Disability and Accessibility in the Workplace

Disability is not a disadvantage. For people with disabilities, finding gainful employment can be a difficult task. In the United States, it has been estimated that only 26% of adults with a disability are employed compared to 64% of individuals without a disability. In Canada, it is estimated that less than 20% of working age adults with a disability are employed. One common misconception about individuals with disabilities is that they cannot do the same jobs as someone who does not have a disability. The fact is, people with disabilities can and do perform well in all sorts of professional settings. When it comes to finding gainful employment in Canada and the United States, there are many legal protections in place to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. Employees with disabilities contribute to the DEI of an ESG score.

Visible vs Invisible Disabilities at Work

A visible disability is defined as an impairment that can be observed by others through the use of human senses. This includes physical, cognitive, sensory, and/or intellectual impairments.

An invisible disability comprises conditions which are not immediately noticeable to others. People who have invisible disabilities still experience the same limitations as people with visible disabilities but are able to “mask”, or conceal, their disability more easily.

The World Health Organization on Disabled Employment

There are many factors that play a role in the employment of individuals with disabilities. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Inclusive labour markets can provide opportunities to people with disabilities, including disabled children and adolescents, but they also face barriers which may prevent them from seeking or accepting paid work.” In order for employers to successfully employ individuals with disabilities, these barriers must be identified and eliminated. One common barrier that often prevents people with disabilities from being employed is a lack of accessibility to the work place or certain equipment necessary for performing job tasks. Simply put, if individuals with disabilities cannot access the workplace, they cannot perform the duties of a particular job.

There are certain laws in Canada and the United States that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.

Disability and Employment Laws

There are certain laws in Canada and the United States that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. These laws prohibit employers from treating a person differently because of their disability and require employers to make accommodations for employees with disabilities which are reasonable. Under these laws, employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for persons with disabilities. In other words, they must remove barriers to access when making accommodations in the workplace for employees with disabilities, to ensure their safety and comfort in the workplace. Individuals with disabilities are not always aware that they may be entitled to reasonable accommodation in the work place. Or if they do know, they do not always understand what is required of them to receive this protection.

What is a disability?

Disabled persons are generally defined as those who have, “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” These disabilities can include, but are not limited to:


-low vision or blindness

-orthopedic impairments, including but not limited to amputations, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, fractures or burns that cause contractures, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis in various joints such as the spine or knees.

-respiratory problems

-cardiac conditions

-cerebral vascular accident or stroke

-cancer or other types of chronic illness

-learning disabilities, including but not limited to dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or autism spectrum disorder

-mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

How to accommodate disabled employees

There are many ways to accommodate employees with disabilities and it is up to employers to determine the best possible solution. The key is for business is to be aware of their obligations and gain a better understanding of how they can improve. This starts by training managers on what accommodations people may need, along with hiring disabled employees as part of an effort to build an understanding of diverse needs at the workplace.

6 ways for businesses to accommodate people with disabilities

Employers should consider how they may better support employees with disabilities. This can include:

  • Providing ergonomic computer equipment like a standing desk to reduce back pain.
  • Providing flexible work hours to allow therapy appointments.
  • Allowing extra vacation days for therapy sessions.
  • Training managers on what to say or do if an employee is visibly or audibly distressed.
  • Providing assistive technology devices for employees with various disabilities.
  • Assigning a co-worker buddy system for a disabled employee who has been out on medical leave for an extended period of time to help them transition back.

9 ways accessibility can be improved in the workplace?

Some employers may not be sure of how to make their workplace more accommodating. Below are some ways that they can best improve the work place:

  • create an inclusive attitude and revise company policies
  • allowing employees to use assistive technology tools
  • ensuring that office areas are free of clutter and obstacles like cords or potted plants that might inhibit someone who has trouble walking
  • constructing accessible bathrooms with grab bars, slip-resistant floors and lower sinks.
  • making the necessary accommodations relevant to their disability
  • speaking with employees about their needs before they need to ask
  • providing ergonomic equipment for their work area that will not interfere with the job requirements
  • offering flexible work hours or alternatives to assigned tasks that are uncomfortable for someone who has a disability
  • train for inclusion

What are non-visible disabilities?

Not all disabilities are visible. The term “invisible disability” or “hidden disability” are umbrella phrases that encompasses a wide range of hidden impairments or challenges that are primarily neurological in nature. You may even know someone with a disability but didn’t know it. Invisible or non-visible disabilities include, but are not limited to:

  • hearing impairments
  • sight impairments
  • mobility issues such as back pain or head injuries
  • mental health conditions like anxiety and depression
  • developmental conditions like autism or ADHD
  • chronic pain 

The benefits of hiring people with disabilities have been noted across research studies…

What are the benefits of hiring people with disabilities?

