Top Organizations to Receive Diversity and Inclusion Honors Award At Annual Conference

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The Association of ERGs & Councils(a practice group of PRISM International, Inc.) released their annual list of the Top 25 US Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Business Resource Groups (BRGs) and Diversity Councils set to receive the tenth annual 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ at an award ceremony during the 2019 ERG & Council Conference in Orlando May 3rd.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ is the only annual national award that recognizes and honors the outstanding contributions and achievements of ERGs, BRGs and Diversity Councils. It was established in 2008 by the Association of ERGs & Councils, a practice group of diversity and inclusion consulting and training firm PRISM International, Inc.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ recipients are a diverse combination of US organizations representing most sectors, geographies and sizes. “This year we had a diverse pool of highly qualified applications representing 1,079 ERGs, BRGs, Diversity Councils and their chapters,” states Fernando Serpa, Executive Director of the Association of ERGs & Councils. “We also had several non-Top 25 groups demonstrate best practices and results that deserve to be recognized and they will be receiving the Spotlight Impact Award™ that highlights the achievements of these select groups in the categories of Organizational Impact, Talent Management and Culture of Inclusion.”

This year, for the first time, the Association of ERGs and Councils will bestow the honor of Top Executive Sponsor of the Year. “We wanted to recognize and call out the important role executive sponsors play in developing, supporting and enabling their ERGs and Councils to succeed,” Serpa said.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ Top 25 recipient rankings will be revealed at the May 3 award ceremony at the Disney Yacht & Beach Club Resort in Orlando, Florida. The Award Ceremony and Conference is open to all diversity and inclusion professionals involved with ERGs, BRGs and Councils.  This is a great opportunity for individuals to learn and share best practices, network, grow and celebrate, to become inspired and be renewed…all for the purpose of increasing their impact on key organizational and business objectives. Learn more by visiting ErgCouncilConference.com.

The 2019 ERG & Council Honors Award™ recipients in alphabetical order include:

  • American Airlines – American Airlines Diversity Advisory Council
  • Atrium Health – Atrium Health Divisional Diversity Councils
  • Bank of America – Military Support & Assistance Group ( MSAG)
  • Cleveland Clinic – ClinicPride Employee Resource Group (ClinicPride ERG)
  • Cleveland Clinic – Military/Veterans Employee Resource Group
  • Cleveland Clinic – SALUD
  • Davenport University – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council
  • Entergy Corporation – Entergy Employee Resource Group
  • Erie Insurance – Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council
  • Froedtert Health – Froedtert Health Diversity Council
  • General Motors – General Motors Employee Resource Group Council
  • KeyBank – Key Business Impact and Networking Groups
  • Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals – Mallinckrodt Inclusion & Diversity Council
  • Mount Sinai Queens, part of the Mount Sinai Health System – Mount Sinai Queens Diversity Council
  • Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, part of the Mount Sinai Health System – Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Diversity Council
  • National Guard – Joint Diversity Executive Council
  • Northern Trust Corporation – Advancing Professionals Resource Council (APRC)
  • Northern Trust Corporation – Women In Leadership Business Resource Council (WIL BRC)
  • Northwestern Mutual – Asian ERG
  • Northwestern Mutual – Northwestern Mutual Women’s Employee Resource Group
  • Novant Health – Asian Business Resource Group
  • PNC Financial Services Group – Corporate Diversity Council
  • State Street Corporation – Professional Women’s Network – Massachusetts Chapter (PWN-MA)
  • Texas Instruments – Texas Instruments Diversity Network (TIDN)
  • Turner, Inc. – Turner Business Resource Groups
  • U.S. Bank – Spectrum LGBTQ Business Resource Group
  • U.S. Bank – U.S. Bank Proud to Serve

The 2019 Spotlight Impact Award™ recipients in alphabetical order include:

