From weighing disclosure to communicating about adjustments, EY offers inclusion strategies for non-visible disabilities.
Disability is just a kind of difference. And, as with other kinds of differences, some people may be uncomfortable with disabilities. They could be unsure how to behave in an unfamiliar or unsettling situation. Or the person’s disability may require them to change their way of doing things.
At EY, we see diversity as a strength — and research bears out this perspective. Diversity is a source of insight and adaptability, generating better business ideas and high-quality service for our clients. Differing abilities are part of that healthy diversity.
EY can help organizations — including colleagues, leaders and managers and employees with non-visible disabilities — think through some of the challenges that can arise around working with non-visible disabilities to create an environment where all people feel comfortable and enabled to do their best work.
Understanding non-visible disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a person may be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity, has a history of disability or is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not minor nor transitory.
Non-visible disabilities cannot be seen and are not obviously apparent. Three common categories of non-visible disabilities are:
- Chronic health conditions and illnesses: diabetes, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome
- Sensory: hard of hearing, low vision, mobility limitations
- Mental health and learning: depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD
Adjustments vs. accommodations
An accommodation is a workplace or process modification that supports an employee to be more productive. It’s necessary — not a personal preference or privilege. Although legally accurate, “accommodation” suggests that the person with the disability is receiving a favor. Instead, we prefer the term adjustment. It captures the idea without suggesting favoritism or special treatment.
- The Job Accommodation Network is a free, government-sponsored website that gives an overview of specific disabilities and discusses possible adjustments.
- Whether you’re designing workspace at your office, hosting an event or welcoming visitors, it’s essential that the facilities are accessible for everyone. This checklist can help guide your decisions.
Deciding whether to reveal a non-visible disability can be difficult. You may be concerned that people will view you differently, or limit your opportunities.
But if a disability affects your proficiency, there’s risk in not disclosing. A reasonable adjustment may help you work differently, so the disability doesn’t undermine your performance. Sometimes people delay disclosure until performance significantly declines; by then, it may be hard to rebuild your reputation and relationships.
Leading practice organizations are committed to handling disability disclosures confidentially. At times, it may be helpful to share limited information with colleagues and/or supervisors to avoid misperceptions, build trust and enlist their support with implementing reasonable adjustments. It often takes a team effort for an accommodation to work well, and some degree of openness helps unite everyone to support that effort.
Communicating with colleagues
If your adjustment — such as a change in work routine — affects the day-to-day operations of your team, let coworkers know what to expect. If you don’t want to discuss your disability, share about the modification itself — not why, but what.
If asked a direct question, reply in a general way. Restate the question in your response and focus on how the work will get done, not on your condition.
Q: Why do you have to take so many breaks?
A: I work better when I take regular, planned breaks. If you’d like to know when I’m available, I can share that schedule with you.
If you are Deaf or hard of hearing, share this guide to communication with colleagues.
Five ways to minimize negativity
When adjustments affect how a team or group works together — requiring different methods of communication, changes in how work is assigned or deliverables are produced — colleagues may express discomfort or resentment.
Here are some proactive steps you can take to minimize negativity:
- Be specific. Uncertainty causes discomfort. Provide as much information about changes as possible.
- Be appreciative. Thank people often — not because making changes is doing you a favor, but as recognition of the effort involved.
- Be helpful. If coworkers make special efforts to support you, do the same for them.
- Be collegial. Build positive relationships. If coworkers are invested in their relationship with you, they’ll more readily support you.
- Show your dedication. Be a strong contributor to discussions, meetings and group projects. Volunteer to take on tasks.