Navigating Workforce More Challenging For Those With Disabilities, Advocates Say

modernized handicapped sign is affixed to a door at the The Mall at Millenia in Orlando, Fla.

Originally posted January 31 2023 on by Scripps National News

Remote work has opened up more opportunities for people with disabilities but as more companies adopt hybrid work schedules or require people to return to the office, disability advocates are worried about losing the gains made during the pandemic.

They say a big concern is people not feeling comfortable telling their employers about their disability.

“Self-disclosure rates are going down, which to me indicates a diminishing of trust that people don’t trust their employer,” said Luke Visconti, chairman of the National Organization on Disability.

A new report from the National Organization on Disability shows companies tracking retention of people with disabilities are reporting a 40% turnover rate.

The rate of people disclosing their disability decreased by 11% in 2022. It decreased by 15% the year before that.

“It’s not about doing something special for people with disabilities, it’s about being nice, and that transfers to everything you’re doing. Your customers, your suppliers, your investors,” said Visconti.

Disability advocates say it’s on companies, not workers, to build a relationship that will make someone feel comfortable disclosing their disability.

“In my experience of over 40 years in these companies, there’s no downside to this. There’s all upside,” said Doug Conant, a board member with the National Organization on Disability. “And these people are dying to contribute. All we need to do is give them the proper opportunity, and make sure the companies are prepared to follow up and deliver that opportunity consistently.”

Advocates say disabled workers looking for a job can look for signs on a company’s website that indicate it would be a good environment for someone with a disability.

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Key Tactics to Promote Inclusion of Invisible Diversity Traits

Takeaways from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council Executive Luncheon

Harnessing the Power of Difference: Tactics to Promote Inclusion of Invisible Diversity Traits. Insights from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council’s Executive Luncheon “Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work”. 1. Set the tone from the top down; 2. Cultivate trust to boost disability self-ID rates; 3. Disclosure can reveal supportive networks; 4. Tackle stigma head on to succeed; 5. Get outside of your comfort zone; 6. Take action to advance a culture of authenticity.

On the 20th of June the National Organization on Disability held its Corporate Leadership Council executive luncheon titled “Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work:  Harnessing the Power of Difference by Uncovering Invisible Diversity Traits.”  Presented in partnership with The LGBTQ Community Center, representatives from over 45 companies attended this exclusive event that spotlighted how corporate cultures can welcome unseen diversity segments, like LGBT identities and non-apparent disabilities, such as mental illness. Sarah Mikhail, Executive Director of the LGBTQ center highlighted that “Sarah Mikhail, Executive Director of the LGBTQ center highlighted that “there is no such thing as a single because we do not live single issue lives.”  We are all a combination of many things which impact our daily living.

  • Set the tone from the top down

Panelists Nora Vele Executive Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion of Merck; Eric Mitchel Associate Vice President, Human Resources of AT&T; and James Mahoney Executive Director & Head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase & Co., shared insights and leading practices to support employees with invisible diversity traits in the workplace. The panel encouraged self-identification and disclosure of disabilities by managers, supervisor and higher management as a way to inspire a safer environment for employees to also self-identify and request accommodations if necessary.  It has been proven that those whom disclose their disability to employers are more productive than employees that chose to mask their true selves.

  • Cultivate trust to boost disability self-ID rates

When asked what was being done within each organization to promote harnessing the power of difference while bringing your whole selves to work, Ms. Vele stated that in creating a culture of inclusion for people with disabilities, Merck began with their employee resource group (ERG) and focused on eight aspects—one being the importance of self-identification.  Merck found by using infographics they were able to increase the amount of employees whom chose to self-identify.  Merck also created “A Day in the Life of an Employee” to help promote awareness of a fellow employees discussing their disabilities while filming them at work and home.  Ms. Vele shares that companies become more enlightened when employees are listened to and feel cared for—and companies can reap increased productivity when employees can free up ‘emotional real estate’ by disclosing their full identities at work.

