“Before I begin working on a project, I give my colleagues tips on how we can communicate most effectively since it’s not obvious that I am hard of hearing. I find that if I ask them at the start to do things a certain way, it’s easier and more efficient for everyone.”
For leaders and supervisors
As a leader, your goal is to harness the diversity of your team to produce the best possible work. But the nature of non-visible disability poses special challenges. Along with the need to maintain confidentiality, the adjustments you introduce may pose unwelcome changes to the broader team. Take proactive steps to help everyone adapt, communicate and make their best contributions.
A disability is a personal matter. If an individual chooses not to disclose a non-visible disability, it’s inappropriate to ask directly. However, it’s entirely appropriate to share observations about behaviors that impact work performance or professionalism.
Communicating with the team
When an adjustment prompts changes to a team’s routine, members may express frustration and resentment about the perceived inconvenience.
Here’s how you can prevent backlash before it starts:
- Clearly communicate new arrangements and address any uncertainties. Solicit comments and questions. Provide a summary email to ensure that everyone has the same understanding.
- Discuss the facts of the adjustment, not the disability itself. Avoid using the word “accommodation.” It compromises confidentiality, and may raise questions you can’t answer without violating privacy or trust.
- Create a positive team dynamic. Emphasize that, to work effectively together, team members must recognize and adjust for individual needs. Model flexibility and acceptance in your approach.
- There’s a tendency to judge people with non-visible disabilities based on one’s own difficulties: e.g., the person with chronic fatigue syndrome isn’t disabled, just tired, and “we’re all tired from these heavy workloads.” Counter this mindset by recognizing all team members’ needs. When people feel they’re receiving appropriate consideration, they’re more likely to express cooperation.
- Show your support for the individual with disabilities. Treat them equitably in assignments. Solicit their comments during meetings. This isn’t about showing favoritism, but about demonstrating that you value the person’s contributions.
- Assess the impact of the adjustment not only on the individual, but also on the team. Review at regular intervals. Provide opportunities for everyone to give input — not on the adjustment, but on how things are working overall.
“As a supervisor, when someone asks me about another person’s accommodation, I just say that the arrangement is the most effective way for that individual to work. I state it as a fact, pure and simple. No more explanation is needed.”
Only when everyone is supported to do their best work can teams function at their highest levels. That’s why it’s in everyone’s interest to respect all differences — both the visible and the non-visible.
One in four Americans lives with a diagnosable mental illness or addiction each year. At EY, we’re working every day to grow our culture of caring, where each person can do his or her best work. Mental illness is complex, but offering your support doesn’t need to be. In four simple steps, we tell you how.
People with disabilities represent the largest and fastest-growing minority in the US. As the workforce grows more diverse, organizations face a mounting challenge: how to provide every employee with a consistent experience, access to development and growth opportunities and a bias-free workplace? In this article, EY offers practical guidance and strategies for advancing the inclusion of people with non-visible disabilities — and harnessing the proven power of diversity.