webinar recap

Webinar Recap: Disability Etiquette in the Workplace

Moderator: Dana Noweder, Senior Manager of Client Fulfillment at DiversityInc


  • Melissa Stirling, Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Hilton ( 1 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021)
  • Andrew Holbrook, Senior Vice President, Analytics Manager at Wells Fargo ( 25 in 2021) 

In DiversityInc’s October Meeting in a Box, we broke down the number of adults in the U.S. who live with disabilities and how they are represented in the workforce overall. Over the last year, the workforce’s percentage of people with disabilities grew slightly, an encouraging sign given the uncertainty of the job market and the number of people on the move.

But what kind of workplace do people with disabilities find when they take a new position? Is it welcoming, and do employees have a firm grasp on disability terms and etiquette?

On Nov. 9, we sat down with a pair of experts from leading companies to explore what can and can’t be said to a co-worker with a disability. The panelists also discussed what behaviors should be avoided and the mistakes managers and supervisors often make when engaging with co-workers with disabilities.

Watch the full session below:

Key Webinar Thoughts, Takeaways and Highlights

Melissa Stirling on changing perceptions of disabilities

“I would start with understanding the breadth and depth of disability, having people realize that disability can really refer to a wide variety of conditions. It can refer to learning disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health conditions, etc. Over 42 million people have disabilities in the U.S., and about 15% of the world population identify as having a disability, which is over a billion people. So, I think when you frame it like that, people realize that disability is a part of a human condition and something that you or someone close to you could experience during your working life.”

Andrew Holbrook on building inclusive processes

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is just 31 years old. It’s not that old for a lot of people, myself included. I was in the workforce before the existence of this law, and the legal protections it afforded people within the workforce is just the beginning. The more important part of the acculturation process of getting people with disabilities into the workforce more actively involves etiquette. It has to do with creating interview and recruiting processes that are inclusive, allowing people the opportunity to share what they’re comfortable with sharing, but also not forcing people into a self-disclosure moment.”

Stirling on it being okay to make mistakes

“It’s better to engage than not to engage. Everyone wants to feel seen and heard, and it’s imperative that people be able to make a mistake, apologize for that mistake and then learn from it. This is often part of any learning process, and it’s imperative that you create the space for this to happen. People want to feel safe at work. They want to have a strong sense of trust with their leaders and their peers.”

Holbrook on working with people who use assistive devices

“You wouldn’t necessarily want a co-worker coming and adjusting your collar or brushing something off your face. That’s essentially what you’re doing when you touch an assistive device. I think one of the things that I try to do is use these analogies to say, think about where you would be if you were in that position.”

Stirling on unconscious bias

“Through the journey, I have practiced paying attention to my own unconscious bias — we all have it. I feel that this is the root of so many misconceptions. I try to lead by example and encourage others around me to consciously pay attention to how this plays out in everyday life. It’s the little moments, the little interactions and the snap judgments that are a foundation for thought and action.”

Holbrook on setting neurodiverse hires up for success

“One thing that has been successful is our neurodiversity program. Historically there have not been easy roads into the workforce for neurodiverse people. If you think about the traditional interview, the system may not necessarily be the most comfortable space for neurodiverse individuals. One of the things that this program has done is work with recruiters to build a more inclusive interview process to help create opportunities for the skill sets of these individuals to be recognized as part of the interview process.”

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