and he has difficulty moving his foot, meaning that he can only walk a maximum of 1km, or for about 15 minutes. Why? So that people understand.

As he puts it himself, it’s something he has lived with for a long time: his reality. For him to be able to live his life as he wants to, he needs people to confront it in the same way that he does: honestly, frankly, and without fear.

Confronting the facts and discussing them head-on is particularly important when considering the assistant buyer and rugby enthusiast’s job at Volvo Group in the company’s offices in Lyon, France. For some, it’s work which would involve a lot of screen time: bringing suppliers onto a purchasing e-platform, onboarding them, and supplying administrative support for essential systems throughout Europe. And as well as the online work, there’s also the prospect of being part of a team: sitting in an open-plan office, sharing info and collaborating. But for Vincent, it had to be approached differently.

He had to get used to a series of applications that enable him to interact with his computer – reading text to him, listening to his voice and converting it into text, taking him through systems without too much use of the mouse or on-screen tabs. And he also had to learn the layout of an open-plan office, memorize where his colleagues sit, and navigate everything from the journey to work to grabbing a coffee with his workmates.

“In the beginning,” he says, “everything is difficult because it’s new. Every application was new, and all the people were new to me. It’s difficult for anyone with this kind of disability to work in a new place for the first ten weeks, generally. You can’t see the office. Now, it’s much easier to move around. The first day I was here, I didn’t know where anything was. Where’s the coffee machine? It was difficult for me, and for the team too. But it got easier.”

Breaking down taboos: how to talk about disability diversity in the workplace

One of the reasons Vincent is so against discussion of diverse abilities being treated as a taboo is that it can, very specifically, hold back progress. “The people on my team have taken the time to explain things – like the layout of the office. They know it’s important. They offer a great deal of professional help and explanation. I take the help, and as a result I haven’t had a problem integrating into this office.” 

How shared responsibility helps foster workplace diversity

When a colleague with diverse abilities starts in a workplace, it can be difficult to work out everything that has to be considered. Often, the onus is placed on either the manager or the company to make sure that everything is in place. And from an administrative point of view, that might be correct. But Vincent believes that the emphasis is also on him.

“I think that everyone shares the responsibility,” he says. “I have chosen to work in a company like this. Integration is not just something other people have to do. It’s from me, too: to describe my difficulties, answer questions, accept help and ask questions myself, about my work. I have a responsibility to describe my difficulties and adapt to working in the company. This way, I can develop my own competence and find solutions. “

Making the workplace ready

Of course, preparations need to be made. Asked what his advice for managers would be, Vincent is quite clear: make the place ready in time, as they would with any other employee. “The workplace needs to be set up and the computer needs to be ready. Define what applications need to be used and then prepare for the costs that might be associated. Find out what the other consequences will be – when it comes to office space and so on. Have a discussion before the first day, so that everything is clear.”

Vincent highlights one seemingly small thing that ended up making a big difference for him. When he arrived in his office, a series of small obstacles made it hard for him to get to the canteen unassisted, and he ended up relying on a team member to take him there every day. However, once they found this out, management arranged for the tops of these posts to be painted a bright white. Although Vincent’s vision is severely limited, he can now make them out – and he has been able to get to the canteen on his own ever since.

When asked about what advice he would give to other team members who are looking forward to welcoming a colleague with diverse abilities into their team, Vincent urges them to consider that every situation is unique – and both sensitivity and transparency are key. “My own methodology relates to discussions with other people. Realize integration. Everyone is different and we all have our own ways of dealing with these things.”

 “Listen, and find out what people are comfortable with. I was born with my disability: I have accepted it. Someone who has lost something, lost their capacity to work: the difficulty they may feel in accepting the situation is different. This is important: there are a lot of disabilities. They’re all different.”

The benefits of diverse abilities in the workplace

In general, when addressing diverse workplaces, Vincent agrees that they can reflect society – that there can be a place for everyone you’d meet in the world outside of work. “It’s great to have another view of any given situation. To increase interactions between disabled people and other people. You get more chance to interact.”

It’s well worth it. Vincent’s two years at Volvo have been good ones. He’s part of a team with mutual understanding, and contributes his own expertise, his perspective, and his team spirit.

As he puts it: “I like my job. After the first weeks, and the first months, you need to be sure of two things. That your job is fun, and that you like going to the office every day. You need to be able to understand things, and you need to be interested in them. That’s what it’s like here for me.”

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. Source: United Nations

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