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Overcoming Conflict Barriers: Strategies for Managing Conflicts in Remote Teams with Disabilities.

Last Updated on 07 May 2023

Remote working has become popular over the last several years in modern society, offering convenience, flexibility, and increased productivity. It should come as no surprise that the number of remote teams has increased year after year, and with it, the number of people with disabilities working remotely. However, a team with multiple disabilities working remotely can pose challenges to effective communication and management of conflicts. It is important to recognize and address the barriers that may exist in such a team to ensure they function smoothly. In this blog post, we will explore barriers that may exist when managing conflicts in remote teams with disabilities. We will also provide strategies to overcome these barriers and create an inclusive environment where all team members feel valued.

Challenges of Remote Teams with Disabilities

Remote teams with disabilities face unique challenges compared to a regular remote team. They include communication barriers, lack of empathy, and inaccessible technology, among others.

Communication Barriers

When team members have different disabilities, they may require different methods of communication. For instance, team members may have visual or hearing impairments, among other conditions. Specific provisions have to be made for those team members to effectively communicate with others. This may lead to misunderstandings, missed messages, and delays in resolving conflicts. Communication barriers may also arise in teams where English is not the primary language.

In some cases, team members may feel more comfortable using text-based communication, while others might prefer to communicate through video or audio. It is essential to communicate and understand the preferred mode of communication from each team member to optimize communication flow amongst all team members. In addition to preferred communication modes, the technology necessary to accommodate team member communication should, where possible, should be agreed upon in advance.

Lack of Empathy

Empathy is a crucial aspect in teams that helps in recognizing and understanding each other’s perspectives. However, team members may lack empathy towards colleagues with disabilities, or may not be aware of how their words or actions may impact their colleague. This lack of empathy may lead to conflicts escalating to a point that is difficult to resolve.

Team members should express empathy towards their colleagues when they encounter challenges hindered by their disabilities. And managers should take progressive steps to educate the entire team on the nature of different disabilities and the noticeable signs that would indicate a team member is bothered by any underlying disability. With an understanding of one another’s challenges and individual struggles, empathy can begin to be established, and a culture can emerge where everyone works together towards common goals.

Inaccessible Technology

Technology is crucial in remote teams, and if team members do not have access to the necessary technology or are unable to use it due to disability, it can pose a significant challenge. Team members with visual impairments may require a screen reader, while team members with hearing impairments may require the use of live captioning. Lack of accessible technology can lead to increased frustration, and raises questions of how technology can be used to enhance inclusivity and help in conflict management.

Long-term Solutions to Communication Issues in Remote Teams with Disabilities

Remote teams with disabilities require specific strategies and communication guidelines for them to function effectively. Here are some long-term solutions to communication issues faced by remote teams with disabilities:

Establish Clear Communication Guidelines

One of the critical elements of effective communication is establishing clear communication guidelines. The communication guidelines should be agreed upon by all team members and should include specific provisions for team members with disabilities. Team members should understand the preferred mode of communication, inclusive of accessibility features required to ensure the communication is understood by all team members. The team guidelines should also include provisions on response times, appropriate language, tone, and feedback mechanisms to avoid misunderstandings. The guidelines should be reviewed and adapted where necessary as the team evolves.

Training and Education

Employers should encourage open communication and transparency, so that all team members feel comfortable discussing concerns and finding better ways of enhancing inclusivity in remote teams with disabilities. This includes regular training sessions that educate all team members about the different types of disabilities and how to use various communication tools that cater to a specific disability.

For instance, team members can be trained on how to write a message that is accessible to someone with a visual impairment. Collaborative team decisions could consist of, for instance, choosing font sizes that are easy to read, using contrasting colors, or formatting documents in a way that can be easily understood. Of course, these are just a few examples, but the idea is to work together as a team to come up with effective solutions that benefit everyone.

Ensure Accessibility

One of the significant challenges of remote teams with disabilities is access to the necessary technology and tools. Employers should ensure that all team members have access to the necessary software, hardware, and other tools such as accessibility software or assistive technology. This assures everyone has access to the same resources and can participate fully in team activities and when resolving conflicts. Accessibility is not just limited to technology, but it also includes access to information and documents. For instance, employers should ensure that digital documents are created with accessibility in mind. Texts should be in the appropriate size, contrast, and font clarity to cater for team members with visual impairments.

Create Cohesion

Cohesion is essential in any team, and more so in remote teams with disabilities. Creating a strong sense of cohesion can help to overcome communication barriers and ensure everyone feels equally valued. There are several ways to create a cohesive remote team, including establishing regular check-ins and break-out sessions to gauge needs amongst team members. Collaboration tools like Slack can be used for team collaboration and team building where team members get to know each other in an informal manner.

Celebrating achievements as a team can create a sense of pride and help commemorate significant achievements. These congratulations of team victories should be specially highlighted in team meetings.

Use Third-party Mediation When Necessary

In extreme conflict scenarios, remote teams with disabilities may require the assistance of a third-party mediator when resolving conflicts. A mediator is neutral and can provide an impartial view on the matter. The mediator’s role is to “air out all the laundry,” identify areas of conflict and help find amicable solutions for the team. Remote teams unfamiliar with conflict resolution strategies may benefit greatly from mediation as it ensures equal participation and fair treatment for all team members. Mediation sessions that are available online can provide anonymity to team members, giving a sense of security when anonymous participation is achieved.

Encourage Remote Team-Building Activities

Remote teams with disabilities can also benefit from remote team-building activities to enhance communication and build trust among team members. Team-building activities should be fun and engaging to stimulate collaboration, foster respect, and to enhance team cohesion. Some recommended team-building activities include online games or trivia questions, virtual trust building exercises, or sharing personal stories over virtual coffee.

Pay attention to Inclusive Hiring Practices

Employers should ensure inclusive hiring practices that ensure recruitment of individuals with disabilities. This is essential in building a diverse team to harness different strengths, experiences and perspectives. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 19.3% of Americans have a disability; The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research indicates that persons with disabilities have the qualifications for successful engagement in any professional setting. Hence, neglecting the disabled persons during recruitment implies that one is overlooking the potential innovative minds that could provide solutions to the current problems facing the team or even help improve the team’s efficiency.

Employers should also conduct a reasonable accommodation audit in the organization. This audit can identify the most essential forms of technology, training or programs that can enhance the team’s inclusivity.

Provide Reasonable Accommodations

Onboarding new team members and managing existing ones involves providing reasonable accommodation in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers should ensure that such reasonable accommodations are provided. In most cases, the provision of these accommodations is low-cost or free, and integrating these accommodations into the workflow is essential in making all team members feel valued.


Remote teams with disabilities are common in today’s workplace, and if managed effectively, can be successful and productive. Communication barriers, lack of empathy, and inaccessible technology often hamper remote teams from reaching their full potential. Overcoming these challenges requires an understanding of the particular needs of each team member, a proactive approach to building team guidelines, a commitment to equitable communication, a willingness to work together, and a willingness to foster respect and acceptance of diverse disabilities. Employers should strive to create an inclusive and accessible work environment, where all team members feel valued and have the same opportunities to participate. With the right strategies, remote teams with disabilities can overcome communication barriers, and achieve the same level of collaboration, productivity, and success as any other team.

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