  • Dominion Energy – Dominion Energy Executive Diversity Council (EDC)
  • FedEx Services – Diversity and Inclusion BRT Council
  • Food Lion – Diversity and Inclusion
  • MUFG Union Bank, N.A. – Women’s Initiative Network (WIN)
  • Summa Health – Diversity and Advisory Council

The 2019 Executive Sponsor of the Year recipients in alphabetical order:

  • FedEx Services Diversity and Inclusion BRT Council – Rebecca Huling
  • Perdue Farms Inclusion Council – Randy Day
  • Southern California Edison Company (SCE) Women’s Roundtable (WR) – Maria Rigatti
  • U.S. Bank Proud to Serve – Mike Ott

About the ERG & Council Honors Award™
The ERG & Council Honors Award™ is the only annual national award that recognizes, honors and celebrates the outstanding contributions and achievements of ERGs, BRGs and Diversity Councils that lead the diversity and inclusion process in their organizations and demonstrate results in their workforce, workplace and marketplace. Learn more by visiting ERG & Council Honors Award™.

About the ERG & Council Conference™
ERGs and Diversity Councils are vital links for improving organizational results. However, to remain impactful and effective, they need opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge and to learn and share best practices. They need opportunities to network, celebrate and grow. This is the purpose of the only annual conference designed specifically for ERGs, BRGs and Diversity Councils. Learn more by visiting ERGCouncilConference.com.

About the Association of ERGs & Councils
The Association of ERGs & Councils is a practice group of PRISM International Inc. and the premier resource for transforming Employee Resource Groups, Diversity Councils and Employee Network Groups to impact key organizational and business objectives. Learn more by visiting the ErgCouncil.com.

About PRISM International, Inc.
PRISM International Inc., a Talent Dimensions company, is a WBENC-certified, full-service provider of innovative and proven consulting, training and products for leveraging diversity and inclusion, addressing unconscious bias, increasing cross-cultural competencies and creating more effective ERGs and Diversity Councils. Learn more by visiting PrismDiversity.com

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.

Seven Steps to Building a Disability-Inclusive Workplace

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A wheel listing the seven accessibility points mentioned throughout the article

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

October marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). While the past 75 years have seen groundbreaking developments, including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, when it comes to disability inclusion in the workplace, there’s still work to be done.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) reports that, in June 2020, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 16.5 percent, compared to 11 percent for people without disabilities.

Many employers want to establish diverse workforces that include people with disabilities but don’t know how to do so. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) can help. EARN is a free resource funded by ODEP that provides information and tools to help employers recruit, hire, advance, and retain people with disabilities. EARN’s Inclusion@Work Framework, which was developed in collaboration with employers with exemplary practices in disability employment, outlines core components of a disability-inclusive workplace, along with a menu of strategies for achieving them. From disability-inclusive recruitment practices to effective communication, here are seven ways companies can foster disability inclusion at work:

Lead the Way

The foundation for a disability-inclusive work environment is an inclusive business culture. This begins by gaining buy-in from executive leadership. Examples of best practices for fostering an inclusive culture include:

  • Making equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities an integral part of the company’s strategic mission.
  • Establishing a team that includes executives with disabilities to support the recruiting, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities.
  • Conducting employee engagement surveys to gather input on whether the workplace environment is accessible and inclusive.

Build the Pipeline

Proactive outreach and recruitment of people with disabilities is the foundation of a successful workplace disability inclusion program. To build a pipeline of applicants, employers should work to develop relationships with a variety of recruitment sources. Best practices for disability-inclusive outreach and recruitment practices include partnering with local and state service providers (such as vocational rehabilitation agencies), participating in employer networking groups, attending career fairs for people with disabilities, and providing inclusive mentoring and internship opportunities.

Hire (& Keep) the Best

Building a disability-inclusive organization means not only attracting and recruiting qualified individuals with disabilities but also ensuring policies and processes across the employment lifecycle support the hiring, retention, and advancement of employees with disabilities. Companies should have effective policies and processes in place for job announcements, qualification standards, hiring, workplace accommodations, career development and advancement, and retention and promotion.

