By Amy Goodman, Co-Director, Autism Now

The topic of hiring an employee with special needs is important because employers need to know how to be more open- minded and sensitive to the needs of those who may be different. It is important for employers to be considerate of employees’ needs in that they do not discriminate or cause the employee undue hardships. It promotes a more positive work environment when an employer is supportive of employees, but also it is just plain the right thing to do, and it gives employers and employees respect for each other.

Here are some do’s when hiring an individual with special needs:

  • Always learn about their disability and special needs ahead of time. Plan for things such as where the individual will work, their specific duties and whom they will they work with. Make sure all equipment in the office is set up to accommodate their disability. If they are blind, make sure that a braille program is installed on the computer. If they are deaf, make sure the computer has a screen reader installed on it.
  • Know their limitations, what they can and cannot do, and try your best to be sensitive to their needs.
  • Make necessary accommodations so the employee can function and do their job to the best of their ability.
  • Have a plan in place for meltdowns. Individuals with autism may experience high levels of stress and anxiety; therefore, it may be a good idea to have a designated space that the employee can go to in order to be alone, calm down and regroup.
  • Always have a staff member available to help the individual with their problems or frustrations, preferably someone who can help the individual manage their stress in a productive manner.
  • Include them in all activities, making minor adjustments, as necessary.
  • Always give them equal pay for equal work.
  • Always let the employee express themselves as best as he/she can.
  • Always explain the rules and give them more than one chance to correct their behavior.
  • Always talk to them on their level of understanding and never treat them like a child.
  • Always tell them how much you appreciate them; they may not hear it enough from the individuals around them.
  • Always give encouragement and help build up social skills.
  • Always treat the individual with respect and dignity. Expect quality work and no excuses; treat them just like anyone else who works for you. Preferential treatment should be used only in exceptional circumstances, try to avoid it if at all possible.
  • Always assume competence with all individuals, no matter what their disability. Assuming competence means knowing that they are competent and able to do the job, that the individual knows what they are talking about and is knowledgeable about the job they are about to embark upon. Be patient with the individual and try to see things from their point of view.

Here are some don’ts:

  • Never leave them out of any activity, and never assume they don’t understand, or don’t want to participate.
  • Never call them names or ignore them.
  • Never fire them for a manifestation of their disability. Find a way to compromise, so everyone can work together in harmony.
  • Never assume anything, always ask permission first, especially if you are going to touch the individual or if you are going to move their equipment or personal belongings.

These are some helpful things to do and not do when considering hiring an individual with a disability or special needs. Know what you are getting yourself into and always know the law when it comes to employment of individuals with disabilities. If you are not sure of the laws, research them, and if you have never heard of the individual’s disability, take time to find out about it. It might just be the best thing you ever did, and you won’t know unless you take that risk.

Individuals with disabilities are no different than anyone else, so don’t be afraid of them. Give them a chance, because you may just end up with the best employee you have ever hired. Individuals with special needs aren’t disabled, they are differently abled and employers just need to figure out how to use those differences for the good of everyone.

About this Article: We hope you find this article informative, but it is not legal advice. You should consult your own attorney, who can review your specific situation and account for variations in state law and local practices. Laws and regulations are constantly changing, so the longer it has been since an article was written, the greater the likelihood that the article might be out of date. SNA members focus on this complex, evolving area of law. To locate a member in your state, visit Find an Attorney.

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