Helping Employees with Disabilities Advance in the Workplace

Helping Employees with Disabilities Advance in the Workplace

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives call for fairness for all employees including employees with disabilities in the workplace. One of management’s many responsibilities is to help shape and successfully develop employees’ careers. Employees need management’s guidance and support to advance within the workplace. It’s critical that managers understand how to help employees with disabilities succeed as they may need some tailored support.

What is Considered a Disability in the Workplace?

According to the ADA, a disability is having a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, having a history of such an impairment or being regarded as having an impairment.

Disability covers so many different conditions and lived experiences. Not only is a wheelchair user considered to have a disability but so is a cancer survivor, a diabetic, a person with a substance use disorder, someone with a mental health issue and an employee in a relationship with a person living with a disability.

Helping Employees with Disabilities Advance in the Workplace

Have a Clear Understanding of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including jobs. Human Resources should share examples of disability discrimination with their employees. Failing to give employees with disabilities the same career advancement opportunities is a good example that could lead to a lawsuit.

All employees should know it's illegal to ask someone if they have a disability, the severity, or the nature of the disability. When interviewing a job applicant with a disability don’t ask them if they can perform the job. Instead ask if they can perform the tasks with or without reasonable accommodation. Being accommodated within reason is mandated by federal law.

Help Employees Access their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) & Mental Health Support

Navigating health care program offerings can be challenging. Not only publicize companywide about EAP and the mental health support options but give specific instructions on how to access these benefits. This transparency and outward sign of compassion will lead to a sense of safety and comfort.

Always actively listen and be empathetic. Create a safe space for employees with disabilities to bring their authentic selves to work. If they volunteer information, let them know to contact their EAP provider for mental health assistance. The licensed therapists can help them find experts in specific areas like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Inform them that the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers up to 12 weeks unpaid time off per calendar year for serious medical conditions including mood disorders (with some limitations).

Promote an Inclusive Workplace Culture

An autistic TikTok creator posted a sign at his work stating he was autistic and how to communicate with him and why he acts the way he does. Obviously, he felt he needed to speak out. Everyone has the right to work in organizations that are inclusive, safe, and foster a sense of belonging. Respecting the lived experiences of others allows employees to develop stronger connections, build more inclusive teams and help each other succeed.

By facilitating DEI efforts, the organization is helping those with disabilities advance in their career as well as non-disabled employees. Managers build equity by meeting coworkers where they are and allocating resources to provide an equal opportunity to all. All employees must have equal access to resources for their special needs and opportunities to succeed and advance. This in turn creates an equal outcome for everyone.

Provide all employees with mental health literacy training. Educate employees on both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. By learning about disabilities employees will embrace differences and see the valuable skills people with disabilities bring to the table. For example, educating the workforce on people with with neurodivergent skill sets such as, strong pattern recognition abilities, sharp memory, and math skills. And conveying how these employees can offer new perspectives as their way of thinking is different. This shared knowledge will help build a psychologically safe culture for employees to feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.

Define Essential Job Functions

All employees should have a clear understanding of their essential job functions. Those with disabilities may require job descriptions with job duties more clearly defined. No gray areas and no guess work. The job description should be well written and easy to access.

Job descriptions may need reasonable adjustments on a case-by-case basis based upon an individual’s unique needs. Adjustments may need to be made within the first weeks or months on the job and even throughout the individual's career.

Help Define Career Path

To continue to successfully advance, a career path should be drafted by all employees. Having a clear vision is the first step in the process to assist in reaching career goals. Employees with disabilities may need a little extra attention in this endeavor.

First, have the direct report set aside time on their calendar to review their career goals and core work values. Suggest brainstorming and thinking about the legacy they would like to leave. Recommend visualization exercises where they imagine themselves working in the role they desire.

When they are ready to discuss their career path meet with them. And ask them thought-provoking questions like:

Once they are comfortable with the direction of their career, help them outline steps to take to achieve their career vision. Be their cheerleader. If the aspiration is there, then it’s possible.

Assist them with writing their career vision in one paragraph or less. Write it in present tense as if the goal is already accomplished. This creates confidence about their future. Review their career vision with them every 6-12 months as it may change overtime as they advance and learn new skills.

Provide Tools for Success

All employees need to be on a fair playing field. Employees with disabilities should feel empowered to reach out to HR and their manager to get the appropriate accommodations to successfully do their job, but ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the organization to provide those accommodations. It should be clearly communicated to all employees how to request accommodations. Keep in mind not everyone with a disability needs the same accommodations, and some may need more accommodations than others. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests employers shouldn’t spend time debating if an employee meets the definition of disability under the ADA but rather conclude if the requested accommodation can be provided without undue hardship to the organization.

Remember, according to ADA employees do not need to share details of why they need the accommodations. Stating it’s for a medical condition is sufficient along with what workplace accommodations they need and how performance would be impacted. Accommodations may be requested at any time. Employees also have the right to keep this information private from other coworkers.

Examples of types of requested accommodations include:

Be sure to mention these accommodations in job postings, during interviews, onboarding, and in employee communication vehicles. Promoting tools for success establishes trust. And so, opens the lines of communication to request tools to aid one to advance in their career.

Assign a Mentor

The mentorship relationship's purpose is to encourage mentees to take charge of their career and for on-going support.

Mentors can help mentees develop an action plan timeline to achieve goals over the next week, month, six months, etc. They should put time on the calendar to meet regularly to keep on track and hold mentees accountable for progress.

The mentors should not only suggest network connections and professional associations but make introductions, if possible.

They should also encourage a mentor outside the organization, as well. Someone who will devote the time to take a genuine interest in their professional journey and personal well-being.

Provide Proper Career Training

To advance, shadowing colleagues is always a wise choice. Shadowing offers a one-on-one real-life experience of what their future position would be like. It gives them the opportunity to see the pros and cons of the role and ask questions.

Workplaces should provide employee training and development to all employees so they can advance to the next level in their career path. It’s important that employees understand and value the importance of ongoing training. Discuss the benefits of continuous learning such as improved job performance and upskilling.

Make training easy for the employees by scheduling time slots for training. Be sure to allow time for training so deadlines are not missed, and employees are not stressed about their workload. Other training tips include:

To learn more simple ways to promote learning and development watch HSI’s training video. Employees will be motivated to learn, developing their skills and helping coworkers advance in their careers.

Schedule Weekly 1:1 Meetings

Weekly 1:1 meetings allow managers and direct reports uninterrupted time to discuss projects, share timely job performance feedback and get to know each other on a more personal level. Remember to trust employees to do their work and empower them to do their best work.

Every 6-12 months access progress towards their short and long-term career goals. If the employee is ready to advance and there is an internal transfer opportunity available an additional meeting may be in order. A new position may be a better fit, offer increased income, job security, and have an improved work-life balance. Discussion would also include how the transfer may further develop skills and the employee would gain new life experiences. They may also expand their business network.

How HSI Can Help?

HSI’s employee training and development eLearning library offers all the courses to curate a curriculum around management and employee training.

Managers may find it beneficial to watch the following training courses:

From a company perspective, managers may suggest these training courses to their employees:

Many of HSI’s clients open their HSI training library to their employees for self-directed learning. Employees can choose off-the-shelf training video courses best suited for their unique needs. Request a free trial of our HSI LMS. And have access to HSI’s Business Skills library to watch any of the courses mentioned.

Additional Resources

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