What Are the Fundamentals of Disability Employment

There are several key fundamentals organizations must consider when designing inclusive employment practices. Learn more about the essential components of building and expanding a disability inclusion effort.

Preparing Your Workforce for Disability Inclusion:

As with any new project or program (or expanding an existing disability inclusion effort), it is important for organizations to understand where they are in terms of disability inclusion, what resources they have currently in place and where gaps may exist.

Conducting a self-assessment or internal audit of your organization is a great place to start. The self-assessment should include policies, programs, procedures and a true understanding of how these activities are executed. For example, a best practice for workplace accommodations is providing a requested accommodation within one week. Is your organization matching industry best practices?

There are three national tools that help companies assess their disability inclusion approach. (List is in alphabetical order.)

  1. Cornell University has a tool called BenchmarkABILITY which helps organizations assess and understand where they are in relation to industry best practices.
  2. DisabilityIN, a US based non-profit that helps companies understand disability inclusion in the workplace, has a tool called the Disability Equality Index (DEI) which helps companies assess their own disability inclusion efforts.
  3. National Organization on Disability, a US based non-profit that helps companies expand diversity efforts to include people with disabilities, has a tool called The Tracker. to assess workplace disability inclusion practices.

Utilizing one or all of these tools can help an organization understand where they are related to disability employment and inclusion, and more importantly provide a direction for what should be done next to ensure effective disability employment programs.

Communicating & Messaging Disability Inclusion Efforts

Communicating the organizational strategy, goals and objectives of a disability inclusion program and the effort and tactics your organization will put into place is important for employee understanding. Additionally, it will help all employees understand how the company is advancing disability inclusion and how every employee can play a part in creating a more inclusive workplace.

Best practices in project/program communication apply to disability inclusion programs as well. It will be important to clearly articulate what you hope to accomplish, how you will measure success, and the frequency of communication and efforts.

Communicating your “why,” as well as what employees will see, what will be new and different, and what you aim to achieve are critical components to any disability inclusion strategy.

Another important nuance is to understand how to talk about people with disabilities and varying disabling conditions. Essentially, what to say and what not to say when you discuss people with disabilities.

Hiring People with Disabilities

Hiring people with disabilities in many ways is just like hiring anyone else. However, there are a few things that everyone should consider when hiring a person with a disability.

  1. Accessibility: This includes your website for completing online applications, as well as understanding and knowing how to use the accessibility features during Zoom or other online platform interviews. It also includes your physical space if you are bringing someone onsite for an in-person interview.
  2. Accommodations: Every potential candidate should be asked if they need an accommodation for the interview process. And once a candidate becomes an applicant and then an employee,they also should be asked if they need an accommodation to help them perform their job responsibilities.
  3. Agility: You may not know if a candidate has a disability until they show up, so be sure you are able to quickly accommodate them. For example, know the location of any accessible entrances, move to an interview space that will have more room, etc.


Interviewing People with Disabilities

The interview is one of the most important aspects of bringing new talent into an organization. Interviewing people with disabilities may require the recruiter, the HR professional and the hiring manager to adjust interviewing styles in order to get the most from a candidate. For example, a person on the autism spectrum may not be comfortable with eye contact, or when asked a question with a nuance they may take the question literally. They also may not display facial expressions (e.g., big smiles) that indicate they are excited about the position. Yet this should not be an indicator of job performance or enthusiasm for the role.

In order to ensure you accurately assess the skills and abilities of a person with a disability, you may need to shift the approach. Perhaps ask the candidate to solve a problem, eliminate the discomfort of eye contact and conduct a walking interview, or give a tour and show off the work environment. Ask questions about completing tasks, and be sure the questions are clear and concise without nuance.

Accommodating People with Disabilities

Job accommodations or adjustments to work environments help individuals with disabilities perform their job duties and tasks more successfully. Accommodations can take many forms, from simple worksite adjustments to tools and resources, as well as job coaches.

Accommodation Costs: The majority of accommodations have no or minimal cost.

Job Coaches: A Job Coach typically works for a social service organization that helps people with disabilities learn the requirements of their job and how to effectively complete job tasks. Job coaches are a free resource to companies. Their role is temporary, and the goal is for the job coach to “fade out” over time as the person with a disability becomes independent in the workplace. Job Coaches (askjan.org)

Universal Design is the concept of designing buildings, products and services to make them accessible to everyone. For example, a building constructed with universal design would have accessible entrances throughout a facility rather than just in one location. Universal design creates a “one size fits all” model rather than having disability inclusion as an afterthought.

Mental Health

Mental health and wellness is an important part of workplace productivity as well as employee satisfaction and engagement. Mental health conditions are not the result of one event, but typically multiple factors can influence someone’s mental health. These influences range from genetics to the environment, life events and lifestyle.

Disability Self-Id & Disclosure:

Companies are actively working to learn more about employees with disabilities and how they can be better supported in the workplace. There are two main ways companies are gathering information about disability status and identity.

The first is self-identification. This typically is initiated by a request the company/HR makes for an employee to enter disability status into the HRIS system.

Disability Disclosure is typically initiated by the employee with a disability, and instead of a “check the box” on a form or in the HRIS system, it is a meaningful discussion with managers, supervisors, co-workers and/or HR managers about the employee’s disability and how it may impact them in the workplace. The conversation may or may not result in the need for an accommodation, and if an accommodation is needed, it will be important to document the conversation and follow your organizational protocol for fulfilling an accommodation request.

Performance Management & People with Disabilities

Performance management for employees with disabilities should not be different from performance management for all other employees. The key is setting clear expectations as well as establishing clear deadlines and performance standards. How an employee achieves the expectations may ultimately be different, but the outcomes should be the same. Utilizing the standard processes to manage performance will be important.

Terminating Employees with Disabilities

Terminating an employee is one of the most difficult aspects of an HR professional’s role. Similar to the performance management process, terminating a person with a disability should follow the same protocols of terminating any other employee. Whether terminating for cause or performance, it is important to have all the necessary documentation and ensure you have given the employee appropriate feedback and a performance improvement plan.

Global Disability Laws & Resources

Many companies are multinational organizations and will need to understand the local disability laws and legislations in the various countries in which they have operations.

SHRM Disability Employment Resource Page: