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When working with potential or current employees with disabilities, it is easy to stigmatize something that you do not understand. A stigma is a stereotype, prejudice or discrimination against a specific group of people. Examples of stigma include: people with mental illness are incompetent, dangerous, irrational, and unpredictable; or people with physical disabilities are unable to have  successful careers. Of course, these statements are untrue but unfortunately, these are a few of the many beliefs that people have and it creates barriers for those with disabilities.

Stigmas prevent employees with disabilities from being honest about their challenges, as well as create fear and a work environment that does not support the well-being and success of all staff. So how do we create a stigma free environment?

Host Educational Workshops

Partner with mental health organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to educate staff on what mental illness. This allows your staff to hear the stories of individuals who live with a mental illness.

Refrain From Using Stigmatizing Language

Using stigmatizing words often leads to feelings of discomfort and perpetuate the stigma. It is equally important that we do not reduce staff members to a diagnosis (e.g. bipolar, disabled, etc). Our Peer Recovery Advancement Specialist gave a Stigma In The Workplace training with NAMI and here’s what she suggested:

Don’t say:  “Mark is bipolar.”

Do say: “Mark lives with bipolar disorder.

Don’t say: “Stacy is disabled or handicapp.”

Do say: “Stacy is a person with a disability.”

Don’t say: “It’s crazy around here.”

Do say: “It’s so chaotic.”

Don’t say: “I’m going insane.”

Do say: “I’m feeling really frazzled.”

Don’t say: She’s a lunatic.

Do say: “She’s demanding.”

Don’t say: “That’s crazy.”

Do say: “That’s unreasonable.”

Partner With Community Based Organizations

Partner with organizations to host a training such as mental health first aid. This training will teach your staff how to recognize signs of a mental health crisis and what steps to take if a crisis happens at work.

Reducing the stigma in the workplace will create a safe environment, give staff the opportunity to discuss topics without fear of judgement, and perform to their maximum capability.