Here are 6 Reasons Why You Need the Disability Equality Index (DEI)

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As a person with a visible disability who has spent most of my professional career in HR leading diversity and inclusion, I’m frequently asked to offer an opinion on the merits of completing the DEI.  Knowing how precious resources are to fill out any kind of survey or assessment tool, it’s an important question, where do companies get the greatest return on investment?

Here are 6 reasons why I encourage companies to register for the DEI by January 13, 2017 and complete it by April 21, 2017:

1.)   The DEI is a joint initiative of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). It was developed by a 20-person DEI Advisory Committee made up of equal numbers of business leaders and disability inclusion advocates.

2.)   The DEI is a transparent, comprehensive assessment of disability inclusion, with all questions visible from the outset (rather than appearing depending on how you answer a question) that recognizes companies that score an 80 or above.  Note:  The names of companies scoring less than 80 are kept confidential.

3.)   While it’s often desirable to seek validation for hard won diversity and inclusion accomplishments, and there may be leaders in your company who seem to have an insatiable appetite for positive PR, it’s necessary to be selective and only choose those that will resonate  with your employees, customers and suppliers as authentically earned.  The DEI will help your company make real progress and provide acknowledgement that the disability community views as sincere and meaningful.

4.)   Unfortunately, it’s rare to attend a disability event that includes leaders from the business community where the speakers talk about the significant market opportunity ($220 Billion in U.S. $3 Trillion globally), and brand loyalty of people with disabilities and their stakeholders; how to include disability-owned businesses in supplier diversity efforts; and where to find top talent who also happens to have a disability. This is puzzling because with any other event focused on under-represented groups, typically you would see all aspects described included.  The DEI is a tool that will help business advance disability inclusion across the business and will continue to raise the bar over time.

5.)    Business leaders have found the DEI to be #morethanascore. Here are some quotes from my D&I colleagues who have participated in the DEI:

“The DEI requires a higher level of thoughtfulness, and many pairs of eyes to understand and address the questions. When various stakeholders across the company review the questions, the questions tell them the story of what disability inclusion really entails. This allowed us to engage in conversations with individuals who might not have thought about these topics as deeply prior to seeing the DEI questions. The process is as valuable as the result.” 

“The DEI is not just a prize for participation, but for doing the real work. The scored outcome is something tangible you can show leadership to demonstrate the fruits of the organization’s labor.  Meaningful outcomes, not just an award, but accomplishments.” 

“To score 80+ on DEI is to be in rarified company with organizations who have made this investment.  As a business to business organization, this also shows our clients who have made an investment that is similar to the one we have made with regards to true disability inclusion that we take this seriously.  If you give everybody a prize for participation, you lose the value and meaningfulness of this. 

“Some of the questions were truly eye opening and challenged us to make some important changes like adding hearing aids to our covered benefits, and designating and training someone in our technology department to focus on accessibility.”

“Questions are thought provoking and cause you to examine and review policies and practices.”

6.)   Beyond all of this, there’s an even more important factor in making the decision to complete the DEI. In my experience as a D&I practitioner, all diverse communities subscribe to the mantra, “Nothing about us without us.” African Americans, Women, LGBTQ, Asia Pacific Islanders, Latinos and Veterans all want to be involved in decisions that are made and strategies that are developed that impact them at work and in the community.

The DEI was co-created by business leaders and disability inclusion advocates. The results of this collaboration is an instrument that presents a reasonable and achievable bar for companies. It’s not all the disability community would have liked to see included, but it’s a great start that has resulted in meaningful improvements in businesses who aspire to be disability inclusive. If a company achieves a score of 80 or more on the DEI, you can be assured that they have made great strides.

Full disclosure, I was on the founding DEI Advisory Committee and continue to serve.  Below are some quotes from some of my colleagues on this Committee who are both business leaders and disability inclusion champions:

“What’s invisible can’t be counted. What’s uncounted doesn’t really matter. The Disability Equality Index is one of the most effective ways to understand how people with disabilities can be visible and respected in the workplace – and for employers to make them count. By taking part in the DEI, corporations signal to all Americans that their doors, their markets and their minds include everyone.”

