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Welcome Workers Who Have Disabilities

Updated: Jan 17

A person holding a folder walks next to a person in a wheelchair. They are in an office environment

Despite diversity initiatives, at least one important cohort still trails in corporate practices — those suffering from visible or invisible disabilities, who may tend to be sidelined in the scramble to adjust equity.

Workers who have disabilities need more than an equal chance to succeed. They also need to learn, develop, advance their careers, thrive and receive fair compensation. In turn, many give back, contributing valuable talent and perspectives.

Millions of workers

Disabilities affect one-quarter of the U.S. population, comprising 61million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Afflictions may be cognitive, physical or emotional; some are readily apparent and others are latent, such as traumatic or psychological suffering. Some of these conditions are chronic, while others are episodic. The list of wide-ranging dysfunctions includes:

  • Speech and language impairments.

  • Learning disabilities.

  • Medical and physical conditions.

  • Mobility issues.

  • Chronic pain.

  • Blindness and deafness.

  • Attention deficit disorder.

  • Brain injuries.

  • Bipolar disorder.

  • Depression.

  • Anxiety.

Compounding their challenges, workers who have disabilities face unemployment rates at about double those of the rest of the population. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 3.8% (general population) versus 7.9% (those who have disabilities) in September. But the gig economy has provided more flexibility. The pandemic and the rise of remote work have also opened some opportunities: Data from LinkedIn reveals that in August, 53.9% of remote job applications came from members who identified as disabled versus 45.6% from those who did not.

The business case for proactive disability policies

Firms that support workers who have disabilities are more than Good Samaritans. Employers benefit on many levels. They send an important message, both externally and internally. Inside the company, a compassionate attitude toward all employees generally boosts morale. Outside, generally speaking, it demonstrates a genuine commitment to social values.

In addition, an employer can expand its pool of qualified talent. Post-COVID-19, companies have been urgently seeking strong candidates. With so many potential applicants who have disabilities already employed at lower rates, the discrepancy represents a large source of untapped talent. But be careful. If those who have disabilities encounter barriers during interviews and with the completion of applications, they may rapidly become discouraged and look elsewhere.

Managers and workers seem to be perceiving different workplace realities. In an Accenture study of 5,870 employees who have disabilities, only 20% said their companies were committed to helping them succeed. On the other hand, out of 1,750 executives, a substantial 67% believed their companies already had appropriate environments and technology to foster the progress of people who have disabilities.

The ultimate hope is that the gains from inclusivity ripple beyond those who have disabilities, just as making sidewalks more accessible has a widely benevolent impact on a community, including seniors, bikers and stroller-pushing moms and dads.

Walking the walk

Managers can implement programs to accommodate workers who have disabilities and alleviate stigmas. Note that the concept of accommodation applies to individuals and particular cases. It is distinct from accessibility, which affects everyone.


Here are some examples of accommodations you may want to bring into your workplace:

  • Increase disability hiring, especially among leadership, to create role models.

  • Provide technical tools, special equipment, interpreters and resources.

  • Establish employee-led resource groups and compensate members for their time and effort.

  • Call out microaggressions, such as derogatory jokes.

  • Advocate for ramps and elevators.

  • Adjust work hours and office layouts.

  • Look to obtain outside agency funding or tax credits.

  • Don't make assumptions, such as about an employee's inability to travel — you might be surprised!

  • Watch out for inadvertent exclusions, such as holding an event in an inaccessible venue.

Should you encourage people to disclose hidden disabilities? Gradually, employees are becoming more open about their limitations. In 2020, just 2.6% of 43,561 PwC partners and employees were willing to self-identify regarding their disabilities, but by 2021, the amount had risen to 4%.

Still, many may be reluctant, fearing reprisals or slower career progress. Disabilities are a private matter, and no one should ever feel pressured to disclose or discuss them. Above all, they should never be put on the spot in a group setting.

Respecting disabilities is not merely about checking boxes or meeting quotas. It has everything to do with going the extra mile to make all team members feel comfortable and welcome. Learn how you can welcome employees with disabilities by contacting Nuance Culture Consulting.


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