Disability in the Workplace

This year will undoubtedly be one for the history books for many reasons – the political landscape and related policy discussions, social and racial unrest and the new realities of COVID-19. As a result, we’ve all had opportunities to gain new perspectives that help our individual growth. One of my most meaningful learnings from the year was a heightened awareness of the issues faced by those with disabilities.

I had not spent much time in the past thinking about specific challenges that individuals with disabilities face in the workplace, but that changed when I volunteered for this year’s Global Dive In Festival, which celebrates diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry. I was fortunate to help plan “Disability Inclusion – Radical, Rapid Response to the New Normal,” (please follow the link for session recording) an event that fostered a dialogue about employees with disabilities in the workplace. The panel featured industry leaders from Travelers and Willis Towers Watson, as well as disability experts from the state of Minnesota and LifeWorks, a nonprofit serving individuals with disabilities.

As we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, I’d like to share what I learned from our panelists.

  • This year marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides protections for people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, education, health care, recreation, transportation and housing. However, there is still a long road ahead for ensuring every American with disabilities has the same opportunities for success as those without disabilities.
  • Almost one in four adults in the U.S. identify with some type of disability, making it the largest minority group in the nation. This includes not only physical disabilities, but also what’s commonly referred to as “invisible” or “non-appearing” disabilities,like depression, epilepsy, chronic pain disorder or learning disabilities.
  • Employment rates among people with disabilities are quite low: Only 40 percent of adults with disabilities in their prime working years (ages 25-54) have a job, compared to 79 percent of all adults in this age group.

So, what can we do differently?

  • Challenge candidate screening and recruiting practices at your company. As efficiency advancements are made in using AI algorithms to screen potential candidates, be cautious of the additional bias that is introduced, particularly for people with different types of disabilities.
  • Be mindful of how job descriptions are written. Does a job truly require that an employee can stand for long hours? Consider tailoring job responsibilities to focus on more specific tasks and skills as opposed to “unicorn hunting.” Before you post a new position, challenge your wording to ensure you’re casting a wide net.
  • Partner with government agencies in your state to become more inclusive in your hiring efforts and to more effectively tap into a broader labor pool.

Additionally, COVID has forced many of us into remote work arrangements, which may provide a unique opportunity to tap into talent pools of individuals who may not work as optimally in a traditional office setting. As an example, employees on the autism spectrum may be more comfortable working in a remote setting rather than in an office. Remote work options give companies an opportunity to leverage these employees’ strengths around pattern recognition for work in the actuarial and analytic space.

I encourage you to share thoughts on how our industry and our profession can be more inclusive to those with disabilities in the workplace.


About Wesley Griffiths

Wesley Griffiths is an actuary at Travelers based in Saint Paul, MN. He is a strong advocate for diversity within the actuarial profession and currently serves as a member of the CAS Leadership Development Committee.