Guide to Disability Inclusion in the Workplace

disability inclusion in the workplace

In the United States, the rights of disabled people at work are enshrined in law and are considered a fundamental pillar of labor rights in general. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is very specific about ways in which employers can, and should, ensure disability inclusion in the workplace.

According to the US Department of Labor, the total number of people in the USA with disabilities aged 16-64 is 33,153,211. However, only 18.6 million of those are currently employed [1]. With more awareness and inclusivity in the workplace, this number can rise.

What Counts as a Disability?


Both invisible and visible disabilities exist in the workplace. Though some people’s physical disabilities may be more noticeable and the adaptations needed more obvious, many people with disabilities suffer from mental health conditions, have chronic diseases like cancer or multiple sclerosis, or are neurodiverse. These people also need a disability-inclusive workplace and a comfortable and understanding work environment.

Disabled Rights are Human Rights

Failing to award people with disabilities the same rights or to provide adaptations in the workplace are forms of disability exclusion. Though much of society has embraced inclusiveness, corporate culture still needs to fully embrace the concept of inclusive workplaces for disabled employees.

These rights start from the very beginning of the selection process, protect people with disabilities while in the workplace, and also apply in cases of redundancy. Employers need to ensure that job candidates who use mobility aids, for example, have the same ease of access to the building and interview space as able-bodied candidates.

What Does the ADA Guarantee?


The ADA has a two-pronged approach when guaranteeing rights for disabled workers:

  • Prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities
  • Guaranteeing equal opportunities

In other words, companies cannot discriminate when hiring people with disabilities and, when hired, must provide the same opportunities for promotions and benefits as able-bodied employees.

This law covers both private and government employment and includes the following elements of the employment lifecycle:

  • Hiring
  • Pay
  • Benefits
  • Firing
  • Promotions

Disability Inclusion in the Workplace Doesn’t Just Mean Ticking The Boxes


As much as an employer may tick boxes, meet quotas, and welcome diversity, the workplace isn’t inclusive unless the disabled worker feels equal to their workmates. True disability inclusion comes when those with disabilities are valued for what they contribute, not simply as people making up the required quota of disabled employees. Disabled people can add so much to the workplace, and should be valued for the talents, accomplishments, and unique perspectives that they bring to the table.

Making adaptations for disabled workers should be standard practice; the disabled worker should not have to request necessary adaptations or be made to feel a burden when asking for them.

Making necessary workplace adaptations can come in many forms:

  • Taking time to consider accessibility for employees who use assistive devices, wheelchairs, or other mobility devices
  • Remembering challenges individuals have and taking them into account logistically
  • Addressing disabilities in a respectful manner
  • Providing training for other workers on inclusive language, and any other factors they may need to know when working with people with disabilities

Disability Inclusion Training


Knowing how to treat people with disabilities isn’t always obvious. That’s why regular, up-to-date training is needed to raise awareness on inclusion, how to treat people with disabilities, and how to adapt the workspace both physically and mentally.

A culture of inclusivity and diversity-based training needs to come from the top down with managers at the top of the hierarchy leading by example on disability inclusion. Knowledge is power when creating safe spaces and support for people with disabilities. There also needs to be an acknowledgment of any potential implicit bias; overcoming this is a delicate process that requires expert training and sensitive handling.

How Does Disability Inclusion Benefit a Business?


It is estimated that people with visible or invisible disabilities represent around 25% of the workforce. As a result, developing a policy of disability inclusion will affect a great number of businesses and employees.


  • Being prepared, able, and willing to welcome people with disabilities into your workplace fosters a compassionate and nurturing environment in which all of your workers feel valued as individuals.
  • Workers who feel valued will want to give back, motivating them to do their best work.
  • Fostering a positive work environment and camaraderie between colleagues helps with employee retention, reducing the costs of a high staff turnover.
  • Disabled people have had a different experience of life and therefore may have a different outlook, seeing things from a unique perspective. This can give your business a competitive edge.
  • Despite being equally qualified candidates, members of the disabled community are unemployed at double the rate of their able-bodied colleagues. Disabled people are an untapped source of talent.
  • In the age of social media, showing that your company is an inclusive and diverse workforce is great for PR. Though people with disabilities shouldn’t be hired just for this reason, it is an added bonus.

How to Make Your Business Inclusive of People with Disabilities


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers should make reasonable accommodations to ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities. There are several practical steps you can take to create a more accessible and inclusive workplace.

1. Make Use of Technology

Businesses can invest in the latest technology to help people with disabilities perform their tasks as efficiently as possible. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Speech recognition technology and alternative keyboards or mouses (for those with dexterity limitations)
  • Screen magnifiers and readers (for those with limited vision)
  • Word prediction software (for those with learning difficulties or dyslexia)
  • Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) to add real-time captions to live events for employees who are hard of hearing

2. Ensure Easy Parking and Access to the Building

The lack of accessible parking may be a deal-breaker for some workers who use mobility aids. Designating disabled parking spots and installing wheelchair ramps ensures full access to the entrance of the building.

3. Improve the Internal Infrastructure of the Building

Once the external doorways are accessible, think about the internal infrastructure of the building. For example:

  • Widen corridors and hallways.
  • Remove clutter from shared workspaces.
  • Adapt or build accessible bathrooms for disabled employees.
  • Install wheelchair ramps or lifts for employees who can’t walk up the stairs.

Disability Inclusion Requires an Upfront Investment


Though some adaptations require an initial investment on the part of the business, it is an investment with clear and measurable advantages. Not only will you be able to serve disabled customers, but you’ll be able to attract and retain untapped talent that’s currently going to waste.

Throughout the process, it’s important to remember that disability inclusion isn’t just about making up the numbers; it is a step that modern workplaces must and should take. When differences are not only planned for but valued, we can create the best possible working environment for everybody in society.

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