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Disabled workers deserve sensitivity, expert says

Employees and managers need to be more sensitive when they communicate with their disabled colleagues, a disability expert told the annual conference of a local human-resource group in Woodbury.

They should avoid outdated language and stop making assumptions about what a particular disability entails, Nadine Vogel told a Friday workshop at the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management at the Crest Hollow Country Club.

She told the audience to avoid outdated and negative terms such as "handicapped" and "crippled." And she also cautioned the group against inventing terms to refer to the disabled.

"Differently abled" is a popular coined term, said Vogel, the founder and president of Springboard Consulting in Mendham, New Jersey, and the mother of two disabled children.

"Adults with disabilities and parents of children with special needs don't agree on much, but the one thing they agree on is, 'What on earth does this mean?' "

"Disabled" is the accepted term, she said.

Co-workers also shouldn't act on assumptions about a disability, she said.

Her older daughter has facial deformities associated with her disabilities. Yet when she goes shopping, sales clerks will often yell, "How can I help you?"

"We make these assumptions that if someone is different they must be deaf," she said.

Nonverbal sensitivity is also important.

If someone with a hook or prosthetic hand offers you that hand to shake, you shake it.

"For them that hook or prosthetic device is their hand," she said. Focus groups reveal that some managers respond inappropriately in such cases, Vogel said. "They would stand with their hands by their sides and smile."

When in doubt about how to react, she said colleagues should ask the disabled person for help. And if they commit a faux pas, they shouldn't pretend disabled people didn't hear them.

"They heard it," she said. "Own it."

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