The benefits of hiring people with disabilities have been noted across research studies. It was found that the employment of disabled workers reduced business costs for transportation and production since they are able to work from home. Employers also benefit from reduced recruitment costs since they are seeking out potential employees with disabilities, who are more likely to accept jobs rather than continue looking.

“There is ample evidence that employers also see tangible benefits in hiring people with disabilities,” said Kevin Miller director of research for SHRM, “..including increased productivity, team diversity and lower job-related injury rates.”

Organizations that can support disabled employees will have a competitive advantage in hiring top talent because they are providing an accommodating environment to all potential candidates. This may be why managers are beginning to promote hiring persons with disabilities as a mission.

Disability and accessibility are very similar in that they both can be defined as preventing someone from performing their duties at their highest capacity.

What does disability inclusion have to do with accessibility?

As society becomes more aware of people’s individual needs, the necessity for workplace access is becoming more apparent. Disability and accessibility are very similar in that they both can be defined as preventing someone from performing their duties at their highest capacity. Accessibility is the quality or state of being accessible. So disability and accessibility are essentially on the same spectrum; it is the quality of accessibility that determines whether something is a disability or not.

How does Disability fit into ESG strategies?

Businesses and corporations often promote themselves as responsible and ethical organizations. Socially responsible business includes, but is not limited to:

  • reduces environmental impact
  • engages in fair trade practices
  • respects human rights
  • treats employees fairly and with respect…and more!   

By hiring people with disabilities, businesses can show that they are providing an environment that is accepting of all potential employees, which will help them attract the best talent. It shows that they value inclusion and diversity in their workforce.

At any rate, disability benefits businesses because it broadens their talent pool while simultaneously allowing them to show socially responsible behavior. Disability is simply another aspect of inclusion. Employers that think outside the box about how disability affects their workforce will benefit financially and socially.

The Accessible Workplace in Canada

Canada’s accessibility law makes it compulsory for federally regulated entities to make sure their workplaces are disability-friendly. This includes government buildings, banks, telecommunications providers, transportation and railways. The new law will also apply to construction of new public spaces such as shopping centres, movie theatres and restaurants.

Accessible Canada’s goal according to the Department of Justice is that “people with disabilities have the same opportunities as all members of Canadian society to fully take part in our economy, society and institutions.”

Accessible Workplaces in the United States

In the United States, there is a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities called The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA requires organizations to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job candidates with disabilities.

However, most businesses have not been proactive about this so far because they are concerned about costs and lawsuits. In fact, many do not know how to make their workplaces more accessible.

Accessible Workplaces in the UK

In the UK, The Equality Act of 2010 is meant to protect people from discrimination in the workplace. The Act defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal daily activities.

Under the Act, every employer must make reasonable adjustments in order for everyone to have equal access to work. Reasonable adjustments may include temporarily changing a role, providing special equipment, adjusting hours or even re-assigning an employee altogether.

Why is disability important to your organization?

Job candidates with disabilities are already disadvantaged because of the current hiring process due to lack of accommodations. If companies want to increase diversity, they should be willing and open-minded about assisting prospective employees with disabilities. Having a diverse workforce is not just about hiring employees with disabilities, but also understanding how to work with people who have disabilities. An organization that is compassionate and willing to go the extra mile for their employees will be able to attract the best talent, which will bring more diversity into their workforce.

Offer Accessibility Tools or Assistive Technology

Microsoft has developed accessibility tools that are practical, intelligent and integrated in Windows 10 and Office 365. These include closing captions, live call transcriptions and text-to-narrator communication. They even provide built in software tools that will help employees check that messages can be accessed by others. Other assistive technologies include voice recognition, screen readers and text-to-speech programs.

Train Your Workforce

Employees have to know how to use these tools if they are going to be effective. Therefore it is your responsibility as an employer to train all employees on how assistive technologies work. Giving more people access means you need more skilled professionals who understand disability and are able to implement accessibility tools effectively.

The Last Word on Disability in the Workplace

We hope this article has helped you understand why disability is important for your workplace, how to make it accessible, the positive results of hiring people with disabilities and tools you can use to attract talented employees. A company that is compassionate and willing to go the extra mile for their employees will be able to attract the best talent, which will bring more diversity into their workforce.

Caveats and Disclaimers

We have covered many topics in this article and want to be clear that any reference to, or mention of accessible employee’s ability, digital, hiring process, screen, reader, private sector, conscious effort, disabled, constant, evaluation cycles, employment, opportunities, wheelchair, individuals, ever evolving process, friendly, hiring, needs, accommodations, opinion, expert, signage, captioning, benefit, resources, barriers, law, long way, example, productivity, physical or Ontario in the context of this article is purely for informational purposes and not to be misconstrued with investment advice or personal opinion. Thank you for reading.