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.

Your Supplier Diversity Starter Guide

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Businesswoman shaking hands with disabled business owner

By: Tawanah Reeves-Ligon

There are some common misconceptions regarding supplier diversity (SD) programs and how to get started the right way. Among those are the costs associated with a new SD program as well as the quality of services received and the product. However, studies have shown that a properly organized and managed program can not only increase a company’s ROI, but still create ample competition amongst qualified suppliers.

With that being said, supplier diversity does not mean ‘hand out’ or ‘give me’ program. The suppliers must still be inventive, tech-savvy and proficient enough to be able to compete for your business.

So, how do you get started? Here are our top 4 tips:

  1. Preparation

Preparation is key to any successful endeavor. Beginning your supplier diversity program is no different. Is their support from the top echelon of the company all the way to the bottom rung of the structure? Take a step back and self-evaluate for a moment to make sure you’re the right company to begin a supplier diversity program. Is diversity and culture something reflected already currently reflected in your business and values? Next, identify where a lack of support exists and then determine how to bolster enthusiasm, or at least, understanding and expectations in those areas. Supplier diversification is going to be a boon to every area of your business, so highlight the reasons why this decision should and is being made.

Also, talk about how each team can assist in making the transition a success so that there isn’t confusion regarding expectations or the roadmap that’s been chosen. This might look like new training procedures, unconscious bias programs, securing cross-functional ownership of the process and communication with stakeholders. Also, don’t forget to establish your baseline spend with diverse suppliers — this is critical to keeping track of your progress as things move forward. We’re going to touch on this again in the Evaluation step.

  1. Identification

A common question from and challenge for companies beginning their first supplier diversity program is, “How do I find quality, competitive diverse suppliers?” The answer is simpler than you’ve believed and actually quite easy. There are multiple avenues one can use to find suppliers who from underrepresented groups. For example, tapping into groups that cater to diverse suppliers in your area like a local chamber of commerce, minority business council or diverse supplier organization.

Of course, some great organizations to start your search would include, but are not limited to, the National Minority Business Council, Inc., Disability:IN, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and, of course, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. They focus on advocating and expanding opportunities for their respective underserved communities. Another great option is, once you find a supplier in your area, ask them what organizations or groups they are a part of or partner with, so that you can increase your network. Also, if someone in your network has a diverse supplier program already that’s thriving, seek assistance. Finally, publicize your efforts to be more diverse and this will most certainly attract suppliers to you and your program.

  1. Integration

Don’t fall into the trap of failing in organizational change management. Integrating new processes or partnerships can be rocky. The seeming contradiction to remember here is that sometimes the fastest way to hit the end goal is take things slowly and at a measured pace. Be prepared to repeat steps and recommunicate with as well as reeducate teams and stakeholders about their commitment to common goal. Very few steps in your process are going to be one and done scenarios.

Identify a key member, hopefully someone trained or reeducated in diversity, equity and inclusion, to head up your new program and be in charge of not only implementation but tracking as well. Recruited other like-minded individuals to the new department as well to help bolster these new efforts. Be prepared to make a technology investment along with these personnel changes to help streamline your process through analytics, supplier tracking or further training. You might also consider supplier development in your integration plan.

  1. Evaluation

The most important step to any implementation is evaluation. By measuring where you are against where you started and where you wanted to be, it becomes easier to assess what is working and what could work better. This might look similar to the processes already in place in your organization: assessing how well the supplier has overall met your requirements. Did the cost, service, quality and capacity of the needs met for your organization add up in a satisfactory fashion? How much contribution was made to innovation, mitigating risks and losses, as well as sales and marketing growth? What was the savings? Was there an impact to your engagement with customers or the markets you serve? Using these questions and any qualifiers you already use as a guide can help you better assess where your program is and where it can go.

Worthwhile change takes time, effort and intentionality. Be steadfast in the process, and you will see the fruits of your labor. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as the saying goes, and neither will the best parts of your program be built all at once. Continue to work as a team and communicate openly about questions or ideas. Together, your program can take your business one step closer to your goals.

Google, Stanford are teaming up to cultivate greater neurodiversity in the high tech workplace

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Google announced the launch of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program for neurodiversity..

By Sam Farmer, The Hill

When a leading technology company and a leading institution of higher learning partner with each other to make things better for an unfairly marginalized segment of society, there is cause for celebration. Particularly if you are a neurodiverse individual (autistic, for example) aspiring to a career in technology. The cloud industry is growing rapidly and Goggle is a key player with their Google Cloud services. To their credit, they have chosen to proceed in a way that is mindful of inclusivity and of the talents that people with autism bring to the table, and they have wisely decided not to go it alone in meeting the challenge.

As such, Google recently announced the launch of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program. The program’s purpose is not merely to hire but also to support more autistic talent in the Google workforce. To that end, they are collaborating with experts from the Stanford Neurodiversity Project which advises employers on opportunities and success metrics for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace. Stanford will also coach applicants and provide support not only for them but for their colleagues and managers as well, once they join the Google Cloud team.

The Stanford Neurodiversity Project works toward the establishment of a culture that values the capabilities of neurodiverse people and empowers them to develop their identity and daily living skills. It trains talented individuals for successful inclusion in the workforce and seeks to disseminate its methodology on a global scale. The end goal, which is also that of the Neurodiversity Movement in general, is to reveal the strengths of neurodivergent individuals and leverage these strengths to increase society’s capacity for innovation and productivity.

The Google/Stanford partnership makes perfect sense, considering that products that are intended for use by everybody everywhere, including the Google Cloud services, are best designed and built by as wide a diversity of people as possible. The Google Cloud team is therefore optimized when neurodiverse and neurotypical people work side by side. Ideally, the team would reflect diversity in other respects as well (race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, etc.).

Rob Enslin is the President of Global Customer Operations for Google Cloud. In the company’s formal announcement of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program, Enslin speaks