The Importance of Disability Employee Resource Groups

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
4 min readJun 13, 2019

Do you bring your “authentic self” to work? Most people with disabilities don’t, especially those with invisible disabilities. Disability ERGs can help with that.

Cartoon human cutouts grouped under signs with the wheelchair symbol under them

First-class relationships are possible only in an atmosphere of total trust.
― Wu Wei,
I Ching Life: Becoming Your Authentic Self

The Center for Talent Innovation’s “Disabilities and Inclusion” study found that 30% of the professional workforce fits the current federal definition of having a disability. When looking at the IT profession in particular, the most recent Stack Overflow survey reported the figure as a cumulative 29.3 % of respondents — only slightly less.

Sometimes disability status is unavoidably obvious — those of us who use mobility aids, hearing processors, or assistive technology can’t hide our disabilities even if we wanted to. But most disabilities are hidden.

Invisible disability” is an umbrella term that encompasses a significant number of disabling conditions that can’t be detected at first glance. Just a few of these include renal failure, heart defects, diabetes, tinnitus, sleep disorders, chronic pain/ fatigue, epilepsy, migraines, fibromyalgia, learning differences, color blindness, HIV status, digestive disorders, TBI and memory issues, early stages of many serious diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease and most mental health issues. For every person you have identified as having a visible disability, you’ve seen at least three more people with a hidden disability. You also can’t assume that a person with a visible disability isn’t additionally challenged with a hidden disability. Though I use a wheelchair, my type 1 diabetes status is my most significant disability challenge.

The CIT study found that only 39% of employees with disabilities have disclosed them to their manager. As small as that number is, even fewer have disclosed to their teams (24%) or HR (21%). In the professional services world, this number almost plummets to none (4%) indicating a huge reluctance to reveal disability status to clients.

The potential stigma that could come with a workplace disclosure is the number one reason cited by employees with invisible disabilities to keep these issues concealed at work. Even in…

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Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.