 Ensure Productivity

All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Employees with disabilities may need workplace adjustments—or accommodations—to maximize their productivity. Examples of workplace accommodations include automatic doors, sign language interpreters, and flexible work schedules or telework. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), more than half of all workplace accommodations cost nothing to provide. Furthermore, JAN research has found that most employers report financial benefits from providing accommodations, including reduced insurance and training costs and increased productivity.

Communicate

Attracting qualified individuals with disabilities requires clear communication, both externally and internally, about your company’s commitment to disability inclusion. This can include internal campaigns, disability-inclusive marketing, and participation in disability-related job fairs and awareness events. Best practices for communication of company policies and procedures can include:

  • Incorporating disability imagery into advertising and marketing materials.
  • Informing local disability organizations about company sponsored career days.
  • Distributing information about relevant disability policies and priorities to subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers.

Be Tech Savvy

As technology continues to shift, so does the concept of accessibility. Being able to get through the physical door is no longer enough to ensure people with disabilities can apply and interview for jobs; a company’s “virtual doors” must be open as well. Furthermore, once on the job, employees with disabilities—like all employees—must be able to access the information and communication technology (ICT) they need to maximize their productivity. Examples of best practices for ensuring accessible ICT include using accessible online recruiting platforms, adopting a formal ICT policy, appointing a chief accessibility officer, and establishing clear procurement policies related to accessibility.

Measure Success

While policies and procedures are necessary to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the ultimate objective should be to ensure effective implementation. Companies can take steps to ensure disability becomes part of their overall diversity goals and can encourage self-identification of disability by their employees to benchmark the impact of disability inclusion efforts. Examples of best practices for accountability and self-identification include providing training on disability-related issues, establishing accountability measures and processes for self-identification, and incorporating disability inclusion goals in appropriate personnel’s performance plans.

 

Visit AskEARN.org to learn more about creating a disability-inclusive workplace.

‘Run’ Hopes to Change the Conversation on Actors with Disabilities

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Director chair and movie clapper displayed in an empty room

Gaslighting and the fear that the person we’re closest to is lying always have been popular motifs in the horror and thriller genres — most famously depicted in 1941’s “Suspicion” and 1944’s “Gaslight.”

Features like 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” utilized disability to create an added air of helplessness to Joan Crawford’s character; it’s expanded out to the Munchausen narrative portrayed most recently in the 2019 series “The Act.” With the addition of disability, these tropes take on added poignance.

Carrie Sandhal, Associate Professor in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explains the fear of being gaslit and disbelieved is a real concern outside of celluloid walls. From recent run-ins with the police involving the mentally ill or deaf to the historical associations of the insane asylum, able-bodied people watch horror as a means of distancing themselves, believing it can’t happen to them. Sandahl references a 2003 article written by disabled writer Harriet McBryde Johnson, “The Disability Gulag,” wherein Johnson writes about visiting friends of her in a nursing home. “[She] was mistaken for one of the residents,” Sandhal said. “There’s this feeling that we can always become trapped.”

Hulu’s upcoming feature, “Run,” treads this territory in its story of the teenage Chloe (Kiera Allen), whose relationship with her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) becomes one of survival and uncovering buried secrets. It shows how the horror genre is one  of the few refuges for tales about disabled women — if not in giving them great stories, at least by putting them on-screen.

Director Aneesh Chaganty and Allen see “Run” as a thriller as opposed to a horror film, but the two genres go hand-in-hand from a disabled perspective, with Allen even telling IndieWire that if this was a horror feature Chloe would be a fantastic “final girl.” And even within the thriller vein, like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,” the thrills are often left to the able-bodied audience, leaving the disabled audience to draw on real-life experiences to manifest an added layer of fear.

