- Asking for disability accommodations is still a major barrier for those entering or currently in the workforce.
- Practitioners are seeing young people become more confident in their identities.
- There is still a divide between how visible and invisible disabilities are understood in the workplace.
Good news! After years of struggling to figure out how your disability works in your body-mind, you are finally offered an interview. It’s the kind of opportunity that can lift you out of poverty, allow you to have good health insurance for once, and afford both your medicine and a new wheelchair.
But there is a catch. For the first time, you need to figure out how to disclose to your employer that you have a disability and need an accommodation. Now the law is on your side. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensured that, But will society’s perception stop you before you start?
This is a problem that many disabled employees face before, during and after employment. But, mental health professionals say, whether your disability is obvious or not, there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success. October is Disability Employment Awareness Month and we want to talk about it.
How employees view their disability
Miriam Davis EdD, LPC, NCC, clinical director and therapist at Newport Healthcare in Virginia, says that in her many roles throughout the industry, she has begun to see changes in how her clients view workplace accommodations and their disabilities.
Miriam Davies (EdD, LPC, NCC)
There is a label on you that you may not be ready to accept. And it’s like going back to school and like, ‘Cool. Can I just put on the t-shirt that says I’m different and I don’t like it?’
— Miriam Davis (EdD, LPC, NCC)
“What I’ve found is that younger generations are much more open to being asked from the beginning, even from the interview process…because they don’t see it as a bad thing. They’re like, that’s part of who I am and for me to be successful, which is really who I am. Hopefully, I hope everyone sees it.
Davis says one of the barriers she sees for her clients is that employers, on the whole, are more concerned about the cost of accommodations than how access needs can help an employee perform at their best.
“I think a lot of times, they’re not overly enthusiastic about tackling it (housing) anyway. Because for them, it’s always cost, like cost. And you’re like, ‘It doesn’t have to be about the cost. It’s about having employees that perform at their best.’ And generally, employees are very good at many things, they need some support to bring out their best performance.”
Mark Debus LCSW, MSW, who advises companies on accommodations through his role at Sedgwick, agrees. For that, organizations need to understand the value of accommodations rather than seeing them as unnecessary or a hindrance.
“Employers should always look for ways to reduce employee stress and accommodate disabilities, even if those disabilities may not be immediately noticeable. Managers should want employees to do their best and feel good about their performance and work for you, which means their success.” Making accommodations to help achieve. This will ultimately create a better workplace culture and help retain good employees by listening to them and being flexible to their needs,” says Debus.
How to navigate the accommodation
Davis says employees facing the issue of whether to disclose their disability and their access needs should ask themselves three questions.
“Is it (your lack of accommodation) affecting your work? Can you ask for it? And do you need it? It’s always important to deal with it as soon as possible, especially if it’s affecting your work performance.”
Davis says that accommodations for someone with ADHD can look like electronic reminders or a desk space in an area of the office that’s less cluttered, but warns that the process can take time.
First identify what you think is needed, then talk to your health care provider, and then talk to human resources or equivalent.
She says the unfortunate reality is that many companies have to “sell” why you need them instead of providing them with accommodations because it’s the polite thing to do and preconceived notions of what an employee with a disability can and should do. Seeking support will not yet affect the current workplace.
“If I request these (accommodations), is there a fear that these will come out? Will people ask me about this? Will my boss know? And will it affect my future career?”
How employers can improve
Debus says employers should think about accommodations as more than just one-and-dones because demographics and workforce needs change over time.
“Disabilities can change over time, so managers should also create open conversations with employees. If an employee returns from a leave of absence, proactively reaching out to find out what they may need will create an environment where feedback from employees is welcome. will be informed which will help them to do their job better.”
Mark Debus, LCSW, MSW
Employers should always look for ways to reduce employee stress and accommodate disabilities, even if those disabilities may not be immediately noticeable. Managers should make employees perform at their best…
— Mark Debus, LCSW, MSW
For that, there is a sense that employers should not assume that people with disabilities will automatically volunteer their needs.
“You can’t always count on employees to lend a hand when they need help, but managers must ask how they can help create the best possible work environment for individuals.”
And the question for Davis is how we can create a world where people can be their authentic selves in work, support, and everything, instead of what he sometimes sees now: people who are struggling with the same feelings of discomfort they had in high school first. Realized that perhaps they had a disability.
“There is a label on you that you may not be ready to accept. And it’s like going back to school and like, ‘Cool. Can I just put on the t-shirt that says I’m different and I don’t like it?’ And if you’re not ready to go through that, or you haven’t gone through that process and you’re not okay with who you are, that’s scary.”
What this means for you
If you’re struggling to choose whether to disclose your disability at work or make accommodations, know that some mental health professionals are equipped to support you and that the tide of inaccessibility in the workforce is slowly turning.
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