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Ep 35: The Journey of Disability Inclusion in the Workplace with Graciano Petersen

Ep 35: The Journey of Disability Inclusion in the Workplace

True inclusion means creating a safe space for employees to navigate their disability identity changes and providing the necessary accommodations. 

In this episode of Managing Well with Tonya Ladipo, we talk to Graciano Petersen, the Senior Director for Talent, Culture, and Training at RespectAbility, an organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. Petersen shares how employers can proactively prepare for disability identity changes and how to involve employees in the conversation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Disability identity can be constantly changing. Sometimes, it’s a slow change as an illness progresses. Other times, it can be sudden following an accident. 
  • Employers/organizations can be proactive in routinely asking people what accommodations they need rather than waiting for people to self-identify and ask for accommodations.
  • What works for one person won’t work for everyone. Managers and organizations can communicate with employees to learn about their specific needs.
  • For organizations who want to retain talent, proactively prepare for more employees to need support with disabilities. Disabilities can change along with the life cycle of employees.
  • Consider neurodivergence and how people receive information differently.
  • People are more willing to share their disability when they feel safe and do not fear retribution through firing or being overlooked for opportunities and promotions.
  • Consider the methods information is distributed. A combination of written and verbal communication methods is more inclusive as people process information differently.
  • 10 percent of employees have a disability, even if you don’t know about it or they don’t share it.
  • Disability resources and conversations about disability need to be ongoing. 

Reflection Questions:

  • If you have had a disability (temporary or ongoing), what would have made work easier for you? What do you wish your manager or organization would have done?
  • As a people manager, how might your team respond if you asked them what would make their job easier? 
  • Have you considered or reviewed specific policies your company has in place to support people with different abilities?
  • Is your organization adaptable when life happens and employees’ abilities change?
  • As a people manager, how do you address ableism in the workplace? What can you do to prevent microaggressions towards disabled employees? How do you address them when they happen?

Action Items:

  • As a people manager, ask your team members, what would make their job easier. Connect with HR as appropriate to determine what changes, if any, can be made.
  • Review your company policies to learn the specifics of supporting people with disabilities.
  • Build disability inclusion into your contracts with other organizations and vendors whose employees work with yours.

Additional Resources:

To learn more about RespectAbility, visit

The Managing Well podcast, with host Tonya Ladipo, talks about wellness in the workplace with people leaders, mental health professionals, HR experts, and more. Click the link to subscribe to the podcast and get the latest episodes.