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  • 11 October 2022
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Supporting Individuals with Disabilities in the Workplace

Juliana LePore

Content Specialist

Fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace is one of the most important aspects that an organization can do to ensure the success and comfort of its employees. The number of people with disabilities in the workplace is rising across the globe:

  • According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2021, which is the highest percentage since September 2008.
  • In Canada in 2017, 76 percent of those aged 25 to 64 years with mild disabilities were employed, whereas 31 percent of those with very severe disabilities were employed (Statistics Canada, 2018).
  • In the European Union, approximately 50.6 percent of people with disabilities are employed (Institute of Entrepreneurship Development, 2021).

These rising numbers are indicative of the fact that employers are striving to create a culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, which has a positive impact and helps to strengthen the labor force. It is imperative that employers create a workplace environment focused on equality. They should provide a sense of belonging for individuals with disabilities where they can make a meaningful contribution to the labor force. Individuals with disabilities oftentimes need a heightened level of support from employers and co-workers. The following are guidelines to help organizations provide support to individuals with disabilities in the workplace.

Acknowledge the law.

Firstly, it’s important to recognize the different guidelines, laws, and regulations that your country has for people with disabilities in the workplace. For example, in the United States, there are five federal laws that prohibit discrimination and protect individuals with mental and physical disabilities, which are the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, and Civil Service Reform Act (U.S. Dept. Of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy). These laws also guarantee equal opportunities for people with disabilities in all aspects, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications. In the EU, there is a new strategy action plan for 2021-2030, which emphasizes and ensures equal opportunity for those with disabilities (Institute of Entrepreneurship Development, 2021) In Canada, there is the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and guarantees people with disabilities equal benefit (Council of Canadians with Disabilities) Being aware of the rights that individuals with disabilities have in your country is an important first step to understanding how to support those individuals in the workplace.

Use inclusive language.

It is essential that the work environment is free from any discrimination. Using ableist language, which is defined as any word or phrase that devalues people with a disability, can lead to discrimination. Although ableist language may not seem directly offensive and at times can be common in people’s vocabulary, it can be extremely upsetting and triggering to a person with a disability. Avoid using ableist language, and focus on using inclusive language instead to foster inclusion and equality. Being aware of the words that are in your vocabulary will help set a good example in the workplace.

Reduce stigmas.

People with disabilities have been stigmatized in all different ways throughout history. In many cultures, disability used to be associated with curses, disease, dependence, and helplessness. In the modern era, these stigmas may show up in the form of social avoidance, stereotypes, and condescension, according to the University of Washington Healthy Aging & Physical Disability Rehabilitation Research and Training Center. Creating an inclusive environment means reducing stigmas in the workplace. that a person lives with; creating a support and inclusive environment will help ensure that they can contribute and become productive members of the labor force.

Provide open communication.

The fourth way to support an individual with a disability in the workplace is to ask them their needs and have open communication with them. It is an employer’s duty to ensure the comfort and wellbeing of each employee. If the person needs any sort of accommodation, ensure to implement it in the workplace. In fact, in some countries, it is required by law that you must accommodate to a person with disabilities needs. Something that is important to people with disabilities is to feel included and not feel singled out or “different” from their peers. Equipment, technology, and the workplace should be accessible for all employees. Provide accommodations and frequent check-ins to help ensure that they feel comfortable and have what they need to perform their work responsibilities.

Provide access to wellbeing support.

Lastly, the best way to support someone with a disability in the workplace is to ensure they have access to comprehensive wellbeing programs. Many of these programs offer services that are beneficial to an employee’s emotional, physical, and mental health to help them thrive. Ensure that the employee is aware of these services.

Taking some of these guidelines and applying them in the workplace will not only make your employees feel included but will also help foster a workplace that is inclusive and diverse. Understanding that all of your employees contribute equally will lead to a healthy work environment and a productive workforce.

Workplace Options helps individuals balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class member support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more email us at service@workplaceoptions.com

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

References

Forbes. (2019, November 4). How to make workplaces more welcoming for employees with disabilities. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2019/11/04/how-to-make-workplaces-more-welcoming-for-employees-with-disabilities/?sh=4b4007bc53d8

Institute of Entrepreneurship Development. (2021, July 30). The status of employment and disability in the EU in 2021. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://ied.eu/project-updates/the-status-of-employment-and-disability-in-the-eu-in-2021

Kennedy, T., Jr., Jerdee, C., & Henneborn, L. (2019, June 4). 4 ways to improve your company’s disability inclusion practices. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2019/06/4-ways-to-improve-your-companys-disability-inclusion-practices

Morris, S., Fawcett, G., Brisebois, L., & Hughes, J. (2018, November 28). A demographic, employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2018002-eng.htm

University of Washington. (2016). Disability stigma and your patients [Factsheet]. Aging Well with a Physical Disability Factsheet Series. Healthy Aging & Physical Disability RRTC. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://agerrtc.washington.edu/info/factsheets/stigma

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, February 24). Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics summary. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm

U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.) Employment laws: Disability & discrimination. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/publications/fact-sheets/employment-laws-disability-and-discrimination

Workplace Options (WPO). (2022, June 24). Supporting individuals with disabilities in the workplace (B. Schuette & E. Morton, Eds.). Raleigh, NC: Author.

 

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