Treating People With Special Needs As They Deserve to Be Treated

I was in traffic the other day and listening to Mason and Ireland on ESPN radio. It’s a sports talk radio show but they delve into other arenas as well. One topic they touched on was the issue of employing people with special needs. They commented that all businesses, especially large ones, should hold spots open for people with special needs. One of the commentators (sorry guys, I don’t remember which if you it was) commented that he was pretty positive that his local supermarket employed an individual with special needs and how great that was. And it is great, or at least it should be.

I’d like to piggy-back off of their conversation and take it a step further. To wit, when companies hire people with special needs, let’s make sure that they’re treating them fairly in the work place, not just hiring them. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, right?

As an example, I too have a local supermarket and my local supermarket employs multiple people with special needs, which is wonderful. However, in talking with one of them, I have come to discover that the people with special needs are some of the most put upon out of all the employees. They get the worst schedules (e.g. having to work more holidays/weekends), the lowest paying jobs, and the least amount of room for advancement. That is obviously unfair.

In speaking to this individual with special needs, I was asked not to speak up on his/her behalf, because he/she feared losing the job. As a lawyer I explained that retaliation would be illegal, but he/she resisted. And it could be for good reason.

From their life experiences, many people with special needs know that they’d be retaliated against. Therefore, they’d rather have their jobs as is than get fired and  bring a lawsuit. What a crappy predicament to have to be in. And it’s a predicament that shouldn’t have to exist.

As we know, discrimination in the work place is not limited to people with special needs. It takes place against women, people of color, people with different religions, the LGBT community, and others as well. None of it is acceptable.

There are many employers out there who think that they’ve achieved some sort of invincibility against accusations of discrimination merely by hiring people in the aforementioned groups. It’s otherwise known as the “but I have a black friend” defense. But we can’t let the presence in the workplace of those whom have been historically discriminated against stop us from making sure that discrimination is weeded out. Discrimination continues to pervade the workplace and it won’t stop unless we as a society decide to end it.

As a lawyer, part of my work is advocating for people in the “discriminated against” class. But I can tell you that the fear of retaliation is real because retaliation occurs all the time. I see it every day. It occurs mostly because those in power don’t fear the repercussions of their actions. That’s our collective fault.

Yes, there are false claims of discrimination out there, but those claims are dwarfed by the genuine ones. Maltreatment by those in power against protected classes of people is ubiquitous. And what’s worse, much of the inappropriate and ugly behavior goes unreported because of the fear of retaliation that lives inside each aggrieved individual.

I’m going to end this by reminding you of something that will hopefully give you a different way of looking at this by bringing us back to the discussion of people with special needs. Those with special needs are not just people, but they are highly capable people. Sometimes they merely need a little help or an accommodation, something that a just society should afford those with the need. People with special needs are not looking for a hand out, just basic fairness.

Not believing me about the capabilities of those with special needs? Look at the featured photo for this column. The young woman in the picture above has Down Syndrome. She launched her own successful fashion line. Not too shabby.

To conclude, please make sure that you’re helping those with special needs, not hindering them. You may be surprised by how much positivity and productivity they have to offer when given the opportunity.

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