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Embracing Disabilities in the Workplace

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As recruiters and HR professionals, we believe that when discussing diversifying our teams or creating an inclusive work environment, it's crucial that disability not be left out of the conversation. One in four adults in the United States has a learning or thinking difference,* and many don’t disclose their disability status for fear of discrimination or poor treatment. If you have a goal to diversify your team and create an environment where everyone can do their best work, you should be proactive about opening up the conversation around disability inclusion. 

Get started with these tips from a recent panel we hosted with Understood, a non-profit dedicated to serving the millions of people who learn and think differently. Watch the full recording here


Educate yourself on what invisible and visible disabilities are.

When we talk about visible disabilities, we mean disabilities you can see - individuals with a physical impairment of some sort. While visible disabilities can be noticed when looking at a person, developmental, or invisible, disabilities are not always easy to notice, as sometimes they are not apparent or obvious to the naked eye. When we talk about learning and thinking differences (invisible disabilities) we mean everything on the spectrum from ADHD to Autism to other neurodiverse mental challenges, or simply people who learn and process differently regardless of the diagnosis attached to it. These can also include things we might not typically associate as disabilities such as diabetes, epilepsy, generalized anxiety disorder, and more. 


Make sure you’re up to date on how the ADA factors into the conversation.

The ADA, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. This law made it illegal to not hire people because of their diagnosed disability, or your perception of their disability. The ADA changed the workplace, by not only giving employers the framework to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, but also by providing employees and job seekers the tools and pathways to seek employment, and/or to seek redress if they found themselves out of employment because of a disability.  


Understand what we mean by “reasonable accommodations.”

This can get a little tricky, because everyone’s definition of reasonable is different. However, as an employer, it’s up to you to cultivate a work environment where your employees feel safe and encouraged, so that they are able to grow and succeed (which in turn benefits the organization as much as the employee). This may require an individualized approach - you can start by ensuring your employees have the resources and space to comfortably ask for any accommodations they might need. You can also proactively encourage all of your employees, but especially your HR team and managers, to be thoughtful as they approach disability conversations with these disability etiquette tips from the team at Understood.

If you have specific questions about the ADA or job accommodations at your workplace speak with an employment lawyer and check out a favorite resource of ours:


Be thoughtful about disability from the start.

Show potential employees that you’re an organization that encourages accommodations by offering them at the interview stage. Ask candidates right off the bat, before you’ve even met them, before the interview process has truly started, “do you need any accommodation?” - and then you can continue to offer again at every phase of the process. Designate a point person for the candidate to come to should they need accommodations or want to disclose, and encourage them to get in touch if they need anything along the way.   


Make it clear you’re proactively thinking about accommodations. 

Regularly check in with your team - ask how they’re doing, see if they feel like they have everything they need to be successful at work. Start by getting to know your employees - this can be at the top level, Founders and CEOs getting to know their teams and making themselves approachable; this can be at the manager level, in 1:1s or small team meetings, letting your employees know that you welcome conversation and encourage them to ask questions when it comes to health benefits, disability-inclusion, accommodations, and more. 

It’s ok if you don’t have all of the answers. When your employees feel comfortable and safe disclosing to you, that’s the first step. From there, you can work together to find the tools and resources they need. 


Meet people where they are.

Don’t force someone to talk about or come forward with a disability (or in general, something they aren’t comfortable with and will never disclose); and don’t assume any of your employees need accommodations. Instead, you can try relating to them or sharing your own personal experiences. Even if you don’t have experience with a disability, you can share ways you make accommodations to make your own work life better (i.e switching to phone calls for a while to avoid Zoom Fatigue, taking a mental health day to rest and recharge, etc).

Once your employees are comfortable and you’ve created an open dialogue, you’ll find that you’re not only better able to support them as an individual, but you’re also on your way to creating an environment that’s equitable for everyone.