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I work for a healthcare charity with 50 members of staff and no HR person. We're brilliant at making adjustments for staff when they start (or are diagnosed) with a health condition.

What we're not good at is telling new starters about their colleagues' health needs in the workplace. So for example, if you talk to person X, don't stand on their left as they're deaf in that ear and won't hear you. Or person Y has dyspraxia and has problems recover from interruptions, so if they have their headphones on, it's to minimise distractions, so don't interrupt them unless it's urgent.

How can we best introduce new starters to their colleagues' needs and/or remind existing staff about those needs?

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    The workplace referenced in this question is a "healthcare charity". It seems reasonable to assume that they'd offer work to people with healthcare needs. You can pretty much bet that an Autism charity would have more than a negligible percentage of Autistic people working for them. – Snow Jul 27 '18 at 8:58
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    How did you make the adjustments and inform existing colleagues about them in the first place? – Will Jul 27 '18 at 9:34
  • Why can't the existing staff members tell the joiners themselves as they start working together? Just let the joiners know that the charity finds it important that everyone tries to be most accommodating to everyone's health conditions, and let it flow naturally from there. – LVDV Jul 27 '18 at 14:57
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I would stretch the introduction over several days. I recently experienced an exciting first day at a new workplace and was introduced to approximately 50 co-workers. I was so overwhelmed that I forgot each and every name by the end of the day.

On the first day, introduce the new employee to everyone, but don't get into any details. After the great introduction, tell the new member only about health issues of the one or two persons they regularly and directly interact with.

In the following days, plan additional rounds of introductions. Visit one or two employees with special needs a day and let them explain how they want or need to be treated. This avoids the feeling of "I already explained that to you and you forgot or ignored my special needs." Do not disclose personal information about your colleagues, let them explain their needs to the extent that they are comfortable with.

You as the employer or manager should make a list of all employees with special needs to be able to create introduction appointments in the calendar of the new employee and tutor without forgetting about someone.
As mentioned in the comments, you probably shouldn't add details about any disabilities or health issues to that list. It's just a checklist of names you don't want to forget.

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    +1. I f yo utell them at once, they WILL forget - there is only so much information a human can remember. – TomTom Jul 27 '18 at 8:50
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    I wouldn't be sure if it's legal to have a list of all employees with disabilities and what their needs are. It is a good idea, but there might be data protection regulations regarding this topic... – Lehue Jul 27 '18 at 11:41
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    Of course you don't have to (and probably shouldn't) include any details about their disabilities or needs in that list. Just the names should be enough for a manager to not forget anyone (after all, you worked with those people for some time and know them). The only purpose of that list is to not forget anyone. Also you should let everyone explain their own needs to the extend they're comfortable with instead of disclosing private information about your employees. – Elmy Jul 27 '18 at 11:47
  • @Lehue Sure, there are data protection regulations and one would have to operate in accordance with them. But employers are also required to make reasonable allowances for employees' disabilities and it is impossible to do that while keeping those allowances secret. – David Richerby Jul 27 '18 at 14:07
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    I agree, but don't just introduce them to the colleagues with disabilities. Introduce the new employee to everyone (or everyone they're likely to encounter) over those few days. It's probably also worth mentioning in the first "intro to everyone" meeting that you'll be bringing them round so both the new employee and the existing ones can be prepared. – Dragonel Jul 27 '18 at 18:19
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Full disclosure: I have multiple handicaps, including one mentioned in your question, I'm profoundly deaf in my left ear.

I understand your quandary. Ironically, the efforts to make more inclusive environments have made people more awkward, not less, in addressing handicaps.

The best way to make introductions and provide information is to just do it casually. Back in ancient times when I was growing up, the rule used to be "see the person, not the handicap".

Treat the handicaps as if they were personality traits. In other words, they are complex, and require some adjustment for people to deal with. Just as people need to adjust and compensate for different personalities, people need to adjust and compensate for different levels of ability. This isn't easy for an able bodied person to do. You have to let it happen organically. This may well be the first time a new hire has even associated with someone with a particular handicap.

Also, approach this from a positive, not a negative standpoint.

RIGHT WAY

This is Richard U, if you talk to him, try to stay on his right side, he's deaf on the left side.

WRONG WAY

This is Richard U, don't stand on his left side, he's deaf in that ear.

in the "wrong way" example, you are introducing an awkwardness that doesn't have to be there. You're making that person think they are doing something wrong if they approach me on the deaf side. Truth is, I might hear them, I might not, but I can tell them myself to come to my good side if I don't.

As someone who deals with my handicaps on a daily basis, I don't think of them as a big deal or a tragedy, and this is important to remember. When you make the introductions and advise people, you just mention this casually, or just let the people do it themselves. We know our quirks better than anyone else.

If I am dealing with someone new, I tell them "If I can't see you, I might not hear you", because being deaf on one side affects my hearing more than just not being able to hear on that one side. I also cannot tell where sound is coming from, and there are a few other things.

In my opinion, the best way to approach this, is to make the introduction, mention the handicap, and let the person explain for themselves as to any accommodation you need.

Hi, this is Richard U, He's deaf on his left side and also a bit autistic. He's our programmer here and does a great job. If you need to interact with him, he'll explain a few needs he has. If it looks like he's ignoring you, you're probably on the wrong side.

And then, leave it at that.

There is no way you will be able to convey what each individual needs from their coworkers. Let them hash it out among themselves and deal with any awkwardness as it comes up.

Also, and I mean this with the utmost of respect:

Back off

I say this because the more attention you draw to the person's handicaps, the more awkward you make it for both the new hire and the person with the handicap.

