7 Tips to Help Mentally Overcome an Employment Gap

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woking working on her resume attached to a clipboard

Here’s advice on overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create before they sabotage your job search, from those who’ve been there.

William Childs loves his new job. He is Marketing Director at Kitchen Magic, a growing national kitchen remodeling and cabinet refacing company. “This job is a creative person’s dream. The product, the people, the collaborative ideas we are generating, it’s totally amazing,” Childs says. “This is what I spent my 14-month employment gap searching for, and I am so glad I didn’t give up on my career goals.”

Employment gaps do not define you

According to a recent Randstad U.S. study, the average job search today takes about five months. When Childs was laid off late in 2017 from an executive-level marketing job, he did not anticipate a longer-than-average employment gap. He explained: “When my old job was eliminated, it was the first time in many years that I had no specific job to go to next. I had always benefited from people just knowing me and my work, so starting from scratch while unemployed felt pretty weird.” When a few leads at the beginning of his job search didn’t materialize, he felt a bit demoralized.

According to a 2019 Monster survey, 59 percent of Americans have had an unexpected gap in their career. For a lot of people looking for jobs with a gap on their resume, there can be internalized feelings of shame, says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., organizational psychologist, CEC-certified executive coach, and author of “The YOU Plan.” “Shame puts on a lot of added pressure to an already stressful time, which can lead to obsession,” Dr. Woody explains. “Don’t victimize yourself over a lost job or a failure in the past. It can be debilitating.” He advises readers to recognize their setback as just that, a setback — then deal with it and move on to better things.

Childs did keep moving forward. He designed an online portfolio and kept adding to it during his hiatus by taking on freelance work. He wrote for an online magazine and volunteered his talents to local non-profit groups. A year into his search, he took an advertising sales job as he continued to apply for positions. “The sales job was what I needed to do financially, and what I needed to do for my own piece of mind,” he reflects. “I was earning income, learning, and connecting with people. It helped me a lot.”

While he did not give up on finding an innovative executive marketing position, Childs needed ways to stay focused and positive on his continued career search. When it comes to overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create, the following advice can help keep you more focused, motivated, and confident.

1. Honesty really is the best policy

Susan is happily employed in Reno, Nevada at The Slumber Yard, a specialty online clearinghouse of reviews, comparisons, and deals for mattresses and bedding products. Prior to taking the job last year, this mattress review specialist (whose name has been changed for this piece) had left the workforce to care for her young son after he was injured in a serious accident. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, Susan crafted a very targeted resume and cover letter that succinctly addressed her employment gap. Still, the two-year pause in her career had her a little nervous. “I wasn’t exactly sure what the job market would be like for me,” she remembers.

“Her resume had everything we were looking for, and when she told me why she had a gap in her employment history, her honesty really impressed me,” says Matthew Ross, The Slumber Yard’s Co-Founder and COO. Ross immediately called Susan in for an interview. “Her experience and knowledge of our industry are what got her the job. But, the way that she explained her employment gap really showed her character, both as a person and as a professional.”

You can explain your employment gap without oversharing, says Dick Lively, Partner and HR Consulting Director at RAI Resources in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “On a resume or in a cover letter, saying you took time to care for a family member who was ill or that you relocated across the country for your spouse’s job should be enough detail. Keep it professional but not too personal,” he says. It is also OK to exclude a gap explanation from the resume altogether, so long as you are prepared to address it during the interview if you are asked. Just don’t make something up. “At the end of the day, the truth always comes out, explains Lively. “You don’t want to face a potential employer or a new boss and try to explain why you lied.”

2. Don’t stop networking

Your first instinct may be to hide away until you have a new job, but that will not help your efforts. In fact, it might even hurt them. Keeping your name and face out there can help you get an introduction to a hiring manager. Plus, it’s great practice for interviews. “For me, I talked about the creative process and exchanged ideas; it helped me formulate how to best present myself as a job candidate,” says Childs.

Lively suggests that you don’t wait too long after your last job ends to start networking: “It is not only important to get your name out there and to hear about jobs that may be coming up through the grapevine,” he explains. “You also need to talk shop and connect with people. The longer you wait, the less confident you may feel. Interpersonal skills need to be kept sharp, just like any other skill.” That said, it is OK to take a few days or even a couple of weeks after your last job ends to regain your composure before you start networking. The last thing you want to do is get emotional about your job loss in front of your professional connections.

