Four Ways Business Leaders Can Uplift Disabled Women

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on March 10, 2022 # Employment

In 2021, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 10.1% compared to 5.1% for nondisabled people. Additionally, research consistently shows us that women with disabilities are paid less than nondisabled people and paid less than men with disabilities. With these statistics in mind, this Women’s History Month I’m celebrating by offering four specific ways that business leaders can uplift disabled women in the working world:

1. Actively recruit, hire, and promote disabled women – and pay us competitively.

I hear it all too often – company executives and business owners alike say, “I’d hire women with disabilities, but they don’t apply for the jobs.” That’s a lazy excuse, and if you’re truly a leader, you’ll stop saying that today.

It’s not enough to hope that disabled women candidates will simply come your way. Your business needs to take a hard look at itself first. What are your recruiting practices? What do your job descriptions say? Are you sending the message that you even want disabled women in your workplace?

If you simply post jobs in places where predominantly nondisabled people look and have a bunch of unnecessary things listed in your “requirements” for the jobs, you may be telling women with disabilities that they’re not welcome without even knowing it.

Does your job description list some of the following tasks? Must be able to: Sit/stand for X period of time; ability to bend/kneel; ability to lift X amount of weight; ability to climb stairs. If so, you might be alienating some women with physical disabilities.

Do you require a driver’s license? Well, that means women with some physical disabilities, vision disabilities, and other conditions will not be applying.

Think about what you list in your job requirements. Are those things really required to do the job? If not, rewrite the job description and you’ll be sending a signal to people with disabilities that your job just might be the right fit for them!

Of course, it’s not enough to recruit us! After you recruit us, hire us! Hire us for all different jobs. There are women with disabilities all over the country who have different skillsets and can perform different jobs. Don’t assume that there’s only one type of job that we can do.

2. Hire disabled women consultants to perform access reviews of your workplace.

Great leaders want to ensure that their workplace is welcoming to their customers, employees, and guests. 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. lives with a disability, so it’s only logical that there are a lot of disabled people coming through your workplace – whether in person or virtually. It is not the job of your employees or customers with disabilities to advise you on how to be accessible and welcoming to the Disability Community – it is your job to make sure your disabled employees and customers have access and feel welcome. The best way to do this is to hire disabled consultants to perform access reviews of your workplace. This can include consultants with disabilities to review your physical space, your website, and even your policies and procedures. There are plenty of disabled women-led businesses that provide these consulting services. Partner with one today.

3. Mentor disabled women.

It’s no secret that women with disabilities experience more barriers in employment. Disabled women experience higher rates of unemployment than nondisabled women, and when we are employed, we are paid significantly less. Additionally, we’re less likely to be offered career advancement opportunities. You can help to change this narrative by mentoring disabled women. By “mentoring,” I don’t mean just offering your advice to women with disabilities – I mean showing up for them. Introduce your disabled women mentees to your networks, connect them to job opportunities, and assist them in learning new skills that will help them to advance in their careers. Actively work to uplift the disabled women in your life.

3. Find yourself disabled women mentors.

Just as much as disabled women can benefit from your mentorship, you can benefit from the mentorship of women with disabilities. Seek out disabled women mentors and talk with them regularly. Disabled women mentors can help workplaces become more inclusive, address unconscious bias, and can help you understand new perspectives. Have lunch with your disabled women mentors and intentionally do not talk about disability issues – I bet you’ll learn a whole lot more than you’d ever expect.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.