Supporting Employees With Seen and Unseen Disabilities in the Workplace

A person sits in a wheelchair and works in an office

Employers need to be proactive and intentional about supporting people with disabilities in the workplace, from how they approach recruiting and hiring to ensuring employees feel included and involved once they're on the job.

People with seen and unseen disabilities in the workplace are valuable and an underutilized population. Organizations need to evaluate their strategies around recruitment, hiring and retention specifically for employees with disabilities. They bring diversity into the organization – often through intersectionality – and desired skills such as innovation, embracing new opportunities, and approaching challenges with fresh perspectives.

Employers need to think about neurodiversity and people with physical disabilities as part of their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts and initiatives. This means business leaders need to develop strategies for recruiting, hiring and retaining employees with disabilities, just as they do with other underrepresented groups.

There is no talent shortage among people with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by job loss at the height of the pandemic, with the unemployment rate for this group rising to 12.6% in 2020, up from 7.3% in the previous year. These figures represent people who were unemployed, available for work and actively looking for a job in 2020, which suggests that people with disabilities are the greatest untapped talent pool available today.

Here's what your organization can do to attract and support these employees.

Recruiting and hiring people with disabilities

If you really want to hire more people with seen and unseen disabilities, you have to let them know. This can be achieved in a number of ways, and employers may get the best results by combining tactics.

"Amplify disability inclusion efforts and showcase people with disabilities who already exist in your organization," says Giselle Mota, Principal, Future of Work at ADP. "Get intentional with social media marketing efforts. Highlight the contributors in your organization who have disabilities instead of just something that you only identify through a business resource group or data you picked up through self-identification tools in the background."

For an example of this strategy being executed well, look to Microsoft, which recently launched a campaign featuring a UX Designer with a hearing impairment.

Shining a spotlight on people with disabilities at all levels in your organization shows job seekers that you're committed to diversity and allows them to imagine themselves working for you. Sometimes, the best strategy is to include language in job descriptions and to host events that specifically target candidates with disabilities. Rather than recruiting with a "come one, come all" attitude; employers should use a targeted strategy to recruit neurodiverse candidates.

If you can specify a day or event that is connected to someone with neurodivergence, you can train your recruiters on what to look for and how to ask the right questions, says Lisa Dickson, Senior Director of Sales Operations/Global Chair of Disability BRG at ADP.

This typically means asking behavioral-based questions that require concrete problem-solving rather than metaphoric questions meant to evaluate a candidate's personality, which may be too abstract for someone who doesn't approach logic the same way a neurotypical person might.

Retaining employees with disabilities

Employers need to accept the reality that employees, especially employees with disabilities, may leave if remote/hybrid work isn't permitted. According to reporting from Bloomberg, 39% of employees would consider quitting their job if their current employer isn't flexible about remote work in the wake of the pandemic.

Fortunately, the case for remote work is strong. Remote work benefits people with disabilities as well as employers in a variety of ways. For starters, people likely have everything they need at home to work comfortably, so employers wouldn't have to make as many accommodations to make the workplace accessible. However, it's worth noting that most accommodations for on-site work are not as expensive as employers might fear. Research from shows the average workplace accommodation costs only $500.

Another key to retaining employees with disabilities is building an inclusive work culture that seeks to give every employee a sense of belonging. Fortunately, in a remote work world, workplace accessibility has taken on a new meaning, as technology can now facilitate remote inclusion of people with and without disabilities.

"People with disabilities might need remote work technology that unites them [with colleagues] and makes them feel like they are in the room," says Mota. "Employers can use video tools with captioning — maybe you make an interpreter available and have a shared virtual project space. This is not just for compliance. These accommodations help you tap into the skills of someone and really pull from them their ability to contribute to a team and to your organization."

According to Mota, with augmented reality or virtual reality in particular, employees with disabilities can work from home and feel as if they were right there in the office with their coworkers, collaborating with them on projects in real-time.

Adding depth and value to your organization

People with disabilities bring diverse perspectives and life experiences that can help them tackle your business's greatest challenges in new ways.

"The perspective that people with disabilities bring is valuable," says Mota. "Oftentimes, employees engaged in employee resource groups (ERGs) such as those dedicated to disability inclusion, share amazing ideas. They have the ability to steer the direction of the company based on adding perspective. Someone without a disability would think 'This is how we approach this in our business,' but a person with a disability can add way more perspective and help others think about diverse markets and influencing products and services. These ideas often start from a disability and accommodation perspective, but quickly end up being a part of the universal design and user experience for all people (e.g., speech to text)."

Millions of people with disabilities are ready and willing to put their skills and talents to work for organizations like yours, but you can't hang out a "help wanted" sign and expect them to beat down your door. By developing intentional strategies to attract job seekers with disabilities and ensuring that they feel supported and included once they're on the job, employers can leverage the skills and perspectives of this rich pool of individuals.

Employees with disabilities could be your team's superpower.

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