July is Disability Pride Month: Here’s How You Can Create Positive Change

July is not only a month of vibrant summer colors and warm sunshine; it’s also a time to celebrate Disability Pride Month. This month-long observance provides an opportunity to honor the achievements, strengths, and unique perspectives of individuals with disabilities. In the spirit of inclusivity, it is essential to recognize the interconnectedness of disability pride, mental health, and fostering psychological safety in the workplace. Let’s delve into how we can promote a workplace environment that embraces diversity, supports mental well-being, and values every individual.

What is Disability Pride Month?

Disability Pride Month is an annual reminder dedicated to raising awareness about the experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of individuals living with disabilities. It is a month to celebrate their diversity, unique perspectives, and resilience in the face of adversity.

History and background

The roots of Disability Pride Month can be traced back to the disability rights movement that gained momentum in the late 20th century. During this time, people with disabilities and their allies rallied together to advocate for equal rights, accessibility, and societal inclusion. Their collective efforts eventually led to the passage of landmark legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

Visible and invisible disabilities

One of the fundamental tenets of Disability Pride Month is recognizing that disabilities come in various forms, and they may not always be immediately apparent. Visible disabilities, such as mobility impairments or physical differences, are easily observable. However, it is essential to remember that many disabilities are invisible, meaning they are not immediately apparent to others.

Invisible disabilities include a wide range of conditions, such as chronic pain, mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and neurological conditions. Just because a disability cannot be seen on the surface does not mean it is any less impactful or valid. Acknowledging and understanding invisible disabilities is crucial to fostering a truly inclusive society, as it helps us extend empathy and support to those who may be facing challenges that are not immediately evident.

The intersection of disability and mental health

It is crucial to recognize the intersection between disability and mental health. Individuals with disabilities may experience unique challenges that can impact their mental wellbeing. From managing chronic pain to navigating societal barriers, these additional stressors can contribute to mental health concerns. By fostering an environment that acknowledges and supports the mental health needs of individuals with disabilities, we can promote overall wellbeing and enhance their ability to thrive in the workplace.

The reality of the workplace for people with disabilities

According to a survey by the Center for Talent Innovation, only 21% of employees with disabilities disclose it to HR, indicating an environment where disclosure is perceived as risky or stigmatizing. Among the 75% of employees with disabilities who say they have worthwhile ideas, 48% say their ideas went ignored by people with the power to act on them, 57% feel stalled in their careers, and 47% feel they would never achieve a position of power at their company, no matter how high-performing or qualified they are.

Taking action: practical and proactive steps for employers:

  1. Promote Disability Awareness and Education: Increasing disability awareness among employees is crucial. According to a study by the Institute of Labor Economics, disability awareness training in the workplace can significantly reduce biases and enhance the hiring and retention of employees with disabilities. By providing educational resources and training sessions, we can enhance understanding, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusivity.
  2. Implement Reasonable Accommodations: Reasonable accommodation is essential for ensuring equal opportunities for employees with disabilities. These accommodations can include modifications to workspaces, flexible schedules, or assistive technologies. By implementing and promoting the availability of reasonable accommodations, we create an environment where individuals can perform at their best.
  3. Foster an Inclusive Culture of Communication: Promote a culture where employees feel empowered to express themselves and demonstrate empathy, particularly towards colleagues who possess firsthand knowledge of the obstacles encountered by individuals with disabilities, whether through personal experiences or caregiving experiences. Shaun Kelly, who until 2019 was the global chief operating officer of KPMG International, emphasizes the significance of openly discussing his role as a caregiver for his daughter, who has Down Syndrome. By doing so, he not only breaks down societal stigmas but also sets a positive example as a leader who is unafraid to talk about it. This is just one example of how setting organizational expectations around inclusivity should be done from the top-down.
  4. Address Attitudinal Barriers: Attitudinal barriers, such as unconscious biases and stigmas, can significantly impact the workplace experiences of individuals with disabilities. Employers can address these barriers through diversity and inclusion training programs that challenge biases, promote empathy, and foster respect for all employees.
  5. Provide Mentoring and Support Programs: Mentoring and support programs play a crucial role in fostering professional growth and development for individuals with disabilities. Pairing employees with disabilities with mentors who have similar experiences can provide valuable guidance, encouragement, and role modeling.
  6. Collaborate with Disability Advocacy Organizations: Engaging with disability advocacy organizations can provide valuable insights, resources, and best practices for creating an inclusive workplace. Partnering with these organizations can help employers identify areas for improvement and implement effective strategies to support employees with disabilities.

As we celebrate Disability Pride Month, let us remember that building an inclusive workplace that values diversity, supports mental health, and fosters psychological safety is a year-round commitment. By embracing disability pride, breaking stigmas, and taking practical steps to create a supportive environment, we can cultivate a workplace where every individual feels empowered, valued, and able to reach their full potential.