     Bob Witeck
President, Witeck Communications, Inc.

“If we want to accelerate progress in disability equality, we need to know how to measure success.  The DEI, developed jointly by business leaders and disability advocates, is a great tool that is helping companies learn and grow in this space.”

     Andrew Imparato,
Executive Director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities

“CVS Health is honored to be one of the DEI top scoring companies for the second consecutive year. The DEI is not just a great benchmarking tool, it also provides a holistic framework for any company looking to develop a comprehensive strategy for meeting the needs of the disabilities community in the workforce, workplace and marketplace.”

     David L. Casey
VP, Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer, CVS Health

“We are a technology, media, and entertainment company that provides products and services to very diverse communities around the world.  The only way to truly succeed as a competitive and innovative company is to hire and employ a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities.  Inclusion drives innovation.  The questions posed in the DEI force you to take a hard look at your hiring and employment practices and really help you to become better – to be more inclusive, so you can be more innovative and, therefore, more successful as a company.”

     Fred Maahs, Senior Director of National Partnerships,
Community Investment Comcast Corporation

To view the DEI go to:  disabilityequalityindex.org/DEI_survery.pdf

Questions? Comments? Please, let’s hear your views.

For more information, and to register by 1/13/17 go to: disabilityequalityindex.org/register

Bumble Is Driving Powerful Change for Disabled Women Like Me

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Bumble founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd at the Fast Company Innovation

The trailblazing social network Bumble has had a busy, history-making month, one that proves the female-focused company’s strategy is poised to shape the future of social media.

First, Bumble rolled out a new policy on body shaming in an effort to “create a kinder and more accepting internet for everyone.”

Their updated terms and conditions explicitly prohibit “unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size, or health. This includes language that can be deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colorist, homophobic or transphobic.”

Users who engage in body shaming, either in their profile or through the app’s chat feature, will receive a warning and repeated violations will result in a permanent ban. To illustrate the prevalence of body shaming, Bumble also released a video featuring disabled users talking about times they were shamed for their bodies.

As a disabled woman, I’ve regularly experienced body shaming on the internet; in fact, the taunts and mocking has steadily increased over the years. People have made fun of my appearance, called me things like “ugly” and “blobfish” and even used my photo in last summer’s cruel new teacher prank on TikTok.

While I mostly just roll my eyes at these comments now, they still hurt because it’s another reminder of just how embedded ableism is in our culture. And it’s also one of the reasons I’ve avoided joining dating apps altogether — I don’t need yet another place to be bombarded by body shaming and ableist rhetoric.

That’s why I was thrilled to see the disability community represented in Bumble’s video. In a world where we continually view disabled bodies as “less than” and unworthy, this ad is the societal pushback we need in 2021. We need to normalize disabilities and disabled bodies and Bumble is taking a much-needed step in that direction.

Bumble user Alex Dacy agrees. The social media influencer, who has spinal muscular atrophy, appeared in the video and was excited to be a part of such a pivotal moment for disability representation, especially coming from a large company like Bumble. The conversation around disabilities and body shaming is long overdue and Dacy is happy to see Bumble leading that conversation.

Read the full article at CNN.

Is the Beauty Industry Glossing Over Disability?

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Close up image of a black woman in a wheelchair doing her makeup

As marketing moves to be more inclusive, people with visible disabilities are still largely missing from mainstream beauty ads. Teacher and advocate Xian Horn discusses the changes she hopes the industry makes next.

