5 ways to support employees with disabilities to succeed at work

March 18, 2021


According to the United Nations, there are 370 million persons with disabilities (PwD) in the Asia Pacific, and over 64.3% are of working age. However, the unemployment rate is usually 80% or higher. 

A primary reason for the underemployment of PwD is that employers often harbour pessimistic views about their work-related abilities — they have low productivity, high absenteeism, challenging to train, and more. 

But a 2018 market survey conducted by Accenture showed otherwise. Employers who hired employees with disabilities actually outperformed their peers. 

The 45 companies leading the disability employment and inclusion had, on average, 28% higher revenue, 2x the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than the other companies. 

The previous research also shows that employees with disabilities offer substantial business benefits, including increased innovation, a better work environment, lower turnover rate and improved productivity. 

This groundbreaking research indicates that it pays to hire employees with disabilities, and everyone benefits from it. 

That is why the Singapore Government is actively creating 1,200 jobs for PwD in 2021. Employers who hired PwD can also benefit from various grants and support from the government. 

If you wish to be an inclusive employer and leverage one of the largest untapped labour force, you're in the right place.

You'll learn 5 ways to support employees with disabilities to perform better at work.

1) Create disability awareness training for employees 

While corporate diversity is a priority, disability awareness training is often overlooked. It's vital to create an environment where people with disabilities are not only accepted but encouraged to succeed. 

Disability awareness training educates your employees about what it means to be disabled, how being disabled affects those around them, and how best to work with persons with disabilities. 

Before employing persons with disabilities, this training is crucial to creating an inclusive environment where everyone accepts all differences and effectively works together. 

Tip: Need a guideline to start hiring PwDs? Get this starter kit here from SG Enable.

2) Provide training for managers and supervisors to work effectively with employees with disabilities 

For managers who have not worked with persons with disabilities, they could feel daunted by the idea of managing someone with a disability for the first time. They may not know how to act around or interact with persons with disabilities. 

This is why organisations need to train their managers and supervisors about disability etiquettes. 

Some of the basic disability etiquettes are:

  • Use first-person language. Instead of "Bob is autistic", say "Bob has autism."
  • Make eye contact with the person, regardless of the disability.
  • Ask before you help; the person will request assistance when needed.
  • Focus on abilities instead of disabilities.
  • Allow them to do what they can do. 
  • Respect the person's privacy, including their disability details.
  • Treat them just as you would anyone else.

Did you know different disability etiquettes depending on the type of disability? Click here to find out customised etiquette for 4 major types of disabilities.

3) Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate disabilities

Imagine an employee with a disability informed his manager that he had to attend a physical therapy session every day at 8.30 am.

For an organisation with a flexible work schedule, the manager would allow the employee to change the starting time and quitting time — or even allowing them to work from home. 

Flexible work arrangement is crucial to support employees with disabilities. They could be having difficulties commuting to work or working within the standard hours. 

Some of the flexibilities you can offer are:

  • Work from home
  • Alter starting and quitting times
  • Flexible time-off
  • Well-being leave
  • Additional sick leaves
  • Flexible break time

Offering these flexibilities to your employees with disabilities helps them work better and encourages them to stay loyal to you. 

Read this: Concerned about losing productivity if you allow remote work? Here’re 3 practical ways for HR to manage remote work without missing a beat.

4) Encourage open communication between the employee, manager, and HR team about accommodations needed 

Each employee with disabilities has their own needs and accommodation requests. For example, someone who has ADHD can find bright lights and loud noises difficult. This could distract their focus, dampen their productivity, and increase their stress level. 

As an inclusive employer, it's important to maintain an open communication channel between the employee and the employer. 

Encourage the employee with disabilities to voice out any difficulties they had at work and accommodation requests to improve their employee experience

You can hold one-on-one meetings, online feedback, or simply asking them "how are you" to spark the conversation.

5) Be proactive to figure out accommodations needed

Some employees with disabilities might hold back from asking too much from their employers. In this case, you need to be proactive in providing accommodations for them.

Start by identifying a few common disability types in your organisation and see the workplace from their viewpoint. 

Here are a few questions to get started:

  • Is it easy for them to commute to work?
  • Is it easy for them to move around in the office?
  • Is it easy for them to use the office equipment?
  • Is it easy for them to access company policies and benefits?
  • Is it easy for them to see the screen?
  • Is it productive for them to work in this office environment?
  • What else do they need to work better?

Some employees may need noise-cancelling headphones, a quiet room, wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, or assistive technologies such as screen readers, voice recognition technology, hearing loops, or amplified phones.

You may also arrange transport to pick them up from their home to the office.

Our conclusion

As employers, it is your job to provide great experiences for all employees, including those with disabilities. 

This isn't just about making sure offices are accessible; it's about knowing what's important to them and designing great experiences that make them want to work better for you.

So by enabling them to thrive in the workplace, you're fulfilling both their needs as well as yours.

Read this: If your employee retention rate is below 70%, these 5 strategies make your employees loyal to you without breaking your budget.

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