One of the posters for “Run,” inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, plays on the fear of inaccessibility, with Paulson’s character looking down from the top of a staircase at her daughter. It’s an image that gives Allen chills because as a wheelchair user herself, she has felt that terror. “When people consider things like accessibility, and other obstacles that are unnecessarily put before disabled people, I don’t think they [able-bodied people] see it as terrifying,” she said. “I’ve been trapped in a building because of inaccessibility. I’ve been picked up by strangers, in my chair, without my permission, because of inaccessibility [and] I’ve never seen a movie that portrays that fear.”

Because that terror is so specific, it was important for Chaganty to draw on Allen’s own experiences for the movie as well as examine his own privilege as an able-bodied person. “I spent a lot of time talking to a disability studies professor at Brown and she educated me on this concept of ableism [discrimination in favor of able-bodied people],” Chaganty told IndieWire. He said nearly every element of the script had Allen giving advice and input, even having her write down her thoughts, from a character perspective, in a series of journals. After these discussions changes were made — especially with regards to Chloe’s room, which Chaganty admitted was made purely from an able-bodied perspective and not necessarily from the mind of a teenage girl in a wheelchair.

The history of actual actresses with disabilities in this genre is rare. So rare, in fact, that Hulu’s advertising of “Run” emphasizes it’s been over 70 years since a disabled actress led a thriller for an American studio, that being actress Susan Peters in 1948’s “The Sign of the Ram.” It’s a statistic Chaganty is used to hearing in some form. When he debuted his feature “Searching,” starring John Cho, in 2018 he learned at a film festival that it was the first mainstream Hollywood feature to star an Asian American.

“We [he and co-screenwriter Sev Ohanian] realized that everything we make, there’s no reason for it not to have a win associated with it,” he said. “The idea that we can cast somebody….in any project that we make [who] traditionally doesn’t get a hero role or main character was something very important to us. Or at least to me, growing up, and not seeing an Indian-American or a South Asian person.” And while Chaganty says home studio Lionsgate was incredibly supportive of hiring the best actor for the role, regardless of ability, the director said there were several Disney stars who auditioned for the role of Chloe.

Ultimately, hiring an able-bodied name or anyone who wasn’t disabled was anathema to him and it compelled him to realize what a broad word “disabled” is in the acting community. It wasn’t until he started watching audition tapes that he realized how limited his own purview was with regards to a wheelchair user.

Continue on to IndieWire to read the full article

 

How A Trainer Moved Special Olympics Online To Engage Athletes

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A family smiling and gathered around a tablet computer

By Luke Ranker, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

When the coronavirus pandemic hit North Texas, Fort Worth-area Special Olympics organizers were left wondering how athletes would cope with stay-at-home orders and the loss of their sporting communities.

Typically the spring and summer months are filled with Special Olympics events. The competitions thrive on close personal interactions that provide a social network for the athletes, their families and the volunteers. With the virus limiting gatherings, like all sports, Special Olympics had to get creative.

Enter Everett King.

“He was at the forefront of saying, ‘We need to do something for our athletes,’” said Dalton Hill, an associate executive director at Special Olympics Texas.

King had been a special education teacher in the Northwest school district when he started volunteering as Special Olympics coach in 2014. He quickly gained a reputation as being one of the most engaging and positive volunteers even before he became the full-time program director for the Fort Worth chapter last year, Hill said.

Hill said King “has a heart to serve” and stepped up immediately to brainstorm ways to engage athletes during the shutdown.

“The athletes want to be in an environment where they can just be themselves and have fun and interact with other people,” King said. “So once this pandemic started, it really was kind of hard on not just on the athletes, but on everyone — their coaches, families because this is something that a lot of us look forward to.”

Paxton Alexander is one the athletes who has grown attached to Everett’s coaching and camaraderie.

He had long been outgoing and considered everyone his friend, his mom Malisa Alexander said, but he rarely asked to go places with friends or meet up with other people. That changed when King asked Paxton, who has autism and is now 21, to join special Olympics during his sophomore year of high school.

Wrestling piqued his interest but he eventually moved on to football, becoming the quarterback. He quickly become obsessed with the game, his mom said.

