October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time when we celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and acknowledge the importance of creating inclusive workplaces. A significant aspect of fostering inclusivity is allyship, which involves individuals using their privilege to support marginalized colleagues.
In this article, we’ll debunk common myths about allyship in the workplace for individuals with disabilities to help you be a better ally.
Debunking 18 Myths on Allyship
Myth 1: Allyship is Only About Being Supportive
While support is a key aspect of an allyship, allyship goes beyond offering a sympathetic ear. Allyship involves taking steps to challenge and change the systemic barriers individuals with disabilities face in the workplace.
Allyship is using your influence to advocate for accessible facilities, promote inclusive policies, and lobby for equitable hiring practices. Allyship is not just a passive gesture; it’s an ongoing commitment.
Myth 2: Allyship Means Speaking for Others
One of the most counterproductive myths about allyship is that allies should speak on behalf of individuals with disabilities. This assumption can inadvertently silence the voices of people with disabilities and perpetuate the misconception that they need to be spoken for.
Effective allyship involves amplifying their voices, not speaking over them.
Instead of assuming what people with disabilities need, engage in open conversations, listen to their experiences, and encourage them to speak out. Learn from them and collaborate on solutions to build a more disability-inclusive workplace.
Related Article: ‘Ally’ Is a Verb: 8 Ways to Practice Allyship at Work
Myth 3: Allyship Requires Grand Gestures
Allyship doesn’t require grand displays of activism. While public demonstrations and campaigns can be impactful, everyday actions matter just as much.
Simple acts like using people-first language, respecting personal boundaries, and creating accessible work technology contribute to a more inclusive workplace.¹ Consistent, small actions build the foundation of trust and respect, demonstrating to individuals with disabilities that they are valued.
Myth 4: Allyship is a One-Time Effort
Effective allyship is an ongoing journey. Initiating change and creating an inclusive environment requires sustained effort and continuous learning.
Seek to educate yourself about the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and stay updated on best practices for inclusion. Periodically check in with your colleagues to ensure your actions are helpful and respectful.
Myth 5: Allyship is Always Comfortable
Allyship often involves stepping out of your comfort zone. Addressing discrimination, bias, and ableism can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary for progress.
Challenging colleagues or superiors when they make inappropriate comments or exclude individuals with disabilities requires courage and some risk to your reputation. Allies are willing to speak out, despite the risk, to ensure that the workplace becomes an inclusive and supportive space for everyone.
Myth 6: Allyship is a Selfless Act
Allyship is not solely selfless; it’s also about mutual benefit to people without disabilities. An inclusive workplace fosters creativity, drives innovation, and amplifies diverse perspectives. When individuals with disabilities are empowered to fully participate at work, the entire team enjoys the rewards.
Myth 7: Allyship Requires Perfection
Allyship is a learning process, and nobody is perfect. When beginning your disability inclusion journey, you will periodically say or do the wrong thing. How you respond to feedback and focus on doing better next time matters. Take responsibility, apologize when necessary, and seek to rectify your mistakes.
Myth 8: Allyship is Limited to Individuals with Disabilities
Allyship extends beyond specific identity groups. The principles of allyship can be applied to various marginalized communities. By understanding and advocating for the intersectional nature of discrimination, you can become an ally to multiple groups. For example, being an ally to individuals with disabilities also involves addressing issues related to gender, race, sexual orientation, and more.
Myth 9: Allyship Doesn’t Impact Company Culture
Allyship has a significant impact on company culture. When employees witness colleagues actively engaging in an allyship, it sets a precedent for inclusivity. It encourages open dialogue, empathy, and a sense of belonging. Conversely, the absence of allyship can perpetuate a culture of exclusion, leading to lower morale and decreased productivity.
Related Article: Set the Right Foundations: What is Belonging in the Workplace?
Myth 10: Allyship Is a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
Allyship is different for every person. The needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities vary greatly, and effective allyship requires flexibility.
