How Providence supports employees with disabilities

March 22, 2024 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month — when non-disabled people join forces with those who have developmental disabilities to change perceptions.

  • In the Providence Disability Caregiver Resource Group, employees who have disabilities or have dependents with disabilities come together for support.

  • At Providence, we’re working to combat the stigma of having a developmental disability.

Our world is a better place because we have so many different kinds of people. This includes those of different races, gender identities, sexual orientations and religions — and those who have disabilities. In March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities celebrates Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This celebration shows how people of all different abilities can come together.

Sarah Quinto, MA, CFRE, is a senior program strategy officer for Providence’s Office of Philanthropy. She also serves as co-chair of the Providence Disability Caregiver Resource Group. The group supports both Providence employees who have disabilities, and those who have a dependent with a disability — which can include children, spouses, parents or other loved ones.

We spoke with Quinto about some of the challenges that people with developmental disabilities face. She also offers steps others can take to make them feel more welcome in a variety of situations.

What are developmental disabilities?

First, let’s take a look at developmental disabilities as a whole. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), developmental disabilities are a group of conditions that cause challenges in physical, learning, language or behavior areas. They can include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Spina bifida
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome

“Developmental disability is very vast, and a spectrum,” says Quinto. “This identity doesn’t fill just one space.”

The stigma of developmental disabilities

One of the biggest challenges people with developmental disabilities face, says Quinto, is the stigma associated with their condition. She compares her own disability as an example: Quinto has hearing loss, but over the years, the stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid has lessened.

“There are times when I feel less disabled,” she says. “My hearing loss has gotten worse, but I’m less disabled because society has accepted it more. There is more accessibility and education around hearing loss.”

By contrast, she says, many people have a strong reaction to the term “developmental disabilities.” When they learn a person has such a disability, they may wonder if that person will be able to do their job well. As a result, people who have developmental disabilities may not feel safe disclosing their disability to their coworkers or managers.

There are many people with ADHD and autism, for example, who never inform their boss because they fear repercussions.

Advocating for people with disabilities

The goal of the Providence Disability Caregiver Resource Group is two-fold. The group supports employees and also advocates within the health care system for people who have disabilities. In particular, it wants to give employees who have both physical and developmental disabilities the chance to be leaders. Navigating the world with a disability often requires creativity and resilience. That means people with disabilities can offer a necessary perspective to health care.

Quinto points out the biggest challenge some people face isn’t their condition itself, but rather how other people react to that condition. “As people with disabilities, we have to educate others on the value we bring, especially in health care,” she says. “The primary barrier isn’t the disability itself, but the attitudes and the lack of accessibility.”

It's important that people with and without a disability become more comfortable talking openly about disability. “Engaging in open dialogue is extremely useful for building health for a better world,” Quinto says.

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Related resources

People with disabilities get on-the-job training with Project SEARCH

Physical and mental health care go hand in hand

Could you or someone you love have ADHD?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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