I still remember the first time I sat in Bergdorf Goodman’s shoe department and realized I wouldn’t be able to wear high heels ever again. I broke down and started crying.
I believe that my experience of loss is similar to that experience of many people who receive and live with a life-altering health diagnosis.
Simple tasks that able-bodied people might take for granted are a struggle for me — like opening an office door or walking from the car to the office. It takes more effort and time for me.
I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was 22 years old and for the last 26 years, it has progressively gotten harder for me to walk. But for the first 14 years of my diagnosis, as I pushed myself to work harder because I had a dream to make it on Wall Street, I suffered in silence. I was worried what my colleagues would think if they discovered I was battling MS.
My physical and mental health began to deteriorate as time passed, so after more than a decade, I finally gave into my pain and asked my employer for an accommodation. I was also certain that my journey in the financial services arena was over. My self-confidence plummeted. I felt worthless. And I worried that my company, or any company in corporate America, wouldn’t want me.
But instead, I was greeted with genuine concern and empathy from my firm. They asked questions about my disability because they wanted to accommodate me. They made me feel special and valued. As a result, I’ve stayed with this firm, have been promoted over the years, and gained confidence in sharing my authentic self with colleagues and with my community,
Employees With Disabilities Outperform Their Counterparts
According to a 2018 Accenture report, companies that prioritize the inclusion of individuals with disabilities are four times more likely to outperform their competitors in shareholder returns. They also produce 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margins. The Department of Labor also found that employers that support people with disabilities saw a 90% increase in employee retention.
When people with disabilities see organizations appreciate what they do and what they overcome, they work harder and are more loyal. And that’s not just my perspective. A DuPont employee survey found that 90% of disabled workers received performance ratings of average or above average, a number higher than that for non-disabled workers.
Creating a Welcoming Environment
Nonetheless, many people with disabilities feel misunderstood and fear that their employers won’t treat them with the same respect as those without disabilities. It’s therefore important that hiring managers and recruiting teams expand their view of diversity beyond just race, gender, LGBTQ status by including a focus on people with disabilities.
For instance, many organizations acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month. Granted, there happens to be federal recognition of these and other months and days honoring various groups, but your company need not wait for government acknowledgement. Why not create your own Disability Recognition Day and honor members of your disabled workforce with awards and recognizing the obstacles they’ve overcome at work?
This would allow disabled employees to come forward and share their stories with co-workers who might otherwise be unaware of their colleagues’ unique struggles. This acknowledgement would be very rewarding and empowering for disabled employees.
We also need to have structures and strategies in place to help people with disabilities be seen, heard and validated in the workplace every day. Something as simple as an employee survey on disability hiring practices would go a long way for inclusion. Actively including disabled workers into the conversation will go even further with improving employee morale. Talk to us, ask us questions, and listen!
Disabled employees can attribute a lot to corporate America. And I believe we are at a tipping point. It is time to bring people with disabilities to the table in our communities and in our corporate boardrooms.