How to Help People with Disabilities Become Leaders in Their Workplace

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Differently-abled people have always been at a disadvantage, especially in their workplace. That’s because they face multiple challenges and stigmas. For example, people think that they cannot lead, communicate well, aren’t reliable, etc. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they usually face communication, physical, social, transportation, attitudinal, and policy barriers. Hence, many qualified individuals couldn’t land leadership opportunities because of disability stereotypes. 

However, this systematic inequality can sometimes have a financial impact on the industry. That’s why many organizations have started to be more ‘gracious’ towards people with impairments. They’re slowly getting equal opportunities and the ability to accomplish their goals. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss the type of help people with physical impairments require, tips to help them become workplace leaders, challenges faced, etc.

What Qualifies as a Disability in an Office Setting?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with a mental or physical impairment that limits their ability to perform major tasks qualify as ‘having a disability.’ These include deafness, asthma, cancer, depression, blindness, missing limbs, arthritis, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and diabetes. 

However, the determination and resilience of these individuals ensure that their disabilities don’t hamper their work lives. Even then, some candidates refrain from disclosing their invisible disabilities to employers at the time of hire to avoid discrimination or special treatment. 

Usually, young candidates don’t report their disabilities because they think it might impact their work or that their opportunities will be taken away. They’re afraid that they’ll face multiple challenges and stigma once everyone knows about their impairments.

7 Challenges an Employee with Disabilities Can Face

Differently-abled people working in an office setting can face mental and physical challenges at work. That’s mostly because of the lack of training and the barriers to advanced education. However, they’re expected to overcome workplace challenges and deal with new circumstances on their own. 

The usual challenges faced by employees with impairments include the following: 

  1. Self-doubt can stop them from pursuing new opportunities. 
  2. It’s hard to find inclusive workplaces that align with their skills and strengths.
  3. Anxiety and a lack of confidence can hamper their performance. 
  4. Physical barriers in work environments can limit accessibility. 
  5. Inflexible policies and strict hours can make it difficult for them to focus and be productive.
  6. They have difficulty learning about new tasks and adapting to new limitations without assistive technology. 
  7. Social stigma can discourage the attitudes of coworkers, leading to miscommunication, discrimination, etc.

Employees with disabilities are also paid less because employers believe they cannot perform well. These individuals are sometimes mistreated and looked down upon by their company leaders. All these can reduce their chance of securing a leadership role. 

Thankfully, things are slowly getting better due to disability inclusion policies. Companies that incorporated this received 2.6 times their usual net income and generated 1.6 times more revenue.

How Can They Overcome These Challenges?

The first step towards overcoming challenges as a differently-abled person in any workplace is to inform employers about their disabilities. While discussing something like this can be nerve-racking, it’s important to help the organization understand their impairments. 

This way, the employee can request reasonable accommodations and explain any unusual circumstances. Examples include an ergonomic chair, the ability to work remotely, multiple doctor visits, etc. The company can then hold sessions with other employees to discuss the right code of conduct. All these will help boost their confidence and productivity at work.

People with impairments can also cope with workplace challenges by following these tips: 

  • Build self-confidence by accepting the disability, managing stress levels, embracing assistive devices, and focusing on their strengths.
  • Know how to deal with discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace. For instance, the employee should speak out about any issues they’re facing with coworkers.
  • Not feeling ashamed about their impairments and accepting new accommodations offered by the company. 
  • Advocate for their needs to ensure optimal productivity at work. Examples include reserved parking, braille materials, noise-canceling devices, one-on-one meetings, etc.

Once they overcome these challenges with help from their employers, they can surely land a leadership role after fostering a growth mindset. 

Why Do People With Impairments Require Assistance?

Approximately 27% of adults in America have some form of disability. These individuals have physical and mental limitations that might stop them from doing regular tasks properly. Hence, they require some sort of assistance. 

Without help from the government, society, educational institutions, and their workplace, they cannot live up to their fullest potential. All they need is a little guidance, acceptance, and assistance to become successful.

For example, an employee with impairments will need access to specialized equipment and technological modifications. Help with daily transportation will also empower them to become more productive. Similarly, offering proper coaching and therapy benefits could help them secure a leadership role.

