How to Make Workplaces More Inclusive For People with Invisible Disabilities (2023)


Research shows that employers lack awareness about the needs of people with invisible disabilities and are often ill prepared to provide the necessary support and accommodations. But new managers have the opportunity to change that. Here’s what they can do.

  • Don’t generalize disabilities. Making assumptions about someone’s abilities can cloud your judgment, as a manager, and result in unconscious bias or microaggressions. Spend time understanding what symptoms show up for your team members and when, how those symptoms impact their work, and what you can do to support them.
  • Figure out how to help your team member succeed in their role. Make it a habit to check in with your people one-on-one. Ask: “How have you been doing this quarter? I want to make sure you have all the resources you need to be successful at work. Can you tell me what support or accommodations you might need?”
  • Advocate for inclusive practices. Share your ideas and suggestions with your boss or the leadership team. As a manager, you have the positional power to impact change.
  • Avoid centering office events around food. When planning parties, include someone with food intolerances in the organizing group so you create a more inclusive menu. You can also get creative and recommend a potluck where everyone has the opportunity to share their culture and learn about each other.
  • Establish an inclusive community. Build spaces such as a dedicated Slack channel, regular coffee chats with the team for open-ended discussions, as well as formal ERGs (as mentioned above) where people with disabilities can interact with others going through similar experiences.

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Globally, one billion people live with a disability. To put that into perspective, that’s one person out of every seven. While some disabilities are visible, others — including chronic illnesses, food (or other) allergies, eating disorders, and mental health issues, among other conditions — are not obvious to onlookers. In the U.S., at least 10% of the country has a medical condition that could be considered an invisible disability.

Research shows that 88% of employees with invisible disabilities choose not to disclose it at work to avoid stigma and discrimination. Those who do open up about long-term invisible disabilities are often socially isolated, resulting in lower morale and reduced productivity.

To understand the needs of people with long-term invisible disabilities, we conducted a seven-year study across Europe and the U.S. with 58 professionals with invisible disabilities across various industries. We also interviewed 19 HR professionals to gain insights into the feasibility and challenges of implementing some of the recommendations that emerged through the survey.

Our study confirmed that people with invisible disabilities often feel excluded at work, and are likely to receive fewer benefits or access to training and advancement. This can lead to physical and psychological distress, putting them at risk of social exclusion, poor well-being, and decreased job performance. We also found that employers lack awareness about the needs of people with invisible disabilities and are often ill-prepared to provide the necessary support and accommodations. Employees with invisible disabilities may struggle in silence, feel unsupported, and be misunderstood.

There is a real opportunity for new and first-time leaders to drive change within organizations by increasing their awareness and practicing more vulnerable and empathetic leadership. As a manager, you can create a space in which people feel safer disclosing and asking for what they need. You can encourage diversity and ensure that differences are valued — rather than feared — on your team.

Based on the findings in our study, we recommend some practices for new managers to create a more inclusive workplace.

1) Don’t generalize disabilities.

It’s common for non-disabled people to misunderstand what it means to live with a specific condition. The reality is that two people with the same disability may have very different experiences. For instance, two colleagues who both have chronic migraines might have different triggers or discomforts. Similarly, a generalized anxiety disorder can include a variety of symptoms that show up and manifest in entirely different ways depending on the person.

This means your knowledge of a disability and what it looks or feels like may not correspond to your colleague’s experience of the condition. Don’t debate them on this point. Making assumptions about someone’s abilities can cloud your judgment and result in unconscious bias or microaggressions. As a leader, your role in this scenario is to listen. Spend time understanding what symptoms show up for your team members and when, how those symptoms impact their work, and what you can do to support them.

Our research found that managers that were empathetic, patient, and willing to listen to their team member’s experiences and accommodate their requests were more successful leaders. Their teams reported a 63% increase in well-being and 71% increase in engagement compared to the average.

