Most companies have nondiscrimination policies and encourage people with disabilities to identify themselves and request accommodations. Unfortunately, the reality is that most people who have disabilities, even visible ones, choose not to discuss their situations in the work environment.
Many “invisible” disabilities are particularly difficult for people to disclose, such as depression, anxiety disorders, dyslexia, attention deficit, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, or PTSD. The belief that they must actively conceal their disabilities—and anything in their personal lives that might reveal them—leaves many employees feeling invisible or alone.
The Company as Advocate
There are two important things every company can do to give employees with disabilities a voice, says Deb Dagit, disability advocate and founder of Deb Dagit Diversity.
1. Change the way you see (and talk about) disabilities. Too often, disability is viewed through a medical lens, as something that needs to be “cured,” instead of through a social lens or as a civil rights issue. Disabled individuals do not need to be fundamentally “fixed” or changed! As a result of this viewpoint, the conversation around disability often takes on a philanthropic tone.
“I think the disability community can be its own worst enemy by continuing to foster events where, if there is not a dry eye in the house, it’s a success,” says Dagit. “That’s hugely problematic if we want candidates with disabilities to be viewed as competitive, highly sought talent.”
2. Include people with disabilities in your advisory committees. No organization would even consider creating a program to enhance representation and inclusion for women, people of color, or the LGBT community without leaders of these constituencies playing a central role in developing and executing the strategy.
“We must follow the same ‘not-about-us-without-us’ anthem for people with disabilities,” says Dagit.
To learn how you can help give your employees with disabilities a voice, visit www.debdagitdiversity.com.