Growing up a biracial Asian girl with an X in my name who had Cerebral Palsy and walked with two adapted ski poles for support, I never expected to see myself represented. I identified strongly with other women, but I was too niche and, for the most part, I liked that. My family cultivated the best in me, so I grew up believing my disability was an

(Getty Images. Design by Bella Geraci)

asset. My mom, an art director for Estée Lauder and Avon, always said, “There’s always going to be someone smarter than you, prettier than you, taller than you, and that’s OK, just be you.” But not everyone receives that level of support, and the beauty industry has long touted a perfectionist, no-flaw standard free of wrinkles and stretch marks. Perhaps it is this vantage point that the industry struggles with marketing the beauty of disability. The beauty industry created a fantasy that society still feels pressured to make a reality.

It was in 2006, after this Dove Evolution video was viewed by millions, that I noticed mainstream advertising imagery that included plus-size and older women with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Two years later, I got excited when a photo of a plus-size model with her belly exposed went viral. This is also when I realized no beauty company had focused on disability.

In 2010, a friend helped me film a 1-minute pitch to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in my mother’s living room in which I asked the otherwise inclusive brand to start also including people with disabilities. Once on YouTube, the pitch’s visibility expanded, with people around the world watching and sharing its message. I received letters of support from people in the Philippines, Australia, Japan, and all over the U.S.

Read the full article at Allure.

LUCI Reimagines Modern Mobility through Wheelchair Smart Technology

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woman dressed in all yellow seated in a LUCI wheelchair

LUCI, a company that is reimagining modern mobility, today announced the release of its premier product also named LUCI.
It’s a first-of-its-kind hardware and software platform that uses sensor-fusion technologies to allow a power wheelchair to “see” its environment, giving riders unprecedented stability, security and cloud connectivity.
LUCI mounts onto a power wheelchair between the power base and the seat, to help users avoid collisions and dangerous drop-offs while maintaining personalized driving control.

Through cloud-based capabilities, LUCI can also monitor and alert users and caregivers of low battery, possible tipping scenarios, and other important updates regarding the chair and the user.

Tipping over in a wheelchair is a common, treacherous reality, which often leads to trips to the hospital and expensive healthcare bills. In fact, 87 percent of wheelchair users reported at least one tip or fall in the past three years. Wheelchair accidents were the cause of more than 175,000 ER visits in 2010 — the last year the data was tracked — and 30,000 of those were significant enough for admission into the hospital.

“Wheelchair users were left behind when it comes to most innovative technology,” said Barry Dean, CEO and founder of LUCI, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, whose daughter Katherine, 19, has cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair her whole life. “We realized no one else was working on this problem in a meaningful way so my brother Jered (Dean, CTO of LUCI) and I set out to create a solution for Katherine. What started as a labor of love among family members has ultimately created a safer, more stable way for people with disabilities to navigate their world and stay connected to loved ones. Today, we’re excited to launch LUCI and continue collaborating with researchers, universities and other companies using our open platform to move the industry forward together.”

The LUCI team spent the past two and half years collaborating with clinical professionals and logging over 25,000 hours of user testing to develop an invention to help people with physical disabilities drive safely, precisely and independently. LUCI’s R&D efforts have already resulted in a total of 16 patents (eight pending).

“When we started tinkering with my niece Katherine’s chair, we had no idea where this journey would lead,” said Jered Dean, CTO, who has spent two decades in design and systems engineering, most recently serving as director of the Colorado School of Mines’s Capstone Design@Mines program. “From developing advancements in millimeter-wave radar technology to collaborating with engineering leaders from Intel® RealSense™ Technology group to maximize the application of some of the world’s smartest cameras, I’m incredibly proud of the unprecedented work our team has accomplished to solve the challenges our customers face.”

