By Ashley Thompson

Workplaces are becoming more inclusive and are seeing past individuals’ disabilities to tap into the best of their abilities. Even in this improving atmosphere, however, you may be unsure of how you can best support your coworker with a disability. What follows are a few general tips, however, it is important to remember that every person is different, and you can be most supportive by listening to and respecting your coworker’s unique set of preferences.

  1. Remember that having a disability does not define a person. Your co-workers each have their own personality traits, strengths, talents, quirks, and personal lives, and having a disability is only one of many elements that make them who they are. First and foremost, she or he is a person. Take the time to get to know your coworker with a disability the same way you would get to know coworkers without disabilities.
  2. Do not assume that your co-worker with a disability needs assistance. Do not assist before getting their permission. If you notice that your coworker seems to be having trouble with something, ask them if they would like assistance and honor their response. If they decide they would like help, you can ask them how you can best support them.
  3. Build a workplace of inclusion. Do what you can to make sure your facilities and company functions are accessible and accommodating for employees with disabilities. When planning company events, look for venues that are accessible to all employees and plan activities that can be adapted if needed.
  4. Respect your co-worker’s privacy. Some people choose to discuss their disability with colleagues, while others prefer to keep their disability information private. If someone discloses their disability to you, do not share this information with others without their approval.
  5. Communicate directly to your coworker with a disability. If she has a job coach or an interpreter, do not speak to them instead of speaking to your coworker. The job coach or interpreter may help provide clarification or help interpret what you say, but do not assume your coworker with a disability will not understand you.
  6. Educate yourself. There are many free resources and trainings that can help you be more disability-aware. Did you know that LFSVA offers free Disabilities Awareness training for business, churches, and other community organizations? Another great free resource for learning about specific disabilities and accommodations is the Job Accommodation Network:
  7. When in doubt, revert to the golden rule. We learned it in kindergarten, and it’s just as important today: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Put yourself in your co-worker’s shoes and consider how you would want to be treated when facing a similar situation.

If these tips aren’t applicable to you because your company hasn’t hired people with disabilities, you may be able to help. The inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace is good for business and it’s the right thing to do, yet people with disabilities continue to be overwhelmingly underemployed. You can speak with the talent acquisition team at your company and advocate for providing opportunities to a diverse and skilled workforce of people with disabilities!

Ashley Thompson is a supported employment specialist for LFSVA. She is a Qualified Intellectual Disability Professional with over 10 years of experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities and/or mental health diagnoses in areas including supported employment, psychosocial rehabilitation, support coordination, and skills building. Ashley is committed to supporting participants as they recognize their strengths, abilities, and employment potential and find and retain meaningful community-based employment. Learn more about our Supported Employment Services by clicking here.