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How Occupational Therapy Can Help You Employ Individuals with Disabilities

disability management diversity/equity/inclusion Oct 19, 2023
How Occupational Therapy Can Help You Employ Individuals with Disabilities


Occupational Therapy is a valuable resource for employees with disabilities, offering tailored solutions that enable them to excel in the workplace and in life. “Occupation” refers to anything you do to “occupy your time” – Occupational Therapists (OTs) are activity-focused and help to remove barriers to activity engagement for individuals with physical, mental, cognitive and/or sensory impairments. By focusing on holistic assessments, personalized interventions, and ongoing support, Occupational Therapy empowers individuals with disabilities to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.

By embracing these services, employers can create a workplace culture that values the contributions of all employees, regardless of their abilities. Implementing a comprehensive disability management program can also have many other health, economic, and social benefits that employers should be aware of when developing their business strategies.


The Benefits of Hiring Employees with Disabilities

Employees with disabilities who are enabled to have meaningful employment experience increased levels of physical and psychological well-being than those who do not work. Organizations that hire people with disabilities and implement workplace accommodations also report numerous benefits. According to a 2018 study from Accenture, companies that stand out in terms of disability inclusion and employment report1:

  • 72% more productivity
  • 30% higher product margins
  • 200% higher net income

A report from the Job Accommodation Network also revealed that employers who include disability and accommodations as part of their business strategy report benefits such as2:

  • Better workplace safety
  • Improved employee attendance
  • Increased employee retention
  • Improved interactions with co-workers
  • Increased company morale


How Occupational Therapy Enables Employment for Employees with Disabilities

A popular model that OTs use to identify and remove barriers for their clients is the PEO model.3 PEO stands for: Person – Environment – Occupation. An OT will assess each of these components to find the source of the barrier(s) to activity participation and engagement. Once the barriers are determined, the OT intervention plan is developed to help the client reach their goals. 

  • Person: physical, emotional, mental, cognitive, social, spiritual
  • Occupation: leisure, productivity, self-care activities – what does the person need or want to do that they are having difficulty with?
  • Environment: how does the physical, social, institutional, cultural environments impact activity engagement?

A work-focused OT uses this same model to assess and determine appropriate accommodations, with slightly different wording. At Gowan Consulting, our OTs use the WORK-WORKER-WORKPLACE model.

WORK (occupation):

  • What are the job demands? (I.e., what tasks does the employee need to complete to achieve the outcome of the role?) OTs measure the physical, cognitive, sensory, and emotional components of the job.

WORKER (person):

  • What are the employee’s abilities and limitations? (Physical, cognitive, sensory, emotional)

WORKPLACE (environment):

  • How does the work environment impact the employee? (Workplace culture, physical workspace, institutional or organizational impacts)

By looking thoroughly at all of these components through interviewing, job observation, and standardized testing, the Occupational Therapist can determine the source of the barriers and develop accommodation recommendations and/or intervention plan.

An OT can be engaged to address potential barriers at any point in the work lifecycle, including at the following stages:

  • Hiring and selection
  • Onboarding and training
  • Retention and ongoing support
  • Role transition


What Can Employers Do to Support Employees with Disabilities?

  • Recognize if an employee is struggling to engage with any aspect of work.
  • Fulfill your duty to inquire about accommodations. If you recognize that an employee is struggling to complete aspects of their role, ask them whether they require accommodations or adjustment to their work.
  • Offer appropriate accommodation. Ask for help from an Occupational Therapist in assessing, determining, and implementing accommodation strategies (changes to the work or workplace and teaching the worker skills and strategies to be successful).
  • Ensure your employee's confidentiality – our Occupational Therapists help protect your legal compliance by ensuring confidentiality of the employee’s medical information.


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting provides a structured approach to disability management from prevention to intervention to return to function. Our Occupational Therapists and our individualized solution-focused approach gives your organization the tools it needs to manage employees’ health needs as they arise in order to minimize the possibility or impact of work disability. We can provide the following services and training:



1. Accenture (2018). Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage

2. Job Accommodation Network (2023, May 4). Costs and Benefits of Accommodation.

3. Law, M., Cooper, B. A., Strong, S., Stewart, D., Rigby, P., & Letts, L. (1996). The person-environment-occupation model: A transactive approach to occupational performance. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 9-23.