LUCI’s technology combines stereovision, infrared, ultrasonic and radar sensors to offer users these critical features:
● Collision avoidance: LUCI is designed to prevent wheelchair users from running into objects (walls, people, pets, furniture, etc.) as they navigate their daily lives. It does this by smoothly helping to navigate the chair in coordination with user steering inputs based on obstacle detection in the driver’s surroundings.
● Drop-off protection: It doesn’t take a large drop-off to tip a wheelchair (less than three inches in some cases). LUCI helps users avoid tipping by recognizing steps or drop-offs and smoothly helping the chair continue on a safer path.
● Anti-tipping alert system: LUCI monitors the steepness of a ramp or the ground users are driving on and provides an audible alert if it becomes a tipping danger. In the event that a chair tips over, LUCI sounds an alarm and can be configured to quickly alert other individuals, such as a caregiver or loved one, of the exact location of the rider and the tipped chair.
● Cloud-based communications and alerts: The MyLUCI portal allows users to view their data and share it with loved ones or clinicians. LUCI can be set up to alert others of specific events, such as the user’s location if their battery gets dangerously low. LUCI also now works with Hey Google and Amazon Alexa so users can interact with MyLUCI using their voice. MyLUCI portal is available as mobile apps for both iOS and Android™ phones, as well as for desktop with the Web Portal.
● Secure health monitoring: LUCI users can choose to share their heart rate data with their team using either Google Fit* or Apple Health- Kit from day one. Based in Nashville, with R&D headquarters in Denver, Colo., LUCI was founded by Barry and Jered Dean—two brothers who were driven to innovate from personal experience and committed to create change for people living with disabilities.

For more info, visit luci.com.

“What started as a labor of love among family members has ultimately created a safer, more stable way for people with disabilities to navigate their world and stay connected to loved ones.”
— Barry Dean, CEO and founder of LUCI.

2 Blind Brothers Launch Clothing Company to Raise Money Toward Finding a Cure for Blindness

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New York brothers Bryan and Bradford Manning lost their vision due to a rare genetic eye disorder. Their new clothing brand, Two Blind Brothers, is funding research for a cure.

What would you do if the world around you started disappearing? When Bradford Manning began to lose his vision at about 5 years old, “panic and anxiety set in,” he tells PEOPLE. Two years later, a doctor diagnosed Manning with Stargardt disease — a rare genetic eye disorder that can cause blindness. Manning’s younger brother, Bryan, would soon be diagnosed with the same condition.

Growing up with the disease came with its many challenges and awkward moments, the brothers note:

(Image credit: Courtesy Two Blind Brothers)

meeting a new friend and immediately forgetting what they look like, constantly squinting to see what a teacher writes on the chalkboard, not being able to drive.

It can be super isolating,” Bryan, 30, says. “People can’t see your visibility, so you deal with people who make comments or do things that can really hurt if you aren’t willing to own up to who you are.”

The New York brothers have dedicated their lives — and work — to finding a cure for eye diseases like theirs. In 2016, they founded the clothing brand Two Blind Brothers, which simulates the experience of shopping while blind. All profits benefit organizations like the Foundation for Fighting Blindness that research prevention, treatments, and cures for degenerative eye conditions.

Read the full article at PEOPLE.

3 Ways Elevating the Narrative on Disabilities Leads to Business Success

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A woman in a wheelchair, going down a hallway

By Sheryl Snapp Conner of Entrepreneur 

In a recent column, I introduced Ric Nelson, a 37-year-old disability advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Despite his challenges, he’s dedicated his career to advancing programs and understanding of the disabled in Alaska (which ranks third in the U.S. for the strength of its programs) and throughout the U.S.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Nelson secured associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration on scholarship, followed by a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Nelson serves on multiple boards and has testified in Washington D.C. toward advances in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Appointed in 2007, After six years’ service as a committee member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE), he was elected as the program chair for two years and hired as a staff member from September 2015 until September 2020 as the program’s Employment Program Coordinator.

Most recently Nelson has assumed the role of Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The ARC of Anchorage, one of 600 U.S. locations for The Arc of the United States, an organization launched by parents of people with developmental disabilities in the 1950s and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Covid-19 recession has hit the disabled particularly hard, Nelson says. The disabled have lost nearly 1M jobs between March and May of 2020. Complicating factors include jobs that ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of lower-level positions in industries that have been most heavily hit. With DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) becoming one of the highest priorities for this year’s end and the seasons to follow, what do businesses need to know and do to support the disabled from here forward?