  • Disclosure can reveal supportive networks

Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability engaged in a fireside chat with Lisa Lucchese, Global Head of External Reporting Operations & Co-Executive Sponsor of Access Ability, Mid-Atlantic, JPMorgan Chase & Co.  Ms. Lucchese shared her experiences and challenges navigating understanding and disclosing her mental health diagnosis in the workplace. Ms. Lucchesse makes clear that because someone has a diagnosis it doesn’t mean it’s easier, it just means they have more information to work with [to understand the supports needed to succeed].”  It was through focusing on her career that she was able to feel normal. “The harder we work the more normal we feel,” she contends.  When asked how disclosure helped her as a worker, she shared that now she can talk to people about her own experiences and her own realizations. Emphasizing the importance of being true to yourself, she shared that when faced with hardship, an opportunity to make the biggest changes in one’s life may also presents itself.  “Having a network encourages you, and honestly, you want to do more.”  Bringing your whole self to work creates creativity, enhances ability, builds resiliency and develops empathy; it’s a winning formula.

  • Tackle stigma head on to succeed

Eric Mitchell spoke about how AT&T branded their health insurance as “Bringing Your Healthy Self to Work.”  They believe that not disclosing a disability causes a stress—that’s largely avoidable, so they’ve launched a campaign for employees to sign a pledge, take a photo and share their disability as a way to help stamp out the stigma of mental illness.  In addition, they have created a webcast entitled, “Everything is not fine:  I may look o.k. but you don’t know what is going on under the surface,” to inspire and promote authenticity around mental health. A year later a second version followed: “Everything is still not fine” took on a more pronounced stance on ensuring employees were comfortable disclosing a mental illness—which proved to be even more successful.  Sharing personal stories is a powerful tactic, so finding ways bring your organization’s stories to life can encourage employees to be authentic regarding their disability.

  • Get outside of your comfort zone

James Mahoney of JPMorgan Chase & Co. spoke about their innovative program to hire candidates with autism, which touts a high success rate in terms of productivity and integration.  Regarding their aptitude in visual detail, these new hires with autism were equal in quality to their peers and 48 percent faster.  “Today we are at 95 people in a dozen locations and in 25 different roles,” states Mr. Mahoney speaking JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s employees who are on the autism spectrum.  The firm has designed, along with their office of disability inclusion, new techniques for this cohort in terms of recruitment, onboarding, and integration well up to retirement.  Mr. Mahoney stresses the importance of thinking outside of one’s comfort zone with the understanding that it is healthy for people to challenge your perspective.

  • Take action to advance a culture of authenticity

“After all is said and done, let there be more done then said,” shared moderator Karen Brown, Global Diversity & Inclusion Executive & Advisor. This insightful quote was a rallying cry for all to take a proactive approach to improving the culture of inclusion within the workforce.  Ms. Brown spoke on the importance of being authentic, saying: “authenticity is a daily practice of letting go of who we think we should be or who we’re supposed to be.”

The executive luncheon sought to chart solutions to common corporate challenges, providing the attendees with useful tools to promote diversity, inclusion, and harness the power of difference within their own companies. Ultimately, trust and authenticity are key especially in bringing your company’s message around disability inclusion and mental wellness to life.

Don’t miss the next discussion—join the NOD Corporate Leadership Council today. Learn more at

Is Your Company Using These 5 Critical Practices to Increase Disability Self-Identification Rates?

The 2017 NOD Disability Employment Tracker results reveal the practices of top companies to achieve a disability workforce representation of four percent or more.

The 2018 Disability Employment Tracker™ is now open for enrollment. Complete the free and confidential survey by March 1, 2018 to receive a complimentary benchmarking Scorecard.

Completion of the Tracker is a requirement to be considered for the 2018 DiversityInc Top 50 and to compete for the 2018 NOD Leading Disability Employer SealStart today:

More and more American businesses share a goal to increase the number of employees with disabilities within their workforce, driven by motivators like competition for top talent, achieving a competitive advantage through diversity, compliance with federal regulations, or all three. As a result, increasing disability self-identification rates among new and existing employees with disabilities has become a priority to many human resources and diversity & inclusion teams.

Yet, at the National Organization on Disability (NOD), we’ve seen that despite making strides in implementing disability inclusion policies and practices—many companies still struggle to see their percentage of employees who identify as having disabilities rise.

So, as we analyzed the data gained from our 2017 Disability Employment Tracker™, the National Organization on Disability’s confidential, annual survey of corporate disability inclusion policies and practices, we aimed to find out what differentiates companies that have been successful at building disability-strong workforces from those that have not.

