People with disabilities

7 ways employers can support people with disabilities


According to Statistics Canada, there are about 334,000 BC residents with disabilities of working age (between 15 and 64). Of that number, about 71,000 are either unemployed or not working but able to.

Employing people with different abilities has many benefits that aren’t commonly known, especially for employers.

For example, employees with disabilities are five times more likely than other workers to stay on the job. One study found that 90% of employees with disabilities also rated average or better in job performance and attendance, compared to colleagues without a disability. This can save money on recruitment, training and lost productivity.

In a Forbes survey, 56% of companies with more than $10 million in annual revenues strongly agree that diversity in your workforce drives innovation.

Despite these and other benefits, misconceptions about hiring people with different abilities (including the myth that workplace accommodations have to be costly) prevail.

Here are 7 ways for employers to benefit while creating more inclusive hiring practices:

1. Learn to ask

Learn to ask about employees’ disabilities and talk about them often. Employers have a role in providing a work environment where each person’s strengths and contributions are recognized.

Seeing beyond an employee’s disabilities doesn’t mean tiptoeing around it or pretending disabilities don’t exist. Learn how to ask respectfully about how an employee’s disability may impact their work life and abilities, what descriptions are preferred, and empowering people with disabilities to talk about and make others feel comfortable with their disability.

2. Increase the awareness of invisible disabilities

Invisible or hidden disabilities refer to a range of disabilities that are not immediately apparent and there are generally poor levels of awareness about them.

For example, some individuals might be managing chronic pain, or move differently but not require the use of a mobility aid. Invisible disabilities can include traumatic brain injury, mental illness, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, a learning disability and arthritis.

3. Let employees with disabilities take the lead

Let employees with disabilities take the lead, but don’t make them do all the work. Individuals with disabilities know themselves best – their abilities and how best to do their job efficiently and effectively. Providing an open environment and support requires open and ongoing dialogue with employees with disabilities.

This might include encouraging existing employees with disabilities to contribute to discussions at work or assisting with awareness training for their colleagues to address misconceptions and stigma. All employees should understand their role in understanding disability, the impacts of disability for individuals and the barriers, challenges and opportunities these present in the workplace, and how all of us can be good allies and co-workers. 

4. Collaborate with employees on possible accommodations

Having a concrete idea of what an accommodation or “support” actually looks like helps to make it more doable. An accommodation simply means ensuring that the job opportunity and the office environment is accessible and inclusive for employees.

It may be a physical design to assist the individual to do the job, such as altering the placement of the keyboard or the mouse or providing a stand-up desk, or more space around a desk for a mobility device. Or it may be a change in work schedule with more flexible hours, breaking down tasks or adapting learning strategies or ensuring that sufficient and real breaks are taken to restore energy.

It depends on the individual’s needs. Generally, individuals who need certain accommodations know what they need and it takes collaboration between the employee and employer to determine what would work best.

Right fit

5. Access financial support for making workplace accommodations

Tax credits, government wage subsidies and other financial incentives are available. When specialized equipment is required, the BC government’s Technology@Work program can be used to help purchase equipment.

6. Consider developing a “job carve”

In job carves, appropriate tasks and responsibilities are “carved” or created based on an individual’s skills, availability and learning style. This might include taking existing tasks from other employee roles to create a new role, modifying or restructuring existing jobs or bringing together a combination of job tasks that fill the work needs of an employer, while capitalizing on the skills and strengths of individuals with different needs.

7. Establish strong policy and accountability to the public

Employers in BC would benefit from having highly visible policy around hiring people with different abilities. This practice would not only improve employers’ public reputation, but also the success of hiring people with disabilities.

Did you know?

Eligible Canadians with disabilities can receive up to $90,000 in government assistance with the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). Completing the RDSP and Disability Tax Credit applications can be challenging, so Vancity has partnered with Ability Tax and Trust Advisors, providers of the Equal Futures RDSP program, to provide an easy, efficient and free service for eligible individuals to learn about, qualify for and open an RDSP. Learn more about this service.


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