When you approach sensitive conversations about health from a place of curiosity, it creates a safe environment for people to open up about their disabilities. Active listening can help you pay attention to the experiences of others and build trust with your team members. If you’re unaware of a particular condition, don’t hesitate to ask where you can find more information. You can also do your research online to avoid placing the burden of education on your team members. These actions show genuine care on your part and will help your team members perform to the best of their abilities.

2) Figure out how to help your team member succeed in their role.

Our research found that creating a broad policy around disability without understanding an individual’s specific needs does not work. Employees with disabilities may feel stigmatized by an umbrella policy that categorizes them in ways they don’t identify with. Their requirements may not be met by the accommodations offered.

Consequently, it’s important to have a more personalized approach, one that is tailored to each employee’s needs and ensures that they can access the right resources. The best way to figure this out is to ask your team members what accommodations would be helpful for them.

Our research found that when managers used language that linked an individual’s needs or accommodations to their performance and success at work, it helped employees voice their concerns more freely. When managers used phrases such as “How do I set you up for success?” or “What can I, as a manager, do to support you to perform your best?” they were seen as 92% more approachable by their team members. For instance, if your team member asks for a quiet space to work in, or flexible working hours on certain days to manage doctor appointments, look for ways to make it happen. If you need to speak with your boss before approving a request, let your team member know that you’ll get back to them, and make sure you follow up as soon as possible.

In general, make it a habit to check in on all of your employees’ wellbeing from time to time. During one-on-ones, you could say something like, “How have you been doing this quarter? I want to make sure you have all the resources you need to be successful at work. Can you tell me what support or accommodations you might need?”

Finally, if your team member requests your confidentiality, respect their decision, and do not push them to open up or disclose their health conditions with others. Let them know that every conversation you have with them will be private, and will not be shared with the wider team unless they wish to open up themselves. If you’re obligated to inform HR per your company policy, let your team member know.

3) Advocate for inclusive policies and practices.

If your company lacks a policy surrounding disabilities and accommodations, an important part of your job as a manager is to advocate for one or to make your current policies more inclusive. While this may seem challenging as a middle manager, you can begin by sharing your ideas and suggestions with your boss or the leadership team. You now have the (positional) power to bring new ideas to the table.

Set up a meeting with your boss to discuss some ways to prioritize inclusion within your company and share what you learned through your conversations with your team members. For example, maybe you know that some workers could benefit from more flexible work policies, employee resource groups (ERGs), or captioning or sign-language translations during important company calls and events.Just remember to respect individuals’ privacy as requested.

In our research, we found organizations that adopted inclusion initiatives, such as those listed above, reported a 26% increase in productivity. Another idea is to hire an inclusion advocate or consultant to help audit your company’s policies, conduct sensitization workshops, and suggest changes. When companies do that, employee wellbeing is likely to increase by 45%, according to our research.

Whatever your suggestion may be, advocating for changes that make it easier for people with disabilities to succeed can go a long way toward creating an inclusive workplace.

4)Avoid centering activities around food.

Food is vital to the contemporary workplace, whether it’s office parties, birthday celebrations, or lunch options within the company. It fuels long days, networking events, and happy hours; it can help build camaraderie, foster belongingness, andbreak barriers between workers’ formal and informal lives. But for employees with food allergies, the workplace can be a minefield.

Nearly 60% of millennials with food allergiesreport experiencing anxiety at workbecause of their condition. In addition, a study by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found that only17% of employers are very knowledgeable about food allergies. This leaves many workforces in the dark about their colleagues’ needs and how to accommodate them.

As a manager, do not leave it up to your employees to explain the consequences of food intolerances on their own. Symptoms of food intolerance are often very personal, and employees might think twice before volunteering information that can leave them vulnerable to stigma or ridicule at work. Managers who open up conversations about food allergies on their team before an important gathering or event were found to be 72% more approachable than their peers.

When planning office parties, include someone with food intolerances in the organizing group so you can create a more inclusive menu. You can also use creative ways to organize events around food. For instance, set up a potluck and ask everyone to bring one dish that helps you learn a little bit about them. Doing so can help your team members feel comfortable opening up about their intolerances or allergies, and make it easier for the others on the team to support their colleagues.

