A critical component of building an inclusive workplace is recognizing and supporting current employees who have disabilities. In the past, employees were frequently discouraged from revealing a disability, and employers weren’t allowed to ask their employees about disability status. But new regulations under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require federal contractors to invite employees to self-identify as an individual with a disability (IWD)—and that’s a best practice that all companies should follow.

Why? For starters, self-identification helps companies understand that they’re very likely already employing people with disabilities—statistically, 1 in 5 people have a disability—and that they could do a better job supporting them if they knew what their employees were struggling with. And because people with disabilities may be afraid to speak up for fear of being treated differently, encouraging self identification can help employees feel safe enough to ask for the help they may need.

Simply put, a corporate culture that encourages and invites self-identification helps companies have better conversations about how to support their employees with disabilities, and helps employees better advocate for themselves.

Depending on the company and its culture, encouraging self-identification can take many forms—from including information about self-identification in regularly scheduled employee communications, such as newsletters, to full-blown self-identification campaigns that could include employee testimonials, HR outreach and educational videos.

At one Fortune 500 company, for example, 10% of employees self-identify as having a disability —well above the national average of 3.7%—thanks to multi-faceted efforts that have included addressing it during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), having HR representatives talk about it and messaging that “this is part of who we were as an organization” rather than a one-time activity.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has developed a form for federal contractors to use to invite employees or applicants to self-identify as an individual with a disability. At the very least, your company should make this form readily available for employees to access, and encourage self-identification using this form on a regular basis.

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