With these, they can successfully overcome social or physical obstacles and make their way to the top of any organization. Hence, their impairment won’t stop or affect them from becoming leaders. 

Four Tips to Help People With Disabilities Become Workplace Leaders

Seme Michael Lado didn’t let his disability stop him from pursuing his dreams of becoming a coach. At 27, he has worked towards disability inclusion and spreading awareness about the differently-abled in South Sudan. However, that was only possible because he got support and assistance from an NGO.

His story proves that differently-abled people can become leaders in their respective workplaces if they’re given proper opportunities. Some of them include the following:

1. Offering Assistance to Find Suitable Jobs

Some companies don’t want to hire people with disabilities because of the stigma about their lack of performance in a competitive setting. They’re also concerned about employee safety and the cost of offering accommodations. However, that’s mostly because these employers don’t know how to properly offer them guidance and support.

Hence, providing job help for those with disabilities is necessary. Educational institutions and organizations can collaboratively create job training programs that could help foster an inclusive workplace. 

With this, candidates with impairments can go through training opportunities and determine which career option works best for their skills. It guides young adults with disabilities to excel at their jobs and become leaders. This program also assists the company in understanding the candidate’s needs and requirements. 

2. Providing Counseling and Assessing Them Based on Their Skills

Organizations need to understand that a candidate with disabilities isn’t a liability for the company. They are just as qualified (maybe more) as every other employee. But sometimes, they might need extra guidance or help to move forward in their career. 

That’s why organizations or educational institutions should offer employment-related assessments or counseling services to help them understand their progress and place in the company. With this, they’ll receive actionable advice on improving their skills and expertise. These assessments and sessions can also provide them with the help required to secure a leadership role.

3. Access to Assistance at the Workplace

Individuals with disabilities might experience personal challenges that could affect their work relationships. That’s why companies need to create support groups to help them deal with their impairments without hindering performance. They can also hold training sessions to teach other employees about disability inclusion. 

Other than that, these individuals might struggle with physical tasks. Hence, employers should bring in assistive technology or workspace modifications to support them. Doing so will foster inclusiveness, enhance their productivity, and help them lead. 

4. Support from Their Employers

In a workplace, the employer plays an important role in ensuring that their workers with disabilities feel empowered and comfortable. Without an inclusive environment, these individuals cannot thrive or become leaders. 

Therefore, an employer can create a positive and welcoming environment by:

  • Learning more about the particular disability and how to accommodate it
  • Identifying the employee’s strengths and utilizing that skillset
  • Answering curious questions from other employees about the disability
  • Changing the workplace culture, policies, and resources 

With a little help and reasonable accommodations, people with impairments can shine bright. Guidance from their leaders could also help them land leadership roles. Companies should train their management staff on how to communicate and work with differently-abled employees without discrimination or stigma. 

The Importance of Disability Inclusion

Approximately 21.3% of people with disabilities were employed in 2022, compared to 19.1% in 2021. It proves that unemployment rates have significantly gone down. That’s mostly because companies have realized the importance of disability inclusion and representation. 

Let’s take Lauren Oplinger, for example. She is blind, but that didn’t stop her from becoming vice president at J.P. Morgan. 

Today, Lauren uses her skills to manage company assets, tax-exempt funds, bonds, and more. Colleagues say Lauren’s exhilarating energy demonstrates her overwhelming drive to unify her team and succeed. 

Her story is strong enough to inspire young minds to pursue their dreams, irrespective of their disabilities. It proves that fostering disability inclusion is important to drive change and create an environment for these individuals to shine. Including people with disabilities can also empower other employees and raise awareness. 

With this, companies can showcase their culture of inclusion and accessibility. It fosters a community of belongingness and ensures that the ‘disability viewpoint’ is included. Seeing them in leadership roles can also drive disability inclusion and representation in the industry. 

Differently-abled people face a lot of challenges in life, especially in the workplace. For instance, they’re subjected to various social and occupational barriers at work. While there are ways they can overcome them, it’s always best to create a welcoming, accessible, and understanding environment for them.

Society can come together and offer assistance through disability inclusion and address the associated stigma. Doing this will help them secure a leadership position in their workplace.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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