Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (or the ADA). This revolutionary legislation gave rights and equal access to millions of Americans. When most people think of disability, they picture a physical disability (i.e., someone using a mobility aid like a wheelchair or a walker), but often forget that someone with an invisible disability (i.e., someone with side effects from a cancer diagnosis, anxiety, depression, PTSD, long-COVID, epilepsy, etc.), may also be protected under the ADA.
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, up to 80 percent of disabilities are not apparent. As a result, statistics on people with disabilities are grossly under reported. A report by the Boston Consulting Group found that while 25% of employees self-identify as having a disability or medical condition that limits a major life activity, companies report just 4-7% of their employees are people with disabilities. This underreporting of statistics has affected diversity programs. While most companies have some sort of diversity initiative, only 4% include disability in those efforts.
Employees with disabilities experience higher rates of unemployment, underemployment or workplace discrimination. According to research conducted in 2022 by Cancer and Careers and Harris Poll, around a quarter of adults (24%) feel that disclosing their cancer diagnosis has limited their ability to find a better job, while nearly 3 in 10 (28%) believe they lost their job because of their diagnosis. It’s because of these concerns and the overall lack of awareness toward the needs of people with disabilities that we need to talk more about all the ways, visible and invisible, someone might be disabled—even if that language isn’t how they would describe themselves.
Beyond protection from discrimination, understanding how the ADA’s reasonable accommodations can support an eligible employee who wants to—or needs to—continue on the job while balancing side effects related to their cancer treatment is critical. “Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process. These modifications enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job, but successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities. The ADA requires reasonable accommodations as they relate to three aspects of employment: 1) ensuring equal opportunity in the application process; 2) enabling a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job; and 3) making it possible for an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.” (Source: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/program-areas/employers/accommodations). Practically speaking this could be anything from modifying your work environment (e.g., getting an anti-glare screen, moving desks away from distracting smells or noise, a special chair to offer proper lumbar support, etc.) or your work schedule (such as more breaks in the day, earlier or later start time, working remotely, etc.) to getting access to technology or your company changing a policy to better accommodate your disability, and more. The Job Accommodation Network reports that most accommodations cost an employer nothing and those that do, typically cost $500 or less. And the benefits are enormous. According to Psychology Today, organizations that provide accommodations for their employees see higher employee retention rates, increased diversity, enhanced morale, safer workplaces and improved coworker interactions.
We’re thrilled to celebrate the existence of the ADA which has helped to pave the way for more supportive and inclusive environments, in the workplace and beyond. But remember the ADA is just a starting place. Some states have even more protective laws that go further than the ADA (To find out more information, contact your state attorney general’s office, or reach out to an attorney). Beyond what the law requires, every company can choose to provide a safe and welcoming environment . We offer guidance, materials and trainings to equip HR, managers and staff to better support people navigating cancer (or another serious illness) and work. If you want to hear more about how Cancer and Careers is helping companies create more supportive work environments or to engage us to help reach your goals reach out to Leticia Bennett-White, Senior Director of Development and Strategic Partnerships.
For more on the ADA: