Often, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to disabilities. Did you know that some disabilities are invisible? That’s right, some disabilities are not obvious at first sight, and we might not be aware that someone is disabled just by looking at them. Some disabilities do not present themselves in a physical form. They include autism, chronic pain, learning difficulties, mental health conditions, mobility, speech impairments, and sensory loss such as speech, sight loss, hearing loss, or deafness. Invisible disabilities can also include respiratory conditions and chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic pain, and sleep disorders when these significantly impact day-to-day life. 

There is always the assumption that you will be able to tell if someone is disabled, and this is far from the truth. Although you may not be able to see these invisible impairments and conditions, they’re still there. Invisible disabilities are as prevalent in society as physical ones. Often people think that if someone has a disability, they should be treated differently because they are special when this isn’t the case. We can take actions to help make it easier for people who might have a disability. For example, did you know that more than 6.2 million Canadians have a disability? That’s almost 22% of the population in this country! So, how can we create an inclusive work environment to anticipate the needs of everyone, whether they’re able-bodied, disabled or have an invisible disability? 

1 out of 10 Canadians also has a learning disability, so your environments should be tailored to visible and invisible disabilities. Have the flexibility to work from home as needed for those who may have a chronic illness or the ability to leave as required, whether stepping out of a meeting or going home early for the day. Using appropriate language and communication is essential and speaking openly with your leaders about mental health and how they as leaders can help their staff. Action and commitment are crucial. You can’t just talk about why inclusivity matters; you must also show it through actions.

creating an accessible workplace disabilities
creating an accessible workplace disabilities

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creating an inclusive in-person work environment

As an employer, there are actions that you can take to create an inclusive in-person environment. Whether you have offices, a manufacturing plant, or a retail location, there are ways to adapt. The most common type of accommodation that workplaces take is making flexible work arrangements (27%) followed by workstation modifications (15%) and human or technical support (6%). In addition, 75% of employees with disabilities who require only one accommodation have their needs met. However, this drops to 36% when they require three or more, according to Statistics Canada. There are simple yet effective solutions that you can take as an employer to help accommodate an inclusive work environment. 

  • Ensure your workplace is physically accessible. Start by making sure that your place of work is physically accessible, check if there would be mobility issues such as stairs without an elevator or ramp. Make sure that you have open spaces, not too crowded with desks or fixtures. This will allow people in wheelchairs to move around freely. Make sure that your washrooms are accessible for everyone, and this includes being gender-neutral and designed for anyone who may have mobility issues. 
  • Do you have a flexible work policy? With remote work becoming the norm in many industries, particularly office-bound sectors, there’s no excuse to not have a well-rounded flexible work policy. Insisting employees come into the office every day 9 to 5 ‘just because’ no longer cuts it. For people with disabilities, chronic pain or mental health concerns, work flexibility can mean the difference between being unable to work and holding a steady job where they’re able to make meaningful contributions.
  • Remember that physical or visible disabilities aren’t the only disabilities you need to be thinking about. 1 in 10 Canadians has a learning disability and many more are neurodivergent (meaning their brains don’t operate in the same way as most other people’s do). While creating a physically accommodating workspace is a great first step, also think about how you can make your workplace a mentally healthy place. Your work culture and approach to employee concerns are key. Focus on employees as people with diverse needs and goals, rather than solely productivity machines.
  • Have an accessible, non-gendered washroom available. An accessible washroom should be a neutral space and be physically accessible for people with mobility devices or who have other physical limitations. Mobility bars, extra space, motion-controlled taps & dispensers, and other accessibility features are common in these spaces to maximize accessibility for a wide range of people. 
  • Talk about mental health openly in your workplace and provide resources to your employees. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and workplace burnout. Physical and mental health are deeply intertwined and should be treated as such, rather than two separate issues. For some, mental health concerns such as depression can lead to physical symptoms such as an inability to sleep that impact their day-to-day lives. For others, having a physical disability can lead to stress and anxiety as they wonder if they’ll be able to participate fully in their workplace. Talk openly about the importance of mental health and taking time to destress and decompress for both mental and physical wellbeing. In a healthy workplace, employees should feel comfortable talking to their manager or leaders about their mental state when they’re struggling and be able to voice their concerns or needs openly and without fear.

creating an inclusive environment remotely

You may assume that since an employee is working from home or remotely, that there isn’t anything that you as an employer need to do when it comes to creating an inclusive environment for those who have visible and invisible disabilities. That is an incorrect assumption to make, and there are many things that you as an employer can do to ensure that you’re creating an inclusive environment. Working from home perhaps is more accessible for those who have invisible disabilities. Many feel more comfortable, productive, and safe. Most importantly, a remote workplace allows people to take care of their needs as they arise, without judgment. There are ways to create an inclusive work environment online for everyone. Creating an inclusive online environment can include simple things such as

  • Make sure that any office tools you and your teams must rely on are accessible for everyone to complete their work. This includes software employees use to complete their work, email, chat, and meeting platforms. For example, if you regularly use a video conferencing platform, does it offer live captions or transcriptions for those who can’t hear or struggle with following a meeting by ear alone? These tools can support employees with disabilities but they can also be beneficial for everyone on your team.
  • Think about when you schedule meetings. You can take the pressure off of your employees by scheduling meetings well in advance so that neurodiverse people can have time to prepare. As an employer, you can also take into consideration meeting times. Meetings very early in the morning or later in the evening may be challenging for people with chronic illness; try to organize or plan for late mornings or early afternoons. When in doubt, consult employees and what times work best for them.
  • Share meeting agendas ahead of time. This allows neurodiverse people time to review necessary materials and feel comfortable, particularly if they need to contribute. After your meetings, also make sure to send out materials for people who are visual learners rather than auditory learners. Make sure you’re using fonts that are clear and legible. 

These small measures can mean so much to someone who is neurodivergent or has an invisible disability. It’s really taking a little time to make sure that everyone is comfortable to get on with the task at hand, all within an inclusive environment.

learn more about creating an inclusive environment

Creating an inclusive environment for everyone should be a priority for you and your organization. Still, business reality means that it might be challenging to plan and execute on your own. Randstad D&I specialists can help you create an inclusivity plan and actions on how to achieve them. Here are just a few examples of how our expertise can help:

  • We can help define your company D&I goals and develop a comprehensive strategy
  • We can walk you through how you can adapt your HR strategy to support D&I
  • You’ll have access to workplace insights and the drivers behind employer D&

If you’re ready to discuss your D&I strategies with an expert partner with deep expertise in the HR and recruitment space, our door is always open.

connect with our D&I consulting team for guidance.

If you’re ready to discuss your D&I strategies with an expert partner with deep expertise in the HR and recruitment space, our door is always open.

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