You want to avoid treating a person with a handicap like they're made of glass. Again, as I have lived with this my entire life, I can tell you, you do us no favors in doing so.

TLDR:

  1. Mention the handicap(s) in a casual way
  2. Don't make a big deal out of the handicap(s)
  3. Let the coworkers hash things out for themselves
  4. Don't put too much pressure on yourself or you company to track the handicaps and acomodations required. The pressure that creates will create a tension in the workplace.
  5. Navigating handicaps is just a normal part of the workplace, treat it as such.
  6. Let the person with the handicap explain to the new hire what they need. They are far more acquainted with the pitfalls than you can ever be.
  • Grats. One reason I never experienced what is proposed here is because I come from a culture that acutally does not dramazize disabilities on that level the OP seems to do. Things like that sort out naturally, when needed. In many cases, it is not needed - not everyone is deaf (and with hearing aid others "do not care" as in "he doesn ot need special treatment") - or are not relevant for the workplace. – TomTom Jul 27 '18 at 13:23
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    @TomTom I am so good at adapting that most people don't know I have a hearing impairment unless I tell them. I either sit at the head of the table or on the far left. I always face people, I read lips, et cetera. I come from a culture that taught that the world owed you nothing and that you had to try harder if you had problems. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 27 '18 at 13:36
  • The "right way/wrong way" part seems extremely subjective and personal. I do not find either one more or less offensive or awkward than the other. – jpmc26 Jul 27 '18 at 20:58
  • @jpmc26 How many times have you had to deal with your hearing loss? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 27 '18 at 21:43
  • @RichardU yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem I may not be deaf in one ear, but I am pretty socially awkward. What minor differences there are in choice of words is going to be overwhelmed by the "deaf on the left side" part. Far more effectual than a minor change in wording is going to be the tone and attitude you and the speaker have. Which you do bring up later, but it gets de-emphasized by the prominence of the different wordings. Up to you if and how you want to deal with that in your answer. – jpmc26 Jul 27 '18 at 22:08
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For new joiners, do this as part of the on-boarding process during a one-to-one meeting. Just go through the basics of the affected team-members and how to work with each person's needs. Importantly, ask the new recruit if they have any questions or concerns regarding these items.

Doing this as part of a meet-the-team walkabout might not be appropriate as some people might not like their difficulties/challenges openly spoken about. Some circumstances might need to be handled sensitively or tactfully.

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Do it when it comes up naturally.

If you give them all the per-person special needs on the first day, they're probably going to forget it because it's out of context. Going-around-the-office introductions are a pretty ineffective way of managing details, in my experience; your new hire is desperately trying to remember 50 people's names, might remember which seven are the programmers, will not remember which programmer works on the database backend unless that's an area of special interest...and will not remember which employee needs you to stand on the left side and which one needs you to be direct and which one has trouble seeing small text.

Instead, give the new hire the information when it's relevant, and if possible, don't try to do it all yourself. Some of your employees are just fine with talking about their needs themselves; that's actually been true for almost every coworker I've had who has had a disclosed disability. When I joined my first meeting with a hearing-disabled coworker he asked me to sit on one side and explained why, and that's all it took. When I (as a person with vision limitations) am in my first meeting with somebody where we're looking at something on a screen together, I ask if we can have a couple levels of font zoom and then the person knows. When I was walking somewhere with a coworker with an invisible mobility problem, she asked me to slow down and said why, and that was that. For cases like these, you don't need to do anything.

If you have people who are not comfortable bringing up their needs directly, then you should look for the right times to tell your new hire. Sometimes this will come up as part of work assignments -- you're going to have this person work with So-and-so on this project, and heads up, So-and-so has trouble with multitasking, so make sure you discuss tasks one at a time and be clear about transitions. For other cases, when it's especially important, you can tell your new hire "oh by the way, Bob in marketing has a problem with X, so be sure to do Y with him" -- it's not in context like everything else I've said, but it's a much shorter list so there's a better chance it'll be remembered. Be prepared to let some things go; you don't need to provide a new hire with a catalogue of everybody's major and minor disabilities and health issues. (That might come across as kind of creepy or over-sharing, actually.)

Finally, you should expect all of your employees -- the new hire, the ones with the disabilities, and everybody else -- to be professional. Did your new hire forget, or not know about, that one person's problem? That one person should assume good intent, the new hire should apologize and ask what's needed, and everybody should move on. It's not a big deal; don't make it into one.

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If you're introducing said persons - If your existing staff are comfortable talking about their disabilities then you should have a introduction meeting where everyone simply talks about what they need.

On the other hand if your staff are unable to talk about it themselves the best way to do it is just say to the new starter

So there's people with some difficulties that we have to be aware of...

From here just walk them through it, you don't want to be offensive but it is important that you get this point across for new starters to understand

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    Regardless of comfort, this may not be a very efficient solution. Either the conversations will be unsupervised and of mediocre quality, or they will be supervised by someone who already knows all important things and double time will be invested. -- Exception being if you actually will have an intro talk with EVERYONE, and then just add it as an explicit agenda point. – Dennis Jaheruddin Jul 27 '18 at 11:48
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When you have 50 people, if you'd like me to even remember everyone's name, I'd like to have the names in writing and with associated photographs.

Maybe you could have an "About Us" web page (for internal use), with photos and anything that's important to know about each person (perhaps including likes and/or dislikes, is good at, is bad at, is disturbed by).

Optionally some of these facts could be important and some jokey/zany (but nevertheless still true).

Tell the new hire to study it, that they're expected to know it ... and that there'll be a quiz!

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