“It kind of built this confidence in him that he could do more than he thought he could,” Malisa Alexander said.

Continue on to DisabilityScoop to read the full article.

Eligible Voters With Disabilities Increase By Nearly 20%

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People voting at polling booths

As the November election draws near, new research finds that the number of voters with disabilities across the nation has grown exponentially and could make the difference in how races are decided.

There are an estimated 38.3 million eligible voters with disabilities in the U.S., according to a report out this month from the Rutgers University Program for Disability Research. That represents an 19.8% increase since 2008 and outpaces a 12% rise in voters without disabilities during the same period.

Moreover, the researchers noted that when people with disabilities and the family members they live with are factored, disability issues are significant to 28.9% of the electorate.

“The sheer size of the disability electorate makes it clear that people with disabilities and their family members have the potential to swing elections,” said Lisa Schur, a professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers and an author of the report. “While their partisan split is similar to that of other citizens, people with disabilities put a higher priority on health care and employment issues, so how candidates deal with those could be decisive.”

The report is based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey and Census population projections for 2020-2021.

The new figures suggest that there are more potential voters with disabilities than there are Black or Hispanic voters in this country.

Researchers behind the report cited a surge in turnout among people with disabilities in 2018 and said turnout could be especially strong this year given the expansion of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue on to DisabilityScoop to read the full article. 

Wounded Army Corporal Inspires Boston’s Wounded Vet Run

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Vincent Mannion-Brodeur in his army uniform on the field

By Kellie Speed

When Jeff and Maura Brodeur received the devastating call that would change their life forever— that their only son had been critically injured in Iraq and may not make it—they never could have imagined how far he would come today.

U.S. Army Private Vincent Mannion-Brodeur was just 19 when he was deployed to Iraq where he served as a Parachute Infantryman in the B-2-505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Honor Guard.

On March 11, 2007, the Massachusetts native was checking a house for insurgents when an improvised explosive device detonated, killing his sergeant and leaving him with deep shrapnel wounds that ravaged his upper torso. In addition, his left arm was nearly blown off and he sustained a traumatic brain injury that required the removal of his cranium and part of his frontal lobe.

As a courageous recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Vincent, who retired as a corporal, became the inspiration behind Boston’s Wounded Vet Run, a motorcycle run that honors wounded veterans of New England.

“Ten years ago, Vincent was the first recipient of the Boston Wounded Vet Run, which was used to supplement a VA Special Adaptive Housing Grant he earned that took two years of paperwork to complete,” said Jeff Brodeur, Vincent’s father and an Army veteran himself, adding that Vincent will be honored once again this year at the tenth annual Boston’s Wounded Vet Run being held in September.

Vincent Mannion-Brodeur holding an award
Vincent Mannion-Brodeur holding an award

“He was in a wheelchair at the time so we used that money to put in new stairs and a new walkway. We used the funds raised to make modifications for accessibility to the outside of our home. It’s really nice to have him being honored again on the run 10 years later because it all started with Vincent and Andy (Biggio) who is the founder.”

Since Boston’s initial event a decade ago, the motorcycle runs have increased in popularity, now becoming available in major cities nationwide raising money to provide assistance to severely wounded veterans like Vincent to improve their quality of life. All proceeds from the runs go directly to veterans to assist with housing modifications or mobility and transportation needs, including wheelchairs and cars, along with other basic requirements.

After surviving a yearlong coma, lengthy hospital stays, 47 surgeries and years of rehabilitation to relearn the simplest of tasks—from walking and talking to eating and showering—Vincent and his family have become an inspiration. Overcoming all odds after being told he might never be able to walk or talk again, Vincent, who can often be found smiling, saying, “God bless America,” still faces lifelong daily challenges but that hasn’t broken his fun-loving spirit.

His parents, who are both veterans, fought successfully to become the first on the East Coast—and one of the first families in the nation—to have their son transferred to a private medical facility to continue his care, paving the way for many other wounded soldiers.

