Navigating the Workplace With a Visible or Non-Visible Disability
An estimated one in five or 22% of Canadians over 15 years of age have a visible or non-visible disability. This translates to around 6.2 million people and includes any physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or daily activities. A disability may be present at birth, caused by an accident or developed over time and can be permanent, temporary or recurring.
There are many conditions that can impact an employee at work including visual or hearing impairments, mental-health related disabilities like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic diseases including diabetes or fibromyalgia and learning disabilities such as dyslexia. A disability can make it painful to sit at a traditional desk all day, be productive within a noisy office environment or follow step-by-step instructions. All people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, have the right to equal opportunities at work and this is protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
If you are living with a disability, it can be upsetting and frustrating to navigate a workplace that doesn’t meet your needs and this can impact your ability to do good work. Here’s some information to help you communicate with your employer, get the accommodations you need, know your legal rights and feel understood and valued.
Request Job Accommodations
Your employer cannot ask you directly about your disability status and you are not legally required to share your personal health information. However, if your disability is affecting your ability to do your job or is impacting your physical or mental health, it’s important to have an open conversation about what you need. What are your limitations, what specific changes would help you be at your best and how long do you expect these adaptations to last?
Reasonable workplace accommodations may include a flexible or reduced work schedule, a quiet space to focus, office layout changes to allow for assistive devices, a reserved parking spot, or step-by-step instructions for certain procedures. Changes like these can help remove some of the barriers you are facing in your workplace and ensure more equal access and opportunities.
Know Your Rights
It is against the law for employers or coworkers to discriminate based on a disability or perceived disability. Workplace policies must also make it clear that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. If you find that your disability is causing your employee or colleagues to treat you differently or poorly, talk to your employer’s supervisor, the human resources (HR) team, a union representative, or file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability. You are not obligated to disclose specific information about your diagnosis or disability, but you may need to provide enough information so that your employer can make the necessary changes. This could include a medical note that confirms the existence of a condition, restrictions it creates and what will and will not work for a workplace accommodation. If your employer won’t agree to a reasonable accommodation, talk to your employer’s direct supervisor or HR staff.
There are limits on an employer’s duty to accommodate including an employee who refuses to acknowledge or deal with mental illness or substance abuse or where the accommodation would result in undue health, safety or cost factors. Accommodation is also expected to be a shared responsibility, so if the worker refuses to cooperate with an employers’ efforts, then their obligation changes.
Seek Out an Inclusive Environment
An inclusive workplace offers employees with visible or invisible disabilities a chance to succeed, learn, be fairly compensated and advance in their career. There are different ways that organizations and employers signal that they take inclusion seriously. If you are job hunting try to find a company that you think will be a good fit. Check to see if a potential employer lists disability in their diversity statement, has a Diversity Equity and Inclusion team and participates in partnerships and mentorship programs related to inclusion. Ask directly about inclusion and equity practices during your interview to get a good feel for the support they have in place.
If you are currently employed, seek out the people at work who support and listen to you and try to cultivate relationships with them. Be open with your colleagues about how you work best, let them know when a face-to-face meeting is better than an email and what technology or software is helpful for you.
Disability Inclusion at Work Matters
After job accommodations are made, update your employers with any changes to your circumstances and let them know what’s working and what isn’t. Modifications usually require a period of trial and error and several adjustments before finding a more effective and permanent solution.
It can take courage to bring up a disability or chronic health issue with an employer. Remember that you are protected and that job accommodations are required by law. Companies with strong disability inclusion policies not only support people with disabilities, but create a more accepting and supportive workplace for all.
VHA Home HealthCare is committed to providing a safe, healthy and supportive work environment. Every member of VHA has a right to a safe environment free of harassment based on grounds prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code. VHA has the legal and moral responsibility to ensure that its staff and service providers are treated fairly, equitably, and respectfully and to provide a working environment that is inclusive, welcoming and free from harassment.