5) Establish an inclusive community.

Ninety percent of people with disabilities in our survey did not feel a sense of belonging at work. When there are peer support networks at work, people have the space to share their experiences without the fear of shame or reprimand.

Our research shows that managers who encourage their team to open up and create safe spaces by being vulnerable themselves were seen as 75% more approachable than those who didn’t. These “spaces” could include a dedicated Slack channel, regular coffee chats with the team for open-ended discussions, as well as formal ERGs (as mentioned above) where people with disabilities can interact with others going through similar experiences. Advocating for these spaces and motivating people to join them can make feel employees with disabilities feel seen.

Another idea is to create anonymous surveys for employee feedback on inclusion. This not only helps leaders learn where the organization can improve. It is also a moment to show genuine care and intent to change the status quo.

. . .

Making your workplace more inclusive for employees with disabilities doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re a new manager, know that you can take action and build a team culture that’s welcoming and accommodating. And when you do, you won’t just make your workplace more inclusive for those with disabilities — you’ll make it a better place to work for everyone.


How to create an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities? ›

5 steps to build an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities
  1. Step #1: Implement company-wide training. ...
  2. Step #2: Build a sourcing and retention plan. ...
  3. Step #3: Provide supports for employees with disabilities. ...
  4. Step #4: Communicate your disability inclusion plan internally. ...
  5. Step #5: Measure your return on investment.

How to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities? ›

Ensure the space is physically accessible.
  1. Language matters. ...
  2. Treat adults with disabilities as adults. ...
  3. Speak directly to people with disabilities, not at their aide or sign language interpreter. ...
  4. Listen patiently and attentively to a person who has difficulty speaking; do not try to finish their thoughts for them.

How can we support people with invisible disabilities? ›

Listen to what they have to say without interrupting or offering suggestions, and make it clear that they don't have to talk about their disability right then and there if they don't want to, but that you're open to listening when they do want to talk.

What is an inclusive environment for the disabled? ›

What is Disability Inclusion? Including people with disabilities in everyday activities and encouraging them to have roles similar to their peers who do not have a disability is disability inclusion.

How will you promote or show inclusivity to people with disabilities? ›

Foster an environment of inclusivity by asking employees with disabilities how they would like their disability to be addressed (if at all), what accommodations or support they might need (if any), in addition to how well they feel the organization promotes accessibility and inclusion.

What is workplace inclusivity for people with disabilities? ›

Disability inclusion at work is about more than hiring people with disabilities. An inclusive workplace values all employees for their strengths. It offers employees with disabilities — whether visible or invisible — an equal opportunity to succeed, to learn, to be compensated fairly, and to advance.

What is an example of how your workplace is inclusive? ›

Offering equal access to company resources is a fantastic example of inclusive behaviors in the workplace. For instance, do not limit access to senior management to some workers. Instead, ensure that all employees have equal support from team leaders and other company resources.

How can you make the workplace accessible for the blind? ›

Workplace Accessibility Tips for Companies
  1. Utilize assistive technology. ...
  2. Have a website that is easily accessible for visually impaired employees. ...
  3. Make written materials accessible for those with visual impairments. ...
  4. Make training accessible. ...
  5. Offer flexible scheduling. ...
  6. Offer time off. ...
  7. Allow guide dogs.
Dec 28, 2021

What is one way to adapt the workplace to be more accessible for employees with disabilities? ›

Pay attention to digital improvement. Large keyboards, voice recordings, screen enlargement apps, and other assistive technologies will go a long way in getting the job done by your disabled employees. Accommodate disabled employees' means of assistance, especially If it poses no threat to the general workplace.