As we pored over the 2017 Disability Employment Tracker™ results, which measure practices and outcomes of more than 175 companies that together employ more than 10 million workers, across a range of industries, we sought to discover what companies with an above average percentage of employees had in common.

We uncovered five practices shared by high achieving companies that reported a disability workforce representation of 4% or more:

Companies with a higher than average representation of people with disabilities (> 4%) share these practices. Strategy & Metrics: Senior leaders discuss/publicly promote overall diversity; Plan for improving disability inclusion practices; Diversity champion accountable to drive disability strategy. Culture & Climate: Employee/business resource groups or affinity groups; Disability-specific employee/business resource group with annual budget. Talent Sourcing: Recruiters know how to find accommodation process. People Practices: Post-offer and pre-employment, new hires asked if accommodation needed. Workplace & Technology: Universal design principles applied in new facility buildouts.

  1. Strategy & Metrics. Senior leaders discuss and publicly promote overall diversity. Further, they have a plan of action for improving disability inclusion practices that is driven by a disability champion who is accountable to advance this strategy.
  2. Climate & Culture. Priority is given to creating employee/business resource or affinity groups that are specific to disability. Moreover—and this is critical—these groups have annual budgets that allow them to take visible and impactful action.
  3. Recruiter Training. Recruiters, who are on the front line in the pursuit of employees with disabilities, are trained in, and know how to find and use the company’s accommodation process. This helps ensure candidates gain access to the supports needed to be successful and land the job.
  4. People Practices. HR teams are trained to proactively ask new hires if they need an accommodation in the post-offer and pre-employment stages. This ensures that there are no gaps in providing support to employees with disabilities from day one, and goes a long way to protect the employee experience. These “moments of truth” can make or break how the employee feels about their new employer, which, ultimately, affect retention and turnover rates.
  5. Workplace & Technology. As new facilities are built, universal design principles, a set of guidelines that ensure environments, processes, policies, technologies and tools work for people of every ability, are routinely applied.

Companies struggling to attract and keep talent with disabilities should reexamine their efforts against these key practices, which the Tracker results found are correlated to successful workforce outcomes, to identify opportunities for improvement. Without this foundation, companies may struggle to see disability self-identification rates rise.

While the research does show a lot of effort and hard work on the part of employers to advance disability inclusion practices, ultimately, we are not seeing significant increases in disability inclusion in the American workforce. On average, we found the workforce representation of people with disabilities was 3.2%—well below the target of 7% set by the Department of Labor for those companies that do business with the federal government. When you consider that one in five Americans has a disability, the gap is striking.

Admittedly, finding the right workers in any labor pool—especially one not yet fully familiar to many employers—may demand some skills and types of effort that are out of the ordinary. Recruiters and hiring managers need to know where to source this talent, and how to address the needs of candidates with disabilities in the pre-offer stage.

A cross-departmental effort, including representatives from IT, Facilities, Legal and HR, is needed to provide comprehensive accommodations in a reasonable amount of time, so employees with disabilities can be successful on the job. Most importantly, leaders must create a culture of trust and open communication to engender a spirit of ‘disability pride’ where employees with disabilities feel welcomed and supported in order to perform, produce and progress. Doing so, will create an employee cohort that will surely be among the most engaged, committed and productive.

The National Organization on Disability, the national leader in helping business tap the disability labor pool, offers companies a complete set of solutions, including benchmarking, program design and planning, and customized local hiring engagements. Our employment experts make the journey with companies, from initial exploration through stage after stage of improvement, all the way to success.

We’ve partnered with over a dozen Fortune 500 companies, like EYKaiser PermanentePrudential Financial, PwCSodexo, and Toyota to help them advance their disability inclusions efforts to the next level.

For American businesses that prioritize disability inclusion the benefits are many. Employees with disabilities are a rich supply of talent, ready to be tapped, at a time when talent is at a premium, and the employers who hire from this pool consistently rank employees with disabilities among their best, most dedicated workers, with some of the lowest rates of turnover.

