Every day, thousands of employees with disabilities go into the office. Regardless of physical ability level, age or background, one thing these people have in common is that their employers have taken steps to make the workplace more accommodating for everyone. 

If your company isn't one of the many across the U.S. that employee disabled workers, you may find yourself unsure of how to proceed when an employee with a physical or cognitive disability joins your ranks. It's important to understand what accommodations these employers are entitled to under the law, what your responsibility as an employer is and how you can help facilitate a work environment that's mutually constructive.

Federal awareness initiatives
October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. The goal of the month was to raise awareness of issues that affect disabled employees on a daily basis, and to highlight the many important contributions such workers bring to the table every day.

The observance started in 1945, and has since been accompanied by a yearly theme. The theme for this year was "Expect, Employ, Empower." As Business and Legal Resources noted, this year's theme encourages employers to approach disability employment issues from a positive angle rather than a negative or restrictive one. In other words, companies should ensure managers and coworkers focus on a disabled employee's abilities and unique skills rather than their physical or cognitive disability. Fortunately, the source noted that 57 percent of companies surveyed offer training on the subject of working with a coworker with a disability.

"Advancing disability employment is about much more than just hiring. It's about creating a continuum of inclusion," assistant secretary of labor for the Disability Employment Policy told the source.

What is the employer's responsibility?
Small-business owners may not necessarily understand what their imperative is when employing someone with a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all employers to provide reasonable accommodation to anyone living with a disability, and this can take many forms. This can range from reducing workloads to offering greater flexibility in the manner in which an employee carries out his or her job duties – for example, providing accommodations for telecommuting.

The ADA is stridently enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As such, employers who are unsure of their responsibility in a given situation are advised to seek assistance through HR outsourcing. Even smaller companies that may not have the resources to sustain a full in-house HR department have options. The affordability of PEO companies offers an alternative in the form of HR services. It's better than a potentially costly lawsuit or a compliance issue.