How do you handle disabilities in the workplace? ›

Etiquette Basics
  1. Use person-first language. ...
  2. Speak directly to the person, rather than through an interpreter or friend.
  3. Make eye contact with the person, regardless of the disability.
  4. Ask before you help; the person will request assistance when needed.
  5. Treat people with disabilities just as you would anyone else.

Why is it important to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities? ›

It allows others to make life changing decisions for disabled people about their health, education and how they live their lives.

What is an example of inclusive design for disability? ›

Inclusive design products are accessible to as many users as possible without requiring disabled persons to buy a special model. Some examples include smartphones, automatic doors, large-grip kitchen utensils, e-readers with adjustable print sizes, and everyday voice assistants.

How do you encourage an inclusive and supportive environment? ›

Ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
  1. Be aware of unconscious bias. ...
  2. Communicate the importance of managing bias. ...
  3. Promote pay equity. ...
  4. Develop a strategic training program. ...
  5. Acknowledge holidays of all cultures. ...
  6. Make it easy for your people to participate in employee resource groups. ...
  7. Mix up your teams.
Jun 21, 2022

What special challenges do people with invisible disabilities face? ›

Those with an invisible illness or disability often face continual judgment from others. Symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog can lead to feelings of anger, isolation, and helplessness. Coping skills include lowering your expectations, picking your battles, and practicing self-compassion.

How do you support and encourage people with disabilities? ›

  1. Ask before you help; it's not always wanted. ...
  2. Be patient with how others communicate. ...
  3. Communicate naturally and with expressions. ...
  4. Don't ask intrusive questions. ...
  5. Communicate at eye level. ...
  6. Focus on the person, not their disability. ...
  7. Don't use patronising gestures like patting a head or shoulder.

What everyone should know about invisible disabilities? ›

Invisible disabilities are physical, mental, or neurological conditions that can limit or challenge a person's movements, senses, or activities, and can impact that person's ability to learn or work. Students and educators with hidden disabilities get unnoticed because others are not aware of their conditions.

What are examples of inclusive environment? ›

Culturally inclusive environment
  • freely express who they are, their own opinions and points of view.
  • fully participate in teaching, learning, work and social activities.
  • feel safe from abuse, harassment or unfair criticism.

How do you encourage people to be inclusive? ›

Five Ways to Encourage Inclusion in Your Office
  1. Educate yourself and your leaders. ...
  2. Lead by example. ...
  3. Create a culture of respect and openness. ...
  4. Change up the power dynamics. ...
  5. Get outside the office.
Oct 23, 2019

How will you promote inclusion? ›

Encourage Interaction: Give students opportunities to interact with each other so they can build friendships and a sense of community. Strengths-Based Approach: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Help kids develop their strengths and see that kids with special needs have strengths too.

How can you help to create inclusivity? ›

These skills will have the most impact as your leaders start learning how to create an inclusive environment.
  1. Build Empathy. What we hear: When it comes to empathy, leaders just don't “get it.” ...
  2. Run Inclusive Meetings. ...
  3. Give Honest Feedback. ...
  4. Resolve Conflict Fairly.
Dec 23, 2020

What are three ways you can make your workplace more inclusive? ›

7 ways to be more inclusive at work
  • Be yourself – be your authentic self. Be brave enough to show up at your workplace. ...
  • Speak up about inclusion. ...
  • Think about how you communicate. ...
  • Respond from a place of personal experience. ...
  • Pronouns. ...
  • Challenge stereotypes. ...
  • Support your co-workers' differences.

What strategies can work well to promote inclusion in the workplace? ›

Ways to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
  • Be aware of unconscious bias.
  • Communicate the importance of managing bias.
  • Promote pay equity.
  • Develop a strategic training program.
  • Acknowledge holidays of all cultures.
  • Make it easy for your people to participate in employee resource groups.
  • Mix up your teams.
Jun 21, 2022

What can we do to make visually impaired blind people's lives easier? ›

Tips to make life easier for someone with vision loss
  1. Lighting. Most people with low vision prefer natural light, the kind that comes through windows or from the sun. ...
  2. Contrast. High contrast between an object and the background, against which it is seen, is often helpful to individuals who are visually impaired. ...
  3. Labeling.