In an interview, Nelson reinforced the need for self-advocacy among the disabled and the need for greater awareness and education of the businesses and communities they serve. Public perception is tantamount, he says, to avoid the creation of further problems by the very solutions we attempt to create.

For example, he notes the extreme difficulty (and even impossibility) of having a savings account when government programs assume any earning potential should be used to reimburse the cost of Medicare needs.

“The cost to Medicare of a full-time assistant may be $100,000, regardless of the person’s activities,” Nelson says. “But if a fully-employed disabled person makes $50,000 or $80,000 – a rarity in itself – and loses their qualification for Medicare funds, they can’t go to work without suddenly incurring this debt.”

Other issues include the right to continued health care benefits if they marry, or to put away retirement savings or to maintain equivalent benefits if they move to a different state. Many of these issues require continued advocacy to state and federal agencies.

Continue to Entrepreneur.com to read the full article. 

Collettey’s Cookies Founder Helps Others with Disabilities

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Collette Divitto holding a bag of her cookies

By Kellie Speed

After applying for numerous jobs and receiving countless rejections, Collette Divitto did what not too many young ladies her age might do after college – she decided to start her own business.

Born with Down Syndrome, Divitto has now made it her personal mission to beat all odds and help others with disabilities.

The Ridgefield, Connecticut, native and disability activist graduated from Clemson University’s three-year LIFE program in just two years. Shortly after that, she moved to Boston in search of employment. “I went on about nine interviews and would have a cup of coffee with the CEO and talked about their company, but days later I would always get an email saying it was great to meet you in person, but that I was not a good fit,” she told us in a Zoom interview.

No stranger to facing rejection over the years, the headstrong Divitto knew she would have to reinvent herself. With her mother (and biggest cheerleader), Rosemary, by her side, they developed a marketing plan to do what Collette has always loved doing – baking cookies.Collette holding a tray of cookies

“Collette had a teacher back in high school, who said that she could make baking a profession because she is the best student in the class and helps everyone else in the class,” Rosemary said. “I would always tell Collette I would help her as best as I could to have the life she wanted, but it was Collette who has to do all of the work. She had a mantra that she used to say to herself all the time growing up – ‘I deserve the best for me’ – and that has helped build her confidence, be clear about what she wants, and set herself up to work hard to achieve it.”

After learning the basics of baking in high school, Collette began creating new recipes to have her family taste test. The standout was one filled with chocolate chips, rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked to a golden perfection. Originally dubbed “The Amazing Cookie,” it’s now one of her best sellers.

Collette posing with a plate of cookies and a glass of milkToday, she has a thriving online cookie business known as Collettey’s Cookies (Click here to visit her website) that serves up everything from her personal favorite (and the now famous) crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to the popular chewy peanut butter cookies.

With 13 employees and three interns in her Boston kitchen, the Collettey’s team bakes twice a week and ships to customers four to five days a week. “In four hours, they make and bake between 2,000 to 3,000 cookies,” Collette said. “Some of these cookies have to go right into storage containers to avoid getting too hard too fast if not stored immediately, so there are extra precautions they have to take with each cookie along with all of the sanitization requirements.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Collette decided to create a specialty gift package for essential workers and first responders. The response she received was so overwhelming that she wanted to give back as well. She decided that for all cookies ordered, she would personally match the number of cookies in each order. Right now, she is wrapping up filming for a TV show that will feature select entrepreneurs like Collette, who have faced major challenges in life but were successful in overcoming them.

Collette, who loves chocolate, is in the process of perfecting yet another cookie – this one made with espresso and dark chocolate. She first tested the recipe with milk chocolate and cocoa powder, but determined “it wasn’t rich enough.”Collette holding a cookie in front of a large tray of cookies

Today, this big-hearted young lady is setting out to prove to the world (one cookie at a time) that with a positive attitude and determination, you can do anything. “I would say to people with disabilities do not focus on your disabilities,” she said. “You need to focus on your abilities. Do not give up on your dreams. Do not let people bring you down, and my favorite saying is, ‘No matter who you are, you can make a difference in this world.’”

