Facilitating disability disclosure in the workplace

August 11, 2020

Creating a disability friendly workplace is one thing, ensuring employees feel comfortable disclosing their disability and seeking the support they may need is quite another. The Centre for Talent and Innovation’s ‘Disabilities and Inclusion’ study found that only 39% of US employees with a disability have disclosed it to their manager and only 21% to their HR department.                                               

There is a lot you can do to encourage employees who may be struggling in silence with a disability to get the support they deserve: 

Provide all employees with disability awareness training. This is the first step to building a disability positive culture within your business. Although courses will vary in content you should expect learning outcomes to include:

  • definitions and classifications of disability
  • understanding types of disability
  • strategies to minimise the impact of a disability
  • identifying barriers to disability both environmentally and attitudinal
  • reflection on perceptions of disability
  • language around disability 
More than half of participants in a US study of employees with disabilities said an open and supportive relationship with their employer was a very important factor in their decision to disclose. Encourage supportive relationships between management and employees through leadership training, engaging often in different forums and encouraging managers to ask for suggestions.  
Do as much as possible to go beyond complying with equality legislation to actively engage with people with disabilities when it comes to recruitment. This may involve building relationships with recruitment agencies that share your inclusive vision and highlighting accommodating recruitment practices where you advertise specific roles.
One way to encourage people who may be hiding a disability to disclose it is through role modelling. This can happen by highlighting disability diversity in your workplace, where it exists. Of course, this must be approached carefully and respectfully but if an employee with a disability is willing and comfortable to share their story it can be valuable for those who may be struggling. That said, there is no one size fits all when it comes to disability. Everyone’s experience is truly unique, and this must be highlighted in all communications. 

Provide employees with regular opportunities to disclose a disability. At all stages in the interview process and on a semi-regular basis during their employment, ask if they have any special requirements? An employee may not have a disability when they are recruited but they may develop one during their employment.

These are some of the explicit ways your business can encourage employees to talk about their disability. There are many implicit ways your business can show all employees that they will be supported if they have or develop a disability including, adding disability in diversity statements, having disability focused recruitment material, and including people with disabilities on company websites.

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