What accommodations do blind people need? ›

"Low Vision" Accommodations
  • Glare Protection Screen.
  • Large Monitor with High Resolution (19" - 25")
  • Magnified Display of Computer Screen.
  • Magnified Display of Hardcopy Material.
  • Large Print Production.
  • Copy Machine with Enlarging and Reducing Capability.
  • Color and Contrast Selection.
  • Keyboard Orientation Aids.

What are five 5 main communication strategies you would implement as disability support worker to maintain positive interaction with your client? ›

Some general tips for successful communication:
  • use a normal tone of voice—do not raise your voice unless asked to.
  • be polite and patient—do not rush the conversation.
  • speak directly to the person rather than the person with them.
  • ask the person what will help with communication—there are different ways to communicate.
Sep 5, 2018

What should companies do to attract potential employees with disabilities? ›

Here are 6 steps to take to make your recruitment and hiring process more inclusive of people with disabilities.
  1. Be mindful of your language. ...
  2. Refine your job requirements. ...
  3. Partner with community organizations. ...
  4. Provide necessary accommodations. ...
  5. Understand what you can and can't ask. ...
  6. Get feedback from existing employees.

What motivates employers to avoid hiring disabled workers? ›

Table 2
1They don't know how to handle the needs of a worker with a disability on the job
2They are afraid that workers who develop disabilities will become a liability to them
3They are worried about the cost of providing reasonable accommodations so that workers with disabilities can do their jobs
10 more rows
Mar 13, 2011

What are the 5 barriers for persons with disabilities? ›

Five of the most common kinds of barriers are:
  • Physical or Architectural Barriers.
  • Informational or Communicational Barriers.
  • Technological Barriers.
  • Organizational Barriers.
  • Attitudinal Barriers.
Nov 11, 2019

How can disabled accessibility be improved? ›

Ways to improve access for disabled patients
  1. Doorways. One way in which you can improve accessibility for disabled individuals is by widening doorways so that wheelchairs and mobility scooters can pass through easily. ...
  2. Ramps. ...
  3. Fire alarms. ...
  4. Bathroom facilities.

What are some advantages to an employer to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities? ›

Indirect Benefits
  • Improved interactions with co-workers: 57%
  • Increased overall company morale: 55%
  • Increased overall company productivity: 49%
  • Increased safety: 46%
  • Improved interactions with customers: 38%
  • Increased overall company attendance: 35%
  • Increased profitability: 20%
  • Increased customer base: 13%

How organizations can be more inclusive of disabled individuals? ›

Reasonable adjustments and their importance

One crucial way that an organisation can become inclusive for disabled individuals is by ensuring that they have made reasonable adjustments. Organisations must take positive steps to remove barriers that individuals will face because of their disability.

Why is it important to create an inclusive workplace? ›

Inclusion enhances employee engagement and innovation, creates a sense of belonging, improves the employee experience, enhances innovation and improves leadership skills and abilities. “An inclusive culture is essential for recruiting and retaining the type of talent needed to succeed as a business,” said Savage.

How does inclusion of people with and without disabilities benefit us all? ›

Some of the benefits of inclusion for children with (or without) disabilities are friendship skills, peer models, problem solving skills, positive self-image, and respect for others. This can trickle down to their families as well, teaching parents and families to be more accepting of differences.

What is disability inclusion strategy? ›

Through the Strategy, the organizations of the United Nations system reaffirm that the full and complete realization of the human rights of all persons with disabilities is an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

What is inclusivity for people with disabilities? ›

Instead of describing someone as “special needs” or “wheelchair-bound,” you can say that they “require accommodations” or “use a wheelchair.” It's also best to describe accessible spaces or resources as such. “Accessible parking” is a more inclusive sentiment than “handicapped parking,” for example.