3. Expand your network

As valuable as your tried-and-true network of professional connections is, Dr. Woody cautions that you shouldn’t always drink from the same well when you are trying to find a new job. “Always networking with the same group of people can put blinders on your job search or create an echo chamber where you keep repeating the same steps that aren’t working anymore.”

Expanding his network definitely helped Childs. “Learning about new businesses and how they do things and connecting with new people is very inspiring,” he says. Telling new people a bit about yourself helps remind you about your talents and experience. You don’t know what else is out there if you don’t ever mix things up.

4. Own your truth

“You can, and should, use a positive spin when talking about your experiences,” says Childs. During an interview or a phone screening, don’t try to hide what caused your employment gap. Don’t complain or point fingers either. Tell your story concisely and truthfully, ending with what you learned or what you have gained since. When Childs interviewed with his new employer, he was prepared to lay his cards on the table when the question came up about his resume gap. His honest, three-sentence elevator speech consisted of:

  1. I was laid off when my department was eliminated.
  2. I am now doing advertising sales. It’s not me, but it’s a job, and I am proud of the quality of work I do.
  3. I have learned a lot about customer service through this sales experience, and I can apply that knowledge to my next marketing and creative position.

Dr. Woody believes this kind of planning is invaluable: “Preparation builds confidence. Working on your narrative reminds you that you have talent and have a lot to offer an employer. Taking time to boil it down to a concise summary instills it in your mind. This is who you are.”

5. Keep up a motivating routine

For years, Childs has emailed daily “Thought Bombs” to colleagues and friends. These are quotes he has collected on creativity, inspiration, and business integrity. Throughout his 14-month job search, he committed himself to continuing this morning ritual. “It got me up and thinking, ready for the day,” he says. “On my worst days, I would tell myself, ‘All I gotta do is get out of bed and deliver the Thought Bomb,’ and it really helped me get moving.”

“I really love this,” says Dr. Woody. “He used this routine to get himself into the right mindset each day. He had a purpose that was of value to his mailing list, and the discipline it took to do this daily task set his whole day in positive motion.” For other people, the routine could be mediation, exercise, journaling, or some other daily ritual.

6. Concentrate on the connection

Childs kept himself well-versed in the current ideas and trends in his field. His knowledge and passion for his work inevitably crept into his cover letters and interviews. “People are much more engaged with stories that are filled with excitement, passion, and personality,” says Childs. “Bragging and standard-issue talking points get stale quickly, but if you can connect with someone about what truly motivates and inspires you, they won’t forget you.”

Coming across as arrogant or whiny is a red flag for employers, notes Dr. Woody. But sharing insights and understanding about your field is a way to help them envision working with you. It also helps them put your employment gap into perspective in relation to your qualifications and talent. He explains: “People remember more about how you made them feel than about the specifics of what you said.”

Continue on to Top Resume to read the complete article.

Simple Accommodations Lead to Workplace Success

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Ray Muro, PRIDE Industries employee, shows his workplace accomations in the company warehouse

Studies show that companies with a diverse and inclusive workforce benefit from greater employee retention and higher productivity rates. But some people think that accommodations are always expensive and complicated.

With just a bit of imagination and effort, any company can attract, accommodate, and retain highly productive employees.

At PRIDE, our 50 years of experience prove that accommodations don’t have to be costly or complex. Ray Muro is one example of an accomplished employee. Blind since childhood, Ray has worked as a Stock Clerk in the Self-Help shop at U.S. Army Post Fort Bliss in El Paso. Among his many duties, Ray manages the store’s inventory, registers new customers, and organizes the supplies.

Ray is one of the shop’s most productive employees, consistently earning high praise from customers and fellow employees alike. The reasons for his success are no secret—Ray has arranged his work environment to accommodate his needs. With PRIDE’s support, Ray has used a few inexpensive tools and modifications to set himself up for success.

Before joining PRIDE, Ray earned an Associate degree in Human Services and Liberal Arts and a Bachelor’s degree in Multi-Disciplinary Studies from the University of Texas, El Paso. Despite his qualifications and enthusiasm, Ray could not find a permanent job due to misconceptions about his disabilities.

Ray was born with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye disease common in premature babies. It causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina and can lead to blindness, as it did with Ray, who has been blind since childhood. Working-age adults with significant vision loss have a 30% employment rate.