Luckily for Collette, she has already done just that.

Rehiring the Smart Way: Mainstreaming Disability in Recruiting Strategies

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A woman in a wheelchair accepting a pen and paper from a fellow employee

By Tamala Scott

As we envision a return to normal following the pandemic, many businesses find themselves in a position of having to rehire staff to ramp back up to pre-COVID productivity and revenue.

While traditional sourcing strategies—such as online job boards, newspaper ads, staffing agencies— may secure employees in the short-term, your recruiting strategy may be missing the mark in reaching a valuable yet untapped resource—job seekers with disabilities. This article will shed light on the multiple advantages that businesses gain from hiring people with disabilities, beginning by dispelling three of the most common myths that deter businesses from actively recruiting jobseekers with disabilities. We also offer a few key strategies on how to get started on your inclusion journey.

Cost. The first and perhaps most insidious myth is that hiring people with disabilities is a costly practice. The Job Accommodation Network has surveyed nearly 3,000 employers since 2004 to ask them about their accommodation practices and costs. Nearly 60 percent of all of those surveyed have reported reasonable accommodation costs of $0 for their employees with disabilities, while the remaining respondents report an average cost per individual of $500 or less. The same study also lists numerous cost-saving benefits for providing a streamlined and comprehensive reasonable accommodation strategy, including employee retention, increased employee productivity and improved workplace safety.

Productivity. Another misconception is that employees with disabilities are less productive than their peers. One of the country’s leading disability-inclusive employers, Walgreen’s, conducted a study to measure the effectiveness of its disability hiring strategy within its distribution centers. Among the three areas the study examined was the productivity, safety and turnover among its staff with and without disabilities. The study concluded that Walgreens’ employees with disabilities typically outperform or perform at the same level as their colleagues without disabilities, while also experiencing less safety-related incidents and remaining in their positions for longer.

On a macro-level, disability-inclusive companies are also proven to perform better than their industry counterparts. A landmark study conducted by Accenture in 2018 shows that businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusion within their workforce outperform their industry peers and are better able to respond to business challenges.

Difficulty finding talent. The labor force with disabilities has historically been—and remains—underemployed relative to the overall national labor force. The unemployment rate among jobseekers with disabilities is 1.5 times that of jobseekers without disabilities. Despite recent data showing a narrowing employment gap between graduates with and without disabilities, graduates with disabilities report that they are more likely to get part-time or temporary positions and earn on average less than their peers without disabilities. Qualified talent is out there, but due to the barriers to employment, many of these jobseekers with disabilities remain invisible to employers that could benefit immensely from their skill.

For the first time in history, business leaders are realizing that hiring jobseekers with disabilities is not simply the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for their business. Despite that, many businesses get stuck trying to figure out where to start in their disability inclusion efforts. Here are some achievable steps to getting YOUR business started on a path to a stronger and more inclusive diversity strategy:

Create a group of champions. As a first step, establish a core group of passionate individuals within your business that are willing to dedicate time and resources toward advancing your initiative. This group should include people from a variety of different departments and leadership levels within the company so that there are as many diverse perspectives and skillsets represented as possible.

Cultivate buy-in. Creating a disability-inclusive workplace requires that changes be made to an organization’s culture, operations, recruiting and hiring practices, and many other facets. Now that the business case has been made, your champions need to create an airtight pitch and messaging campaign to inform staff and leadership at multiple levels of the “how” and the “why” to have a disability-inclusive workplace.

Develop partnerships with local and national disability organizations. Once your internal support is secured, the next step is to seek out the expertise from local and national disability agencies to familiarize yourselves with the local disability community and find that aforementioned talent. Establishing your business as a disability-inclusive employer to the surrounding disability community is an important step toward getting individuals with disabilities to join your team.