How can employees promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace? ›

Actively engage in the diversity effort. You can take part in or start an Employee Resource Group, or volunteer to chair or serve on committees that organize diversity- related events and activities. Consider becoming a mentor, mentee, or part of a co- mentoring relationship.

What does inclusion mean in the workplace? ›

Inclusion. The recognition, appreciation, and use of the talents and skills of employees of all backgrounds.

How can I be more inclusive with diversity? ›

7 ways to be more inclusive at work
  1. Be yourself – be your authentic self.
  2. Speak up about inclusion.
  3. Think about how you communicate.
  4. Respond from a place of personal experience.
  5. Pronouns.
  6. Challenge stereotypes.
  7. Support your co-workers' differences.

What are ways to become a more inclusive individual? ›

  • 7 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Everyday Life. ...
  • 1 / Mindful communication: listen more, talk carefully. ...
  • 2 / Challenge stereotypes. ...
  • 3 / Avoid assumptions. ...
  • 4 / Ask yourself and others (the right) questions. ...
  • 5 / Be aware of your privileges. ...
  • 6 / Be proactive in educating yourself on the topic.
Jul 25, 2019

How can I be inclusive of special education? ›

Making Classrooms Inclusive for Special Needs
  1. Review Individual Education Plans. ...
  2. Create a Safe Space. ...
  3. Consider How Students Interact With Their Environment. ...
  4. Differentiate Instruction. ...
  5. Rely on Your Fellow Teachers.

How can workplaces be more inclusive? ›

To get you started, here are some strategies to promote inclusiveness of culture:
  1. Use inclusive language. ...
  2. Create safe spaces for your employees. ...
  3. Be open to employees' feedback. ...
  4. Expand the company holiday calendar (include holidays that represent different religious beliefs) ...
  5. Provide diversity training for everyone.
Sep 19, 2022

How do you build inclusion in the workplace? ›

6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace
  1. Educate Your Leaders.
  2. Form an Inclusion Council.
  3. Celebrate Employee Differences.
  4. Listen to Employees.
  5. Hold More-Effective Meetings.
  6. Communicate Goals and Measure Progress.
Mar 19, 2018

What are 3 ways to promote inclusion? ›

  • Make it Personal. Provide opportunities for students to share their own experiences and perspectives. ...
  • Include Various Perspectives. Provide a variety of perspectives on the topics you teach. ...
  • Know Your Students. Get to know your students. ...
  • Respect Diverse People. ...
  • Respect Diverse Talents.

What are five things you can do to become more intentionally inclusive? ›

5 Ways to Be More Intentionally Inclusive
  • Ask explicitly for help and money. ...
  • Coordinate with someone who can do the work. ...
  • Offer accessible experiences. ...
  • Consider diversity outside of race. ...
  • Ask about institutional support.
Nov 13, 2022

What are some ways to run a successful inclusive? ›

5 Inclusive Classroom Strategies To Build A Safe Community
  • Get to Know Your Students and Let Them Get to Know You. Establishing a bond with your students takes time. ...
  • Create a Safe Space for Students to Share. ...
  • Deliver Instruction in a Variety of Ways. ...
  • Choose Relevant Literature. ...
  • Invite Guest Speakers to Share Their Stories.

How do you create an inclusive learning environment? ›

Tips for Making Classrooms More Inclusive as Students Head Back To School
  1. Use inclusive language on all forms. ...
  2. Stock your library shelves with diverse books. ...
  3. Create a welcoming bulletin board. ...
  4. Develop clear classroom and/or school agreements. ...
  5. Prepare for teachable moments. ...
  6. Model inclusive language.
Aug 24, 2018

What does inclusion mean in special needs? ›

Special Education Guide explains that inclusion means making space for all types of students to learn side-by-side in school programs, from academics to extracurriculars.

What is inclusion special needs? ›

Inclusion––the preferred term––involves supporting students with disabilities through individual learning goals, accommodations, and modifications so that they are able to access the general education curriculum (in the general education classroom) and be held to the same high expectations as their peers.


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