What is appreciated by one person may not be appreciated by another. It’s crucial to engage in open conversations and ask for guidance on how you can best support your colleagues. Tailoring your approach to each person ensures your efforts are genuinely supportive and impactful.
Myth 11: Allyship Requires Formal Training
While formal training on diversity and inclusion can be beneficial, allyship doesn’t require a certificate or college degree. It begins with a genuine desire to understand and support individuals with disabilities.
Watching disability inclusion videos, reading articles by people with disabilities, and engaging in conversations with coworkers who have disabilities enables you to learn about their experiences. What matters most is your willingness to listen, learn, and apply your knowledge to seek positive change.
Myth 12: Allyship Is About “Fixing” Individuals with Disabilities
Allyship is not about viewing individuals with disabilities as broken or needing fixing. They are whole, capable people who are seeking normal work and life experience. You don’t know what’s best for them. While often well-meaning, recommending a “fix” for their condition will often be perceived negatively. Focus on listening, exercising empathy, and building an environment at work where they can feel included and heard.
Myth 13: Allyship Is Too Time-Consuming
Effective allyship doesn’t require a significant time investment. Small, consistent actions make a difference. Practice empathy with coworkers and advocate for accessibility and disability inclusion when given an opportunity. Over time, these actions accumulate and contribute to a more inclusive workplace.
Myth 14: Allyship Is Only for Leaders
Allyship is not exclusive to those in leadership roles. Every individual within an organization can play a role in creating an inclusive environment. Whether you’re a manager, colleague, or intern, your actions and perspective impact the workplace culture. Empathy and advocacy can go a long way in making someone feel valued and respected.
Myth 15: Allyship Is a “Trend”
Allyship is not a passing trend; it’s a fundamental shift towards equity and inclusion. As society becomes more aware of the importance of diversity, allyship becomes increasingly relevant. However, genuine allyship goes beyond performative actions driven by trends. It’s about sustaining efforts to create lasting change in how we perceive and treat individuals with disabilities.
Myth 16: Allyship Is Exclusively Emotional Support
Emotional support can be part of an allyship. After all, we would like an empathetic ear when we’re having a bad day. Effective allies go beyond empathy and work to dismantle barriers, push for changes, and advocate for equal access to opportunities. A well-rounded ally provides both emotional support and tangible actions that lead to systemic improvements.
Myth 17: Allyship Is Just About Being Nice
While kindness is expected, allyship requires more than just being nice. It involves confronting biases, acknowledging privilege, and advocating for meaningful change. Being an ally might involve uncomfortable conversations and difficult discussions. These are necessary steps to challenge the status quo and create a fairer workplace.
Myth 18: Allyship Guarantees Instant Results
Allyship is a long-term commitment, and change doesn’t happen overnight. While your efforts as an ally can lead to favorable shifts, remaining patient and persistent is important. The impact of your actions might not be immediately visible, but your consistent support contributes to a gradual transformation in the workplace culture.
The Real Meaning of Being an Ally
Ultimately, allyship in the workplace for individuals with disabilities is not about fulfilling a checklist; it’s about embodying principles that promote fairness, respect, and inclusion.
By actively challenging misconceptions, we can pave the way for change and foster environments where everyone can thrive. Allyship is a continuous journey of growth, learning, and advocacy—a journey well worth taking.
BE A TRUE ALLY TODAY WITH PEAK PERFORMERS
Your journey as an ally starts here—with a team that values diversity and amplifies many unique perspectives. By partnering with a staffing firm that’s committed to disability hiring like Peak Performers, you’re working to create a professional landscape that’s more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming for everyone.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you advance your DEI goals.
1. “People First Language” GCDD, gcdd.org/people-first-language. 20 Sep. 2023.
2. “Intersectionality and Multiple Discrimination” Council of Europe, www.coe.int/intersectionality-and-multiple-discrimination. 20 Sep. 2023.