Tips For Navigating The Workplace With A Disability

Written by
an AbleThrive community member
Content via Community Submission
Community Submission
Written by
an AbleThrive community member

Navigating the workplace can be difficult for anyone. It can be especially tricky if you’re navigating the workplace with a disability that might affect how you work, learn or communicate.

Feeling heard, understood, and valued in the workplace is critical. When you don’t have a work environment that accommodates your needs or allows you to thrive it can feel isolating and frustrating.

What if you keep getting dinged on your performance reviews because you have a learning disability and need more visual learning tools to work productively?

What if your hearing impairment makes it difficult to understand your manager’s directions in a noisy open office?

Or what if you have a mobility issue that makes it painful to work at the standard desk all day?

Over 94 percent of people have experienced a difficult situation at work. Over half of them left a job as a result. The people who were most negatively impacted by these experiences were those who are already less resourced in the workplace, including those with disabilities. These employees were more likely to take a step back in their career or leave a job without having another lined up.

picture of hand on mouse computer setup

We need to change the way we support people at work--especially those who have historically been excluded from the conversation or discriminated against. Empower Work seeks to do this by providing accessible and confidential support via text or webchat. Anyone can text 510-674-1414 to get connected to a trained peer counselor. While change needs to happen at every level, it’s critical to remember that you have agency and the power to make decisions that are right for you.

Women standing by Empower Work bulletin board

David Flink is an Empower Work advisor, and the Chief Empowerment Officer at Eye to Eye, a nonprofit mentoring movement run by and for people with learning and attention issues. David also grew up with ADHD and dyslexia. Here are a few of David’s tips for advocating for yourself in the workplace, and creating an environment where you can thrive:

  1. Understand what you need to succeed. Some people need to take more breaks. Others need quiet spaces to focus. And others need special office accommodations to help them to do their work comfortably. Understand what you need in order to work most productively and efficiently--whether it’s a new seating configuration, or something as simple as a white noise app.  Be open at the accommodations you need to succeed.
  2. Find your community, allies, and support network. When people feel understood, they do a better job. Find the people at work who support and listen to you and cultivate relationships with them. Never underestimate the importance of a community.  When you are open and have community and allies, you can work at your best. It’s also important to note that not every job is right for every person. There may not be a natural fit. Once you find a better fit and build a community, you will recognize how much emotional effort it takes to fit in. Use all that creative energy to do an incredible job.
  3. Tell people how you work best--and ask about their preferences! Communication is critical. Understanding your team’s work styles not only helps you advocate for what you need--it also helps your team collaborate more effectively. Get to know the people around you. Give it time. Even on a small team, you can spend six months learning how other people work. Bit by bit, we explain to each other how we work best and talk through when to use email, why sometimes a face-to-face meeting is best and what technology is available for people who don’t love spelling or writing.

Your goal should be to be yourself in the workplace--not to fit a mold that doesn’t meet your needs. According to David, oftentimes people with learning differences find that they have natural leadership skills and empathy, developed by years of self-advocacy. Keep flexing those muscles and taking actions that make you feel empowered and confident in the workplace. And when times get tough, remember you’re never alone--you always have an accessible advocate just a text or webchat away.


Thanks to Lauren at Empower Work for submitting this original post! To learn more about Empower Work visit their website by clicking here.

See more Stories About: 
Life SkillsEmployment