Workplace culture plays a big role in job satisfaction. After all, most employees want a supportive environment for themselves and their co-workers.
If you’re not in a leadership role at your company, you might feel like there’s not much you can do to affect the culture. But in fact, there are more opportunities than you might think.
For example, some employees with disabilities (either visible or invisible) may feel like they’re not totally welcome in your workplace. If there’s any stigma associated with their disability, they may never say anything about it. In this situation — whether you know it or not — your own actions could do a lot to help your co-workers feel more supported.
Here are some actions you can take to improve your workplace culture for people with disabilities, no matter what your role is.
1. Take a good look around
Many of us take accessibility for granted. We expect that we’ll be able to do our jobs using the spaces and information our workplace provides. It can be easy to miss that things might not be set up well for everyone.
Spend a few minutes to think about your workplace environment from different perspectives. How would a person in a wheelchair get around? Does the lighting seem bright enough for people who have low vision? How would a colleague with hearing impairment get all the workplace announcements?
Of course, you won’t be able to spot every possible issue. And you won’t have all the solutions for the issues you do spot. But that’s OK — just a quick look around might give you some ideas about potential trouble spots.
If you notice any room for improvement, bring it up. Many barriers to accessibility can be addressed cheaply or at no cost. And the solutions can fit seamlessly into your team’s workday.
Even if the issue doesn’t impact you directly, you can help your current and future co-workers by pointing it out.
2. Learn more about disability at work
Lots of employees are hesitant to talk about disability at work. They might worry they don’t know enough about it, or that they’ll say the wrong thing. Learning the basics of workplace disability etiquette can help you to feel more confident.
Many people don’t know the facts behind one of the most effective workplace supports for people with disabilities: accommodations. Simply put, a workplace accommodation is any support that breaks down a barrier for a person with a disability. Accommodations can include anything that helps the worker do their job — from a wheelchair lift, to a standing desk, to flexible hours for medical appointments.
Accommodations exist to make things accessible for everyone. But sometimes when people notice a co-worker changing how they do their job — taking more frequent breaks, for example, or being taken off a particular shift — their thoughts might jump to favoritism or special treatment.
In fact, any change at work could simply be an accommodation for a disability. Disabilities can be visible or invisible, and employers are required to keep disability information confidential. Co-workers will not necessarily know the details behind an accommodation.
Learn more about workplace accommodation myths and realities. Once you’ve got the facts, you might even find opportunities to share them with co-workers.
3. Support co-workers by setting an example
If you yourself are a person with an invisible disability, like chronic fatigue syndrome or anxiety, consider disclosing it at work. That could help to reduce stigma around disability at your company as a whole.
Here are some ideas for ways to do that:
- Join an employee resource group for people with disabilities, and engage in conversations about your disability.
- Mention it informally in chats with co-workers.
- If you need a workplace accommodation, speak to your manager or HR. In addition to the accommodation being an important support for your job, simply making the request could help to normalize accommodations in your workplace.
You’re not required to disclose your disability at work. And you should only do what feels right for you and your situation. But if you do feel comfortable, being open about your disability can help others feel more comfortable, too.
Whether or not you fall into the 26 percent of U.S. adults who have a disability, there’s a lot you can do to make your workplace more welcoming. By checking off one or more of the items on this list, you’ll be playing a big part in building a more inclusive workplace for everyone.
Reviewed by Ashley Oolman. Founder and inclusion consultant of Allied Folk, Oolman guides partners through evidence-based best practices, product development, and progressive thought leadership. From large corporations to individual allies, she transforms strategic business initiatives and advances equitable community spaces. With more than a decade of leadership experience in advocacy, employment, and workplace culture, she understands how to navigate complex environments and provide actionable insights for growth.