More than one in four adults in the United States is disabled and that figure is increasing as the world deals with long-term COVID-19, systemic racism and climate change, according to a new report released Monday from Project Include, a nonprofit that advocates for diversity and inclusion in tech.
The organization surveyed 3,000 workers globally, 70% of whom identified with one or more disability, and found that one of the biggest issues disabled people face at work is distrust. "Many of those who are in the workforce feel terrified of employment discrimination, and are often hiding their needs for fear of discrimination," according to Haben Girma, a disability rights advocate who spoke to Project Include.
Respondents mentioned going out of their way to take on exhausting tasks just to mask their disability and be taken more seriously at work.
Another issue identified by the report: accessibility gatekeeping, or when companies demand that workers disclose their disabilities and provide "proof" in order to access accommodations and medical or disability leave. One respondent, Azza Altiraifi, reported having to check in for up to 30 minutes every morning to recite every task she was going to do that day, in addition to a one-hour check-in in the middle of the week, to make sure she was on track, despite her high performance.
One way companies can combat discrimination against disabled employees, according to the report: Don't require employees to prove their disability or need for leave. The medical paperwork burden is often high, especially for Black people who are already facing other forms of medical discrimination.
Project Include also recommended that companies make sure their solutions and accommodations for their disabled employees are personalized and flexible. "There is no one-size-fits-all or global blanket solution," according to the report, and companies can lead by asking employees how each person works best.
Also, accommodations and accessibility should be a default, not the exception. "I found in tech, there was a lot of bypassing and a lot of progressive language used, but actually not a lot of progressive and inclusive policies and spaces for people like myself to thrive," said one respondent, Maryam Ajayi. One simple and inclusive action: Eliminate waiting periods for accommodations such as disability insurance and leave.
Finally, the report recommended that managers communicate better and allow for fewer meetings and more open information sharing. The volume of meetings in a virtual workplace can be taxing on employees with chronic pain, visual processing disabilities and other disabilities. And when there is a virtual meeting, try to make sure there are captions.
What's in it for companies who act on these recommendations? According to a study from Accenture, companies that are inclusive of disabled workers had 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher profit margins.