I have recently started working in the disability field assisting individuals with diverse limitations who are trying to acquire workplace accommodations. In the few short months I’ve been working in this field, I have come to realize that people often make assumptions about a person’s disability — some minimizing the effects and some overestimating the severity. Either way, making assumptions about someone’s disability can have a negative impact in the workplace. It can make an employee feel like he or she is not part of the team or not respected as an individual. It can also interfere with providing effective accommodations because these are based on an employee’s actual limitations, not assumptions. Why does this happen? It may be a lack of knowledge, experience, or that an employer is worried about the bottom line despite low cost of accommodation data. Instead of providing the minimum accommodation needed, if an employer focuses on the tools an employee actually needs to be successful, this leads to better productivity outcomes for both the employer and employee.
How can employers overcome this tendency to make assumptions about employees with disabilities? Listen to the individual. Provide disability awareness training for both employees and supervisors in some capacity so that everyone will be more aware of the range of conditions employees may experience in the workplace. Every employee with a disability is unique and should be treated that way. JAN provides resources on disability awareness that can be used for training purposes, or you can contact us directly for more specific resources.
Employees should feel a sense of relief, not anxiety, when engaging with their employer in an interactive process to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. The JAN publication The Interactive Process – JAN’s Effective Accommodation Practices Series provides step-by-step guidance so that employers and employees together can identify accommodations that will be successful and contribute to an inclusive workplace community.
All employees and supervisors share the responsibility in creating an inclusive work environment. Whether it is the employee’s first day on the job, or an extended tenure, there is always a way to become more aware. The JAN Workplace Accommodation Toolkit provides many resources to assist in developing a disability-inclusive and compliant workplace.
Inclusion can provide a healthy workplace environment for all employees and contribute to the success of any organization. More awareness and fewer assumptions can make a huge difference. If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please feel free to reach out to us!