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December 2, 2021 Haeli Harris

How HR Leaders Can Support Disabled Employees

To Celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021

About 1 billion people have a disability, yet supporting disabled employees is often overlooked. International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021 is a great time to re-evaluate your company’s plans to support disabled workers.

This article will walk through a brief history of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, common challenges for people with disabilities at work, and how HR leaders can support disabled employees.

History of International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021

In 1992, the United Nations announced that the International Day of Disabled Persons would be observed every year on December 3rd.

According to un.org: “The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

Companies have a huge role to play in providing disabled people opportunities to lead great careers and integrate into society.

Common Disabilities in the Workplace

So, what is considered a disability?

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Visual impairments
  • Mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • Chronic pain and migraines
  • Learning disabilities
  • Medical disabilities like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, seizures, heart disease, etc.

Most people will suffer from some sort of disability during their lifetime. Companies that don’t provide adequate support for disabled workers are missing a huge opportunity to support all of their people.

Related: 6 Reasons Why Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace is Critical

man reading Braille at a desk—How HR Leaders Can Support Disabled Employees To Celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021

Barriers to Employment for People with Disabilities

While companies are legally required to accommodate disabled employees, there are some common barriers that prevent disabled employees from having equal opportunities at work:

  1. The stigma around disabilities and mental health challenges as work, or not believing that a person has a disability.
  2. Physical barriers and lack of tools to do the job well. For instance, lack of wheelchair ramps in the workplace, or no mental health program for employees.
  3. Communication barriers like lack of Braille materials.
  4. Policy barriers, such as not having systems in place to support disabled employees.

Thankfully, you can do some simple things to overcome these barriers and better support disabled workers.

3 Ways HR Leaders Can Support Disabled Employees

Here are 3 simple things you can do to have a more disability-friendly workplace for International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021.

1. Provide a mental health and wellbeing program

Mental health struggles are one of the most common forms of disability among employees. Depression alone is the leading cause of disability for people aged 15 to 44.

Everyone can benefit from a mental health program. Tools like meditation, counseling, and personal training can help prevent common challenges like stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

A mental health program that is accessible to all will be a great addition to your benefits package—and a great way to improve your company culture!

Related: Your Guide to the EAP Implementation and Search Process

2. Create a disability-friendly work environment

A great place to start creating a more disability-friendly environment is to provide tools for employees that make their jobs easier. For instance, give employees ergonomic chairs to use at their desks.

For your remote workers, offer a small budget for them to use towards their work-from-home setup. It is nearly impossible to anticipate every need your workforce will have; this is a great way to support everyone, no matter their needs.

Executives may find this extra cost hard to justify, but when you consider the cost of losing and rehiring employees, it is well worth the investment!

3. Update your company disability policy and processes

Take some time to revisit your company’s disability policy. What benefits do you currently offer disabled folks? What else can you improve? Try surveying your team to see which needs you may be missing.

Make your recruitment process disability-inclusive by ensuring the entire process is accessible for deaf and blind folks, for instance.

Consider appointing at least one employee as the disability point person. This person will help educate the leadership team, managers, and individual contributors about the importance of supporting disabled workers and the company’s disability policy. They can also set and measure disability awareness and accommodation goals.

By implementing some of these tips for International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021, you will be well on your way to creating a community that is inclusive to disabled employees.

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Haeli Harris

Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Lead Counselor at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, UT & HI
Registered Yoga Teacher 200
Trauma Conscious Yoga (2021)
Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Education
Bachelor's of Science Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, University of Utah
Master's of Arts Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Northcentral University

MENTAL HEALTH FOR THE WHOLE EMPLOYEE