Getting the right fit when employing someone with disabilities.

I’m an accidental employer of someone with an intellectual disability.

Madi has been with us since January 2019. Firstly in a work experience role. Now in a permanent part time Level 1 Retail position.

I’ve employed a few people since Starfish first opened. We have also provided work experience to several people with disabilities.

I’ve accidentally (there’s that word again!) stumbled on some insights that have contributed to Madi’s successful and valued role with Starfish.

One of the most critical would have to be the importance of getting the right fit – the job to the person.

I’ve employed or given work experience to people with differing needs.

At one stage we employed someone diagnosed with a mental health condition. Pretty quickly after starting, it became apparent that they were having significant problems communicating with customers. This is a pretty crucial part of the job. We offered training and a lot of support, but in the end the employee made the call that the role was not a good match for them. We were sad to see them go, but it was a real lesson in identifying the “must have” traits of an employee that a retail assistant requires to work at Starfish.

Tip 1 – the employee must be able to perform the critical aspects of the job

We’ve had someone with a physical disability do work experience with Starfish. In this particular case, most of the tasks could be performed. There were some physical tasks that were a challenge. Mostly, we were able to make some accomodations such as making sure stands could be moved easily (on wheels).

Tip 2 – Some tasks can be modified so the employee can do them.

Occasionally there were physical tasks that could not be done. The other staff were happy to step in.

Tip 3 – Some tasks might not be possible for the employee to do. If they are infrequent, not a critical part of the role and if other staff are happy to swap small ‘jobs” then it can work just fine.

I have provided work experience to a couple of people with intellectual disabilities. Both had difficulty counting money. One had very limited reading skills. Both of these skills are vital for a retail sales assistant in our store. They were excellent workers in many ways, but even with training and support it became clear they were not able to perform key aspects of a Retail Assistant’s job.

Tip 4 – Refer to the key aspects of the Job Description, and use this as a guide for finding a perfect match.

With all this in mind, when Madi started I was pretty clear on what we would be needing at minimum and where we could make accomodations.

I had a clear picture in my mind of what we need Madi to be able to do. We want Madi to be able to interact with customers, make straight forward sales, to answer the phone and seek staff assistance when needed. That is the end game, and I believed Madi has the potential. That is what we are working towards, and our teaching and training target this.

Tip 5 – Target teaching and training to the critical aspects of the job description. As long as you’re confident they will get there in time, be focused, patient and gradual.

Finding a good match with the role (position of employment) and the employee is critical to success, whether they have a disability or not.

Madi pricing stock that has just arrived

Key Take Home

The main take home is to use the Job Description as a checklist to determine the critical parts of the Job – the things that cannot be compromised on, the “must have” abilities, skills or potential. Be really clear about what is NEEDED for the job, that way you can make an employee match made in heaven.

It is so worth it.

Want to learn more about employing someone with intellectual disabilities, the things we’ve found to be crucial to making “it” work so well for us? We are putting together a series of posts. Some are up and ready to read, others are in the pipeline.