Leaders Misunderstand the Value of Persons with Disabilities

By Nelson Santiago

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

It is unfortunate in itself that the disability community at large has found it fitting to use the word “inclusion” when referring to our beloved children, siblings, parents, or friends with disabilities. The term inclusion in itself is deceiving.

So I have given much thought to the moments when I read about employers that do the bare minimum to engage persons with disabilities.

The truth is, I cannot blame them. They are doing nothing less than complying with the very proposition that the term inclusion suggests: Include. Rather than engage, support, or invest in,  just simply include.


How unfortunate that our desperate natural desire and dependency on labels has yielded a term that only suggests the bare minimum of its necessity.

Let’s focus on what the true definition of “inclusion” should be to employers, community leaders, and politicians alike when we are speaking of persons with disabilities.

Here are five terms of inclusion for leaders, employers, and communities, when seeking to engage persons with disabilities.

Although these are not the synonyms you will find for inclusion in any dictionary, these are the terms that should replace them:

1. Understanding

Education leads to understanding. But who are we suggesting needs education – those persons with disabilities? No. Here I am referring to education that the employer and its employees need.

All too often, when an employer embarks on a pathway that leads to inclusion, they only fulfill their expected obligation to hire persons with disabilities. They often exceed expectations in training the person with disabilities as it relates to their responsibilities at the workplace.

But equally as infrequent do they invest in training for those who would be colleagues of persons with disabilities. Consequently, they know little or nothing as it pertains to their nuances, their needs, and most importantly, their rights.

It would behoove an employer to educate every employee about the benefits of hiring, working, and supporting persons with disabilities because of the issue of rights.

More importantly, it elevates a sense of comradeship, engagement, and community when all can partake in the essence of inclusion: independence.

2. Planning

Once you have educated those within your organization as to the items mentioned above, the next step is planning.

Planning for what? Planning for change, moderation, and growth.

Plan for Change

Organizations often change products, store layouts, goals, and, even more often, employees. This change usually happens with planning in place. So what more planning do you need?

Persons with disabilities often function best under a structured atmosphere, as do businesses. So when change occurs, have you thought about the ramifications of such change as it relates to an employee with disabilities?

1. Product Change: Will an employee with disabilities find themselves in a change of role and/or responsibilities? Have you prepared that person for such a change?

2. Change the color identification of your products, or perhaps even the design of your interior space: Does the person with disabilities depend on the colors of your products and/or design layout in order to process functional roles and tasks? Have you prepared that person for the change?

3. Corporate goals change standard operating procedures: Will new operating procedures require new tasks and/or processes for completion? Have you informed the person with disabilities in preparation?

4. Are you promoting, moving, or firing an employee? What is the relationship of this employee with the person with disabilities? How are they connected within the business structure (boss, colleague)? How are they connected personally (friend, mentor)? How are they connected operationally (complete tasks together, tasks are co-dependent)?

Persons with disabilities depend on structure and consistency when it comes to expected tasks and workplace competency.

Any ripple to those operational characteristics would need to be imperatively communicated to the person with disabilities before they occur.

If preparation for change is important for a business, then ten-fold it is for a person with disabilities.

3. Equability

An employer’s ability to educate its employees and plan for the occupation of a person with disabilities will allow them to balance both expectations and accountability.

Depending on the person with disabilities, expectations will vary when you are laying out workplace tasks and responsibilities.

Likewise, such thought should be put into a healthy structure of accountability for the person with disabilities. Let’s look at these two separately for a brief moment.


What we expect from a person with disabilities should neither be lofty nor debasing. You must strike a balance or equability for the true success of this inclusion.

Expectations should be based on the abilities of the person, not the disability. When you plan out tasks, goals, and responsibilities around their abilities, you lend the engagement of your organization to the exploration of independence.

When you plan with the disability of the person as the superior thought, you really are only planning for reliance.


The fact that we are speaking of persons with disabilities by no means denotes the pointlessness of accountability.

Accountability methods should absolutely be established for the person with disabilities. Accountability, goal,s and tasks clearly connected to that accountability a crucial and necessary tool for the intent of independence.

These accountability methods should be clearly communicated to the person with disabilities.

This is where most employers fail. Their attempt to communicate these measures fall upon distinctive abilities.

A letter, memo, or even a conversation in passing may not be enough to effectively communicate such measures to a person with disabilities.

Try the following:

  • Reviewing accountability methods with the person with disabilities on a one-on-one basis in a place that is quiet and allows attentiveness.
  • Utilizing visual support systems that enhance the subjective application of the accountability methods (photos of actual employees, photos of the workplace and/or departments within the workplace).
  • Use charts that create a visual ‘relational’ diagram of how their responsibilities and tasks impact the rest of their team.
  • Ask questions about the methods and discuss openly with the individual with disabilities about their comfort level and understanding of those measures.

4. Support Systems

Let’s lay the cards out on the table. We are not talking about support by means of phone or email. We are talking about personal, humanistic, and neighborly support.

There is an old saying that goes, “The house did not collapse due to dense rain; instead, it sunk due to being fabricated on the sand.”

The point here is that support systems without proper education and planning are like building a house on sand. When it falls apart, to blame the support would be like blaming the rain.

If you have put conscientious effort into the prior three steps, then you have already laid bricks as your foundation for inclusion. Here are some ideas for molding solid foundational support systems for persons with disabilities:

  • Creating a professional peer group that discusses and explores strategies for better inclusion within the corporate environment.
  • Having regular meetings with colleagues and the person(s) with disabilities to discuss workplace tasks and concerns and offering a suggestion box, or what we like to call it: SPARKING SPACES: Ideas that create a spark.
  • Have regular meetings with the family or support network of the person with disabilities. Often, challenges outside of the work environment can impact behavior or performance at the workplace. Wait, that happens to all of us!
  • Create performance milestones for the person with disabilities. They cannot achieve independence if they do not see the value in growth. Mundane, routine-like tasks at work may be what most think is easiest for persons with disabilities. This is why we see so many of our loved ones with disabilities bagging at our local supermarket. What’s next for them? Will they ever move up and feel accomplished? That is a question for the employer to answer.

Celebrating the hard work that goes into educating, planning, and balancing the workplace for persons with disabilities is not only productive but is rewarding.

When you have provided education to employees on “inclusion,” allow the conclusion to be a celebration of the topic. When you have implemented planned change and executed those plans, celebrate it with all of your employees.

When you have struck a fine balance within your operational procedure that confer both expectations and accountability equally, celebrate it with the entire team, department, and even the organization.

Your organization’s successes in its pathway to inclusion should be celebrated at each stage as the landmark it is. Celebrate inclusion, and all those around you will join in on the celebration.

How Can Leaders Include Persons With Disabilities?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Nelson Santiago
Nelson Santiago
Nelson is co-founder of Picasso Einstein a firm that provides branding consulting services for businesses. They also teach entrepreneurship to persons with disabilities and their families through the "E4i" (Entrepreneurship 4 Independence) program. Picasso Einstein is currently assisting the Dan Marino Foundation to develop the Entrepreneurship Program for the Marino Campus, a school of higher learning for young adults with developmental disabilities.
  • Ramdeo Choudhary says:

    I fully agree and applaud your observations about the term INCLUSION. Hiring of Persons with disabilities as an unavoidable mandate needs to be reviewed with INCLUSION of our consciousness and soul in the process and subsequent engagements need to be structured in a humanistic way in line with the details nicely explained by you. Let us try to seek and recognise ability in disability not only in others but in ourselves as well.

  • Thank you Ramdeo. Let us continue to applaud those whom see the value in hiring those persons with disabilities. cheers to you.

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