Start small. It is important to keep an eye on the big picture and how to fold disability inclusion into multiple facets of your organization, but it is even more important to start small to develop a sound strategy that can be scaled in the future. Start small and aim for small wins before scaling.

Thinking about starting a disability hiring initiative? Contact The Arc@Work.

Helping Employers “Bring Their A Game” to Workplace Mental Health

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A desk covered in work essentials and a notepad with the words "mental health" written on it.

By the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

The challenges brought to daily life in 2020, coupled with an increased understanding about the prevalence of mental health conditions, is spurring employers to consider strategies they can use to support employees’ mental health.

To help employers learn how to cultivate a welcoming and supportive work environment for employees with mental health conditions, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) created a Mental Health Toolkit centered around four pillars referred to as the “4 A’s of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace.” The toolkit also provides summaries of research and examples of mental health initiatives implemented by employers of varying sizes and industries.

The first “A” of the four pillars, awareness, involves strategies for educating employers and workers about mental health issues and taking action to foster a supportive workplace culture. One example of an organization’s efforts in this area is professional services firm EY’s “We Care” campaign. This internal campaign uses personal stories, including those shared by company leadership, to educate employees about mental health conditions, reduce stigma, and encourage them to support one another.

The second “A” in the “4 A’s” is accommodations, meaning providing employees with mental health conditions the supports they need to perform their job. Common examples include flexible work arrangements and/or schedules, which may be considered reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability nondiscrimination laws and regulations.

An example of accommodations for someone with a mental health condition are those provided by defense contractor Northrop Grumman for an employee who is a veteran with service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee uses several workplace accommodations to ensure his workplace success, including noise-cancelling headphones and bringing his service dog to work with him.

The third “A,” assistance, refers to assisting employees who have, or may develop, a mental health condition. Many employers do this through formal employee assistance programs (EAPs). An example of this in action is chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer DuPont, which has a long history with EAPs. In fact, DuPont is regarded as having one of the first.

Today, DuPont has a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health and employee wellbeing, with strong support from top leadership. As an example, DuPont’s global EAP team created and implemented an internal anti-stigma campaign called “ICU” (“I See You”), the centerpiece of which is an animated video about how to recognize signs of emotional distress in colleagues and encourage them to seek help. Based on its success, DuPont decided to make the program available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health.

EAPs are associated with larger businesses, but it is important to note that there are strategies small businesses can use to offer EAP services, for example, by banding together to negotiate for better rates. Business membership groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations may be of assistance in this regard. In fact, providing employee assistance in the small business environment can be especially important, given that decreased productivity or the absence of even one employee can have a significant impact on a small organization.

The final “A,” access, encourages employers to assess company healthcare plans to ensure or increase coverage for behavioral/mental health treatment, something shown to benefit not only individuals, but also companies by way of the bottom line. According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than 80 percent of employees treated for mental health conditions report improved levels of efficiency and satisfaction at work.

An example of a company with a strong focus on providing access to mental health services for its employers is global pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, which engages in the research, development, and sale of drugs for psychiatric and neurological disorders. According to company representatives, educating about and decreasing stigma associated with mental health is one of Lundbeck’s core corporate beliefs—and this applies not only externally, but also internally for its employees. Reflecting this, prescription medications for mental health conditions are available to employees or their dependents at no cost when prescribed by a physician. Further, all benefits information sent to employees leading up to the company’s healthcare plan open enrollment period prominently feature mental health messaging.

For companies that are federal contractors, taking steps to foster a mental health-friendly workplace can have additional benefits by helping demonstrate an overall commitment to disability inclusion. As a result, employees with mental health conditions may feel more comfortable self-identifying as having a disability, which helps employers measure their progress toward goals under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Federal contractors, and all businesses, can use EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit to learn how to “bring their A game” when it comes to workplace mental health.

Click here to access EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit.

Can You Hire a Deaf Employee When the Job Requires Phone Work?

