5 concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic your employees with disabilities may have

Everyone’s worried about the coronavirus pandemic. But employees with disabilities may have pandemic concerns you haven’t considered. 

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help your employees manage stress during this time. But if you don’t know what the stressors are, it can be hard to help. Here are some concerns that may be top of mind right now for employees with disabilities. 

1. Job security

The jump in unemployment caused by the pandemic has lots of people worried about their job security.

But employees with disabilities might have extra concerns. For example, while no one wants to lose their health coverage, an employee with a disability might depend on it to manage the disability. 

They might also have more of a reason to worry about finding work again. “Jobs built around specific skill sets are often the first to be cut in tough times,” says Claire Odom, a social worker and senior program manager for the Workplace Initiative. Many people with disabilities connect with that type of job through support agencies — and many of those are closed right now.

If you can give your employees confidence about their job security, try to do so. It would help to relieve stress for all of your employees, and it might be particularly helpful for employees with disabilities.

2. Expressing their concerns about the pandemic itself

Employees with generalized anxiety disorder or other mental health conditions may have anxiety about going to work in an office or industry that hasn’t closed or moved to working remotely. And expressing that fear may be its own worry.

“Employees with invisible disabilities may be scared of coming into work, and not sharing that fear with anyone,” says James Emmett, a disability inclusion expert and lead workplace strategist for Understood.

Emmett says employers may see new agitation — and even absenteeism — from employees with and without anxiety issues. Instead of expecting them to disclose, Emmett recommends employers check in more regularly, asking questions like, “How are you? Can I help you with anything?”  

3. Asking for support

Now more than ever, employees or potential new hires may be hesitant to ask for the reasonable accommodations they’re entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

They might be concerned that their need for support would make them more likely to be let go if cuts are made. If their disability makes them more susceptible to COVID-19, they might be worried about being stigmatized if they need to ask for accommodations to keep them safe. 

Try to promote an inclusive environment where employees feel safe to disclose their disabilities. Everyone benefits when employees can access the support they need.

4. Feeling a lack of visibility 

As companies implement work-from-home policies, some employees with disabilities are worried that their work style won’t translate well to a remote environment.  

Brooke Meyer is a program operations manager with Understood. She’s thought about this because of her own disability.

“I know that a lot of the way that I showcase my work and value to the organization is during in-person events,” Meyer explains. She’s been working closely with her direct supervisor on Zoom to check in and feel seen. But she says she knows not all employees feel as comfortable reaching out to networks and bridging the social isolation they may be feeling.     

“I want to be sure that employers are working with their disabled employees to land on a way to check in, so employees feel like they’re being seen both during their new day-to-day responsibilities and work life,” says Meyer. When your employees have met or exceeded expectations, be sure to let them know.

5. Changing routines and work norms 

Lots of people have had their work routines upended due to the coronavirus pandemic. And some employees may have disabilities that make changes in routine harder for them to manage.

Or they might be struggling to get used to remote work. Employees may need training not only on how to use technology, but also around the social rules of using these tools. 

Emmett emphasizes that employers can try to provide the same types of visuals and mentoring that employees are used to, even if they’ve suddenly gone remote. For example, if you normally use sticky notes for brainstorm sessions, try to find a virtual tool that can do the same thing. And make sure your employees feel comfortable checking in with each other remotely.

The coronavirus pandemic is hard for employees across the board. By understanding the concerns of people with disabilities, employers can make it easier for everyone to thrive at work.

Here are some links to other helpful resources about disability and workplace inclusion during the pandemic:

About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.