PRIDE IndustriesHired as a Stock Clerk in the Self-Help shop, Ray manages the inventory of parts such as paint or batteries, registers customers into the database, and categorizes new supplies. To master his position and make it easier for him to navigate the shop, Ray spent two weeks labeling everything with braille stickers to serve customers faster.

“When I attended college, I didn’t have access to braille books, so I had to use speech technology or a reader,” said Ray. “But braille often works better. It’s such a powerful tool to help people who are blind navigate the visual world.”

READ MORE… https://prideindustries.org/blog/becoming-the-shop-expert-rays-story/

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. 

Tips for Conducting Virtual Interviews with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Job Candidates

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A man with a headset conducting a job interview on his laptop.

By Susan Murad

With National Disability Employment Awareness Month just concluded, the Center on Employment at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is offering tips for employers conducting virtual interviews with deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that the usual approach to the interview process has been dramatically impacted, and many employers are turning to virtual platforms to conduct their interviews,” said John Macko, director of RIT/NTID’s Center on Employment.

Employers can ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates have full access to communication for a successful interview. Here’s how:

  • Avoid having bright lights or a window directly behind you that can create glare and cause eye strain for the candidate. Make sure there are no distractions in the background, as well.
  • If the candidate is not familiar with the platform (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.) used for the interview, allow them to perform a test connection to make sure the candidate can connect at the time of the interview.
  • Encourage the candidate to let you know if communication is unclear. Ask questions and clarify comments to ensure the candidate understands everything that is happening during the interview.
  • Use a dry erase board, writing tablet, chatroom, or comment feature to help clarify your communication.

Continue to  RIT.edu 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.

Digital Accessibility: Why It’s More Vital Than Ever

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Headshot of Elizabeth Stephen

By Elizabeth Stephen, VP of Customer Engagement at Striata, The Americas

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 achieved what years of lobbying and education has not—convincing organizations of the importance of making sure digital assets, like websites, emails and mobile apps, are easy to use and simple to navigate.

With the sudden upswing in digital demand and the almost overnight disappearance of physical interactions, it’s become clear how someone who cannot leave their home is forced to rely on digital channels, and how frustrating it is for them if those digital channels are not optimized for accessibility. This is a regular experience for people living with disabilities and COVID-19 has forced people to have empathy for those with the need for digital access.

Making online content more accessible means ensuring that all people can read and understand it—taking into account any disabilities they may have or assistive devices they could be using to access it. This includes those with disabilities such as impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing. In fact, stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 61-million (or 1 in 4) adults in the US have some form of disability.

The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital transformation and with it, the need for digital accessibility. People with disabilities, who previously may have relied on physical interactions (when shopping, banking etc.), are now also being forced to interact via digital channels instead. It is therefore imperative that organizations consider this segment. They can start by assessing the accessibility level of all their digital content and changing the copy as well as layout/design where necessary. Taking these steps will not only ensure that digital content can be consumed and understood by all, but that it also complies with accessibility laws.

Some common accessibility standards include ensuring websites and emails are easily navigable on a mobile device or via keyboard only and creating PDF documents that can be read by screen readers by avoiding text with a poor color contrast.

Before the pandemic hit, while physical interactions were still acceptable and in-store visits more common, email was already a popular communication channel for many consumers and businesses alike. Now, with the recent, sudden, and unprecedented restrictions of movement imposed by governments across the globe, companies have been forced to adjust their communication or risk losing touch with customers.

It is not surprising that a large number of companies turned to email as the channel of choice to reach out to customers with information about their business continuity plans.

The result was a deluge of emails from brands wanting to make contact with customers and reassure them that new, digital ways of applying, buying and transacting would return things to business as usual. But if customers aren’t able to access those emails in spite of their disabilities, there can be no “business as usual.” Fortunately, a report from Level Access shows that 67 percent of US-based businesses felt compelled to implement inclusion to be truly inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile, some 45 percent implemented a standard, organizational-wide approach to accessibility. They could do far worse than to start with email.
The pandemic has emphasized the undeniable value of these communications, and as the value of email is a channel for everyone, it makes sense for organizations to put energy into making email accessibility a key focus in their digital accessibility strategy.

