Ability is a spectrum. People may experience mental or physical setbacks or impairments of varying difficulties and persistence. A disability may be visible or invisible, severe or mild, experienced daily or occasional. As leaders, we need to believe our people. Even if we can’t see someone’s disability, it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. If someone confides in you about a difficulty—be it physical, emotional, or mental—don’t take their trust for granted. Believe them.
Then, offer whatever support you can. This support can be expressed in a variety of ways, including through the following 5 actions:
Have Honest Conversations
Don’t assume you have the answers when it comes to accommodating employees. It’s best to talk to people in a one-on-one setting about their needs (if they do, in fact, require some kind of accommodation—don’t assume that they do!). Start the conversation by asking about how they’re doing in the office environment and what you could do to improve their work experience. Ask questions such as:
- From your perspective, is there anything about the office environment that could be improved?
- Is there anything that would help improve your experience in the workplace?
- What can I do to help you thrive at work?
- What resources would help make your job easier?
Employee Resource Groups can be a valuable resource for those looking for support and community within your workplace. Encourage the creation and participation of these groups so individuals can connect with others who share similar experiences or challenges. This can help build a sense of belonging and offer a safe space for employees.
If an employee requires accommodations to perform their job, work with them to find reasonable solutions. This could involve providing assistive technology, modifying workspaces, or adjusting work schedules. Maybe an employee feels more productive at home, where they have a comfortable, quiet environment for their work. Or, perhaps, they enjoy coming into the office but require a special desk, keyboard, or noise-canceling headphones. Whatever the case, it’s important to keep in mind that accommodations are not special treatment; rather, they are a means of leveling the playing field for all employees.
Provide Training and Education
Education is key to fostering a workplace that values diversity and inclusion. Provide training to managers and employees on disability awareness, implicit bias, and accessibility in the workplace. Consider adding workshops or courses on how to support employees with disabilities, such as inclusive communication and leadership practices. This will create a culture of understanding and empathy, and reinforce the message that everyone is valued and deserves respect.
Foster a Safe and Open Environment
Create a culture of inclusivity and belonging by fostering an environment where all employees feel safe to share their experiences and challenges. Encourage open communication and provide channels where employees can provide feedback on their experiences (whether through forums, ERGs, private meetings, or anonymous surveys). Ensure that you lead by example and model respectful behavior towards all employees, regardless of ability. By creating a safe and open environment for employees, you will build trust and a sense of community.
Supporting employees of all abilities is essential for creating an equitable and inclusive workplace. All people deserve to feel valued and respected, and a DEI-centered leader can work to make that happen. Remember, disability is a spectrum, and it’s important to believe and support your people no matter their abilities. Be a leader who creates a culture of inclusion and empathy by taking meaningful actions to help your people thrive.