Empowering Employees with Non-Apparent Disabilities to Request Accommodations

Published February 25, 2021

Creating accommodations for employees might seem more challenging than creating those for customers since a business is designed for customer comfort and employee efficiency. While it is always paramount that customers’ needs are met, in many cases, employees are forced to work in whatever conditions are required to best suit the needs of the business. And while it is true that some accommodations created for customers can be useful for employees (such as wheelchair ramps or accessible bathrooms), employees likely need different things to carry out their essential job functions. And while inclusion and accessibility are ongoing processes, the more willing employees are to request appropriate accommodations in a timely fashion, the more easily those accommodations can be met. But how can a business encourage its employees to do this, particularly employees with non-apparent disabilities? Here are four actions to consider.

Create a culture of acceptance

The first step in getting employees to willingly request accommodations is to create an environment where employees feel safe and feel valued by the employer. It is important that employees feel valued as human beings, and not as cogs in a commercial machine. Establishing this kind of culture takes time and takes genuine effort on the part of the employer to make the employees feel valued. Once an employee feels valued, they are more likely to make requests for accommodations.

If an employee is given the accommodations that they require, they will be more effective at their job. Further, when an employee comes forward with an accommodation request, it will empower that employee, and make them feel more dedicated to their job, and to the company. Providing reasonable accommodations is also required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Read Actionable Steps toward Creating an Inclusive Workplace Culture.

Demonstrate a commitment to accessibility

One simple way to empower employees to request accommodations is to show them that accessibility is part of the core values of the company. When people feel that they're part of a team that is serious about accessibility in the workplace and accessibility in general, they're more likely to feel it is safe and worthwhile to disclose that they require a reasonable accommodation.

Take accommodation requests seriously

The worst thing an employer can do when met with a request for accommodations is to treat it lightly or blow it off. Saying things like, "Oh, the company will get to that request when we have time," will have a demoralizing effect and can create a legal issue. Remember that people with non-apparent disabilities are protected under the ADA and they are legally entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Read Considerations for Supporting and Accommodating Invisible Disabilities.

Celebrate diversity

An employer should actively model accepting the differences of others. When an individual feels that their disability is not something to hide or to be ashamed of, they are more likely to come forward with pertinent requests. And as employees get into the habit of valuing each other’s differences, individuals will likely be more willing to make requests for accommodations.

Since the end goal of a business is to be profitable, creating safe, inviting workspaces is one important piece of ensuring dedicated, productive employees. While it may take time to create a culture of acceptance, the dividend from doing so can be enormous.