Different Abilities in the Workplace

Inclusion in the workplace is a relatively new concept in our history, marked by the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and its subsequent updates and iterations. Of course, people with different abilities were found in the workplace long before 1990, but the ADA has made it law that employers may not discriminate on the basis of a disability. Yet it is much more recent that a recognition of the different strengths and abilities has become increasingly mainstream.

Part of that may come down to simple math. A recent study found that workplaces with truly inclusive work environments had an almost 30% higher revenue, and 30% greater profit margins, with two times the net income of industry peers, in the last 4 years. It turns out, it isn’t just the right thing to do, but also makes perfect business sense.

When we think about those who need protection by the ADA, the focus tends to be on what a person is not able to do, or what accommodations may be necessary. However, by the very nature of being differently-abled, workers with disabilities tend to be more positive, resilient, and adaptable. Company morale and overall camaraderie and teamwork are also enhanced – not just for the person who needs accommodations, but for the team in general. This makes sense when we consider that almost a fourth of the workforce is working with a disability – and likely not disclosing it.

Those with different abilities come with different strengths. For example, you likely would not find the employee with ASD at the center of office gossip at the water cooler, and workplaces have noticed that those with ASD tend to achieve anywhere from 50-140% more work than their colleagues. Known for hyper-focus abilities, a person on the spectrum can get immersed in their work, and hyper-focus on the task at hand.

Those that are neurodiverse (which includes ADHD, ASD, Asperger’s, and learning differences, among other terms) often have innovative problem solving abilities, specific technical or mathematic abilities, and logical thought processes. The supports needed for those with different abilities are often not costly or time prohibitive. Typically accommodations may include concise and clear feedback and directions, an understanding of the limitations or support needed, and a distraction free work environment. With payoffs like increased profits, and increased work production, the trade-off clearly benefits the employer who employs the differently-abled worker.

Shame and stigma may lead a person to not ask for the supports and accommodations that may help their work situation. Having an updated evaluation, with specific outlines of strengths and limitations can help communicate needs to an HR department or manager. The Job Accommodation Network also provides resources that may help in knowing what to communicate, and what can be asked for. There can be a bit of a dance, between telling an employer what they need to know, but not revealing too much personal information. Thankfully, because there is increasing awareness of the need for inclusion – and the payoffs of inclusion – the stigma is decreasing. Major employers and corporations are actively hiring differently-abled populations, and where the industry leaders go, other players tend to follow. For more information on workplace supports and accommodations, contact us! We can help.