Furthermore, research has shown that the vast majority of consumers prefer to buy from companies who hire people with disabilities, and Americans with disabilities and their friends and families constitute a huge and growing consumer segment with over $3.9 trillion in disposable income.

To start the free and confidential Disability Employment Tracker™ today, visit


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Employees Need to Feel Comfortable Disclosing Disabilities at Work | Blog by NOD President Carol Glazer

When workers tell their employers about a disability they free up valuable emotional real estate, says Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability.

The National Organization on Disability was proud to serve as a knowledge partner with the Working Mother Research Institute and PwC on this important new survey, Disabilities in the Workplace. For us at NOD, this kind of research is in our DNA. For years, NOD partnered with Harris Interactive to assess the gaps between Americans living with and without disabilities. That research was instrumental in shaping public policy decisions in Washington and beyond for many years, particularly as it related to access to education, transportation and other key factors for people with disabilities.

The results of this new Working Mother survey are no less remarkable and should be read by every CEO who cares about workplace productivity. The research tells us that employees with a visible disability have much greater satisfaction at work across the board than employees with a non-visible disability, including in the hiring process, advancement opportunities, and accommodations at work.

A vast majority (86%) of people with a visible disability disclose it to their employers, as opposed to only 67% with a non-visible disability. In our work with leading national employers, we find anecdotally that disclosing a disability at work can free up a huge amount of ‘emotional real estate.’ Being one’s full self at work, by disclosing a disability at a disability-friendly employer, can increase productivity by increasing trust with co-workers, bosses and lessen the stress from hiding it.

What is particularly troubling is that the survey shows that employers can be less responsive to a non-visible disability. Indeed, one-third of respondents with a non-visible disability choose not to tell their employer. Of those who don’t, 43% say they keep it a secret because they want to hide their disability from their employer or don’t feel comfortable bringing it up.

The Office of Disability Employment Policy within the U.S. Department of Labor has elevated the topic of workplace disclosure as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to push federal contractors to hire more people with disabilities. Members of NOD’s Corporate Leadership Council – our corporate partners who distinguish themselves as leaders in diversity and employers of choice for people with disabilities, such as PwC – all know that creating an environment that is welcoming to disclosure is critical for maintaining a productive and dedicated workforce.

When we are hired by employers to deliver disability employment etiquette and awareness training, our trainers specifically discuss with managers how they can signal their organization’s commitment to individuals with disabilities as a valued segment of the workforce, thereby increasing the likelihood that existing employees feel comfortable disclosing their disabilities. That’s why we encourage employers who are looking to assess their capabilities in this area to try NOD’s Disability Employment Tracker. The Tracker is a free online assessment tool that benchmarks areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. With your assessment in hand, NOD then can work together with you on a disability-hiring plan.

Our success in the global economy depends, more than ever, on how well we inspire and put to use the talent and energies of every person in this country – every talent, every skill, every ability. That is why the National Organization on Disability was created: To see to it that no ability is wasted, and that everyone has a full and equal chance to play a part in our national progress.

Carol Glazer joined the National Organization on Disability (NOD) in July 2006 as the Executive Director of its National EmployAbility Partnership. She became NOD’s President in October, 2008. Under Carol’s leadership, NOD has developed important new relationships with the US Army, leading employers, national and local foundations, allied disability organizations and scores of new corporate donors to NOD’s programs. She put in place NOD’s signature employment demonstrations, Wounded Warrior Careers and Bridges to Business and now oversees NOD’s professional services to companies to help them become more disability inclusive.

Carol is a speaker and subject matter expert on issues regarding the employment of people with disabilities and has addressed audiences at national conferences, corporate forums and higher education institutions, among others.

Carol holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and in 2012, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Allegheny College for her work on behalf of individuals with disabilities. She has two children, one of whom was born with hydrocephalus and has physical and intellectual disabilities.

Read the blog on Working Mother

Special Report from the Conference Board | Do Ask, Do Tell: Encouraging Employees with Disabilities to Self-Identify

This special report investigates what companies are doing to build a diversity-inclusive culture and encourage employees with disabilities to voluntarily self-identify. It will help organizations to create an environment in which employees may feel comfortable self-identifying.

Special Report from The Conference Board | Do Ask Do Tell: Encouraging Employees with Disabilities to Self-Identify