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Two deaf individuals talking through sign language

By AnnMarie Killian

Imagine this: You are hiring for a job that requires phone work…but the person sitting in front of you is deaf/hard of hearing.

You may be wonder, can a person who is deaf/hard of hearing use the phone successfully?

The answer is yes.

And consider this: Companies and corporations are actively seeking out people with differences. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords—they’re real-life practices that today’s companies are required to implement. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce an organizational culture that is beneficial to the bottom line.

Yet, at first glance, managers and human resources personnel may be reluctant to consider a deaf/hard of hearing person for a job because of presumed limitations.

They may be wondering:

  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how can they manage parts of the job that require audio communication?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how will they communicate?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, can they really do the job?

And…

  • If the job requires phone work, can a deaf/hard of hearing person really handle that aspect of the job?

The reluctance from employers to consider deaf/hard of hearing for jobs that involve phone work often comes from fear of the unknown. If you’ve never met a deaf/hard of hearing person doing the work that you’re hiring for, you might hesitate or even refuse to consider hiring that person.

Technological advances have leveled the playing field in many professions. In many cases, deaf and hard of hearing people bring a different perspective to a job that a person with hearing in the normal range may not have.

You’ll find deaf and hard of hearing people in all kinds of jobs, even those that are considered “impossible” for a deaf/hard of hearing person to be employed in. Surgeons. Lawyers. Auto shop managers. Airplane mechanics. Pharmacists. Audiologists. Bartenders. Musicians. Restaurant servers. Firefighters. NASA launch team specialists.

Even at call centers—which require being on the phone all hours of the job!

For example, Dale McCord works as a Purchase Card Specialist and his job requires frequent phone contact with vendors. “In the past, I occasionally came across managers who were reluctant to hire me for jobs because of perceived ‘limitations,’” Dale explains. “I’m a loyal and hard-working person and today’s technology allows me to do my job very well.”

Dale also has some advice for those who hire: “When you hire a person with a disability, don’t doubt their ability to do the job—because they will often do the job twice as well.”

Today’s technology has made telephone communication accessible in a variety of ways, including captioned phones and videophones. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can make and receive calls via Video Relay Services such as ZVRS and Purple Video Relay Services.

By utilizing a videophone, a deaf/hard of hearing person is capable of working via phone. The person on the other end of the line does not necessarily know the conversation is woven with two languages, facilitated by a qualified, highly-skilled interpreter.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using Video Relay Services:

How does a deaf/hard of hearing person use a phone with a Video Relay System?

Both ZVRS and Purple provide equipment and software that routes a phone call through a video relay system.  The deaf/hard of hearing individual accesses a phone conversation by watching a sign language interpreter on a video screen. The deaf/hard of hearing individual can respond via sign language (the interpreter will voice a translation) or by using their own voice. The conversation flows back and forth between a deaf/hard of hearing individual and a hearing person with an interpreter translating the conversation seamlessly.

Can a deaf/hard of hearing person answer an inbound call?

Yes, calls can be routed through a phone number assigned to a videophone.  A visual alert system will notify the deaf/hard of hearing person that a call is coming through. With the press of a button, the call can be answered.

Our network is extremely secure–will a videophone work with our network?

ZVRS and Purple can provide equipment that is encrypted and works with firewalls. The systems are ADA compliant and integrated within your network. Our teams work directly with network system managers to ensure secure connections.

Where can I find more information about phone solutions for potential deaf/hard of hearing employees?

Click here to access Purple Business Solutions

Click here to access Enterprise Solutions/ZVRS

Click here to access ZVRS

A passionate and people-centric leader, AnnMarie is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Purple Communications. She brings over 25 plus years of diverse experience in telecommunications, retail and fitness. As a Deaf individual, she is intimately familiar with the challenges of engagement and inclusion, which has influenced her professional aspirations. Recently, AnnMarie served as the vice president of operations responsible for leading key deliverables for increasing profitability, growing revenue and maximizing operational efficiencies.

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