Elizabeth Stephen is the VP of Customer Engagement for the Americas, overseeing all commercial business and channel management in North and South America. For the past decade, Liz has managed teams of sales groups both nationally and internationally. She has a true passion for helping customers identify their needs and consulting with them to help fill those needs. Since joining Striata, Liz has taken a keen interest in Customer Communications Management (CCM) and helping clients utilize digital communications to meet their CX goals.

Cultivating a ‘Deliberately Diverse’ Approach in Accounting & Advisory Fields

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A woamn working at a desk with a computer and a calculator

By Joanne Cleaver

Grant Thornton, the northern Virginia office of international accounting and advisory firm, had a problem.

The office is located in the Washington, D.C. metro, one of the most racially diverse areas in America, with an especially strong representation of Black professionals.

And, many of the firm’s clients were government agencies or top-tier suppliers to government agencies—two types of organizations highly attuned to racial diversity.

Carlos Otal, head of the office and managing partner for Grant Thornton’s public sector services and solutions practice, knew that clients expected more than a reflection of their own diverse staff. They expected Grant Thornton to live up to the diversity priorities it stated in its website and pitch materials.

But how would the firm foster diverse client engagement teams when the accounting and advisory profession was, and is, overwhelmingly white and male?

By cultivating a ‘deliberately diverse’ approach to assembling teams.

Otal “cracked the code” by figuring out the key dynamics of how diverse teams deliver on the diversity promise of better ideas and greater innovation to elevate client service. Then, he aligned the process of picking teams to ensure that no demographic dominated. That shifted the group dynamic: when each individual operated in his or her own strength, free from the expectation of representing their identity, the group quickly recognized each member’s strengths and contributions. Those strengths combined in fresh ways to bring clients new ideas and solutions.

Thanks to ongoing research by the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance, accounting and advisory firms have a deep well of diversity best practices to draw on, from Grant Thornton and other leading firms. The AFWA’s reports illustrate to W/MBE’s how firms are pursuing diverse talent and suppliers.

The accounting and advisory profession lags when it comes to diversity.

Blacks are significantly under-represented in the accounting and advisory profession, at only 3 percent of employees. Hispanics comprise 6 percent of employees; Asians, 11 percent; and biracial employees, 4 percent, while Native Americans are virtually absent, according to the 2020 Accounting MOVE Project, an annual research and advocacy effort that measures and supports the advancement of women and women of color at CPA firms. It is produced by content firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., in partnership with the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.

As accounting and advisory firms seek new avenues for growth, they are realizing that diverse talent drives innovation, and innovation is what clients want when they hire a pricey firm to guide them through new market and financial opportunities.

Otal’s lightbulb moment pivoted on changing the definition of “meritocracy.” CPA and advisory firms tend to believe that billable hours create meritocracy, in dollars and culture. But sustainable firm success is grounded in client relationship skills, business development and talent growth—characteristics that are not easily quantified and that often don’t fit into the billable hours construct.

As Otal worked with leaders in his office, the team realized early on that they needed to diversify the office’s talent pipeline from the bottom up and to change the culture at midlevel from the outside in.

And retention pivoted on changing how professionals defined success. “You can’t just say you want diversity,” Otal says. “You have to be intentional. We use metrics and data to tell you who is doing what. But then we spend a lot of time looking beyond the data. What are the impacts this person has made beyond the hours billed and the sales numbers? “

Otal realized that young professionals need to see a wider spectrum of leadership styles, backgrounds, and career paths. That’s how the office’s “bottom up” strategy intersected with its “outside in” strategy. Otal’s team sought midcareer recruits with a wider range of ethnic and personal backgrounds. The Alexandria office has now pulled ahead of national benchmarks for racial diversity.

“We’ve realized we have to be even more intentional about diversity when we have even more data. Sometimes you say, ‘It’s not if this person gets promoted. It’s when,’” says Otal. “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go ahead and promote this person. We know we want to. When we’re intentional about diversity, it changes the dynamic. Then that changes the data,” he said, referring to employee demographics.

At Grant Thornton’s Alexandria office, greater racial and gender diversity changed the way teams collaborated and solved problems. And that showed young professionals that the firm was capitalizing on diversity—and that their own varied perspectives were essential for their career success.

This article is based on the 2019 CPA Firm Diversity Report. Find more trends and tools for working with leading accounting and advisory firms at the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance website: afwa.org/move-project/

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.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Verizon

Verizon

Robert Half