Vincent Mannion-Brodeur holding an award with his doctor
Vincent Mannion-Brodeur holding an award with his doctor

The Veterans Administration initially wanted to transfer Vincent to its Tampa trauma facility but his parents were concerned over the level of care he would receive. “Boston has some of the best hospitals in the nation and we won approval for Vincent to receive private care for his severe TBI at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital instead of having to go to a Veterans Administration facility,” said Jeff, an Army veteran and also the National President of the Korean War Veteran’s Association. “The polytrauma hospitals back then didn’t offer the specialized care that we knew Boston could provide.”

Their steadfast determination in finding the best care and rehabilitation for their son paved the way for the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, authorizing the Veterans Administration to, “establish a wide range of new services to support certain caregivers of eligible Post 9/11 Veterans.” The additional benefits offered to families of veterans now include a monthly stipend, health care coverage, and travel expenses (including lodging and per diem) while accompanying veterans undergoing care, respite care and mental health services and counseling.

Creating a Culture of Belonging

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A woman in a wheelchair leading a business meeting

By Jennifer Brown

Each time I sit down with an executive who has decided to lead their company through the process of being more inclusive, I hear that executive articulate the same problem: They don’t know where to begin.

This feeling is common in positions of leadership. While diversity used to be seen as a “problem to solve” that lived in HR, it is now broadly understood as a core component of business practice that creates quantifiable value firm-wide. Creating cultures of belonging where everyone can succeed seems like something we all want to believe we’re doing already, which makes the leadership aspect all the more critical here: As leaders, we have to do a lot of individual work ourselves to become more inclusive thinkers before we can become more inclusive leaders.

As the responsibility for making progress in this arena has shifted from HR departments to core business operations, so too has the conversation shifted from one about diversity—which is about representation—to one about inclusion—which is about ensuring people are welcomed, valued, respected and heard. As we do a better job of being inclusive in our own actions and words, we have a better shot at creating more inclusive workplaces where people can bring their whole selves to work, be more creative problem solvers, and contribute to a generally healthier workplace culture.

I often remind folks that everyone has a diversity story; not all forms of diversity are visible. This is also true when it comes to disability— a facet of the diversity conversation that we don’t talk about enough. A common misconception when it comes to this topic is that making space for employees with disabilities in the workplace is not just costly, but disproportionately so, relative to making space for other kinds of diversity in the workplace. Yet recent research by Accenture exists to the contrary: 59 percent of the accommodations needed by employees with disabilities cost a company $0, while other non-zero accommodations cost, on average, $500 per employee.

Not monthly—in total. The pay-off is huge: people with disabilities have to be creative to find solutions that allow them to accomplish the same tasks as their able-bodied peers, which leads to greater innate problem-solving.

Combine that with giving those employees the sense that they are valued enough to have their needs met, and you’ll have one powerhouse employee on your hands. As with other forms of diversity, creating workplaces where all employees on the broad spectrum of diverse ability can succeed is deeply intertwined with fostering a workplace culture where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. According to a 2019 report from Deloitte, 61 percent of the workforce “covers” or makes a distinct effort to disguise a part of themselves they feel would be stigmatized hinder their professional development.

Those who engage in this behavior do not see themselves reflected in the organization around them and feel that their belonging is tenuous or contingent—a pernicious problem that extends beyond the individual to have a negative impact on workplace culture overall. By creating workplaces where people feel they don’t have to cover, we help them feel like they can contribute the full breadth of their energy and creativity.

This doesn’t just impact our internal culture and organizational health—it also impacts our bottom lines. Even simple vocabulary shifts may be of use: In my line of work, we’re speaking not in terms of accommodating a broad range of diverse abilities—both visible, and invisible—but rather in terms of enabling and empowering them.

Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and author. Her work in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory has redefined the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. Her latest book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, is a simple, accessible and intuitive guide to becoming a more inclusive leader and provides a step-by step guide for anyone ready to do their part at work.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Verizon

Verizon

Robert Half