Meeting Employees Where They are At: A Guide to Understanding Disability & Avoiding Ableism

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Let’s start with the definition of Ableism. According to The National Multicultural Institute, Ableism is the “Discrimination against persons with mental and/or physical disabilities; social structures that favor able-bodied individuals”. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Ableism” refers to attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities.”

"The Law of Commission of Ontario has stated: [Ableism] may be defined as a belief system, analogous to racism, sexism or ageism, that sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities.”

“Ableist attitudes are often based on the view that disability is an “anomaly to normalcy,” rather than an inherent and expected variation in the human condition. Ableism may also be expressed in ongoing paternalistic and patronizing behaviour toward people with disabilities.” According to Ontario Human Rights Code, there are five (5) Social Areas protected from discrimination under the Code.

So what defines a disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines “Disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (sometimes referred to in the regulations as an “actual disability”).”

In Canada, the following definition is used: “Disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person's body and mind and features of the society in which they live. A disability can occur at any time in a person's life; some people are born with a disability, while others develop a disability later in life. It can be permanent, temporary or episodic. Disability can steadily worsen, remain the same, or improve. It can be very mild to very severe. It can be the cause, as well as the result, of disease, illness, injury, or substance abuse.”

There is a reason we specify our language here around “actual disability”. Language matters in all spaces and there are perceptions of disability and actual disabilities. It’s important to note that not all who may fall into the definition of disabled consider themselves to be disabled, so careful not to regard people as disabled and make decisions without appropriate considerations and partnering with your HR and Legal Teams.

Both US and Canadian Law highlight the importance of our language and encourage inclusivity in our language to “help(s) to eliminate the stigma of disability and the perception of people with disabilities as "dependent".

How can I support my existing team and future applicants/candidates?

You can support your employees’, applicants’, and candidates’ journeys best by providing a safe and inclusive space for them to progress through your recruitment process. This means having accessible applications, multiple formats to the process to accommodate, openness to different skillsets applicants and candidates brings, continuous internal inclusivity as well as strong Community Outreach to continue filling your pipeline with the best candidates. You can (and should) review policies and procedures to ensure they are inclusive of all employees, applicants, and candidates and adjust as necessary.

You can also perform Job Analysis with employee input from Pulse Surveys, Stay Interviews, Engagement Surveys, and other data points. You can support the employee, applicant, or candidate on their journey to disclosure (or non-disclosure) and work through the Interactive Process to explore potential accommodations. It’s not against the law to not disclose a disability so please hold your frustrations.

Remember: Some individuals with disabilities do not regard themselves as such. There is still a lot of stigma with disability disclosure and fear that it will cost individuals with disabilities career opportunities. Focus on the job, the Essential Functions, the capabilities, and educating and supporting leadership vs traveling down the road of Bias.

Where do I start to get supportive resources to be educated as an employer or an employee?

If you have an HR Department, connect with your HR resource internally. If you are not yet at the size or stage of scale to have or need a dedicated HR resource, you can reach out to Liebs & Co. or CEPHR, LLC for further guidance.

You will also want to connect with your internal or external Legal Counsel for guidance. If you have a dedicated HR resource, they are often the bridge between these conversations. Don’t feel like you have to go this alone, and it is not recommended to.

You are never alone. There is support to help you navigate education and awareness on disability. Whether it is a checklist of how to be more inclusive and supportive, or a list of local resources we are here to support you too!

In the US, here are some resources and supportive organizations: Job Accommodation Network (JAN), your State and Local Vocational Rehabilitation Centers.

In Canada, here are some supportive resources and organizations.

It’s a new Quarter and just look at all the fun we have cooking up in #TheHROffice here at CEPHR and the things we’re excited to celebrate!!!! 📈


CEPHR is proud to announce its newest Strategic Alliance Partnership with Liebs & Co., an education-based company supporting employers about disabilities, and helping to create more empathetic and inclusive workplaces for all people, founded by Max Lieberman. Max's drive comes from his own experience living and working with a learning disability.

His goal now is to ensure that in the future, every employee entering the workforce with a disability will be in an environment to thrive, regardless of disability. And we are glad to be a part of the future and this Strategic Alliance Partnership with Max and Liebs & Co.! 🥳 Watch for more updates from this team in the coming weeks!


  • Shout-out to our women-owned businesses for their resilience through these turbulent, uncertain times and making things happen with BIG IMPACTS! Help us also celebrate National Women’s Small Business Month! 👏🏾 As a Woman-Owned Small Business, CEPHR is proud to continue making strides in supporting other women-owned businesses to thrive, and to have strong and growing Strategic Alliance Partnerships with other women-owned businesses.

  • According to the United States Census, the number of Women-Owned Employer Firms Increased 0.6% From 2017 to 2018, yet they made up only 19.9% of all firms that employed people in the United States in 2018. The good news is that this number is growing, according to the Census. Women-owned employer firms reported nearly $1.8 trillion in sales, shipments, receipts or revenue and employed over 10.1 million workers with an annual payroll of $388.1 billion in 2018. How's THAT for contributing to the Economy??? Thank you, ladies, for all you do. We see you and we support you.

  • ✅ Our health is very important, and on that note, help us celebrate National Physical Therapy Month! It’s critical to make any necessary accommodations for our own teams to support both work and life needs. As a need arose at CEPHR last month, we made allowances for Self Care a priority. Meetings can always be shifted or rebalanced. Show up for your team. Special thanks to the amazing team at Hess PT for their support the past several weeks!

We’ll see you next month for a new edition and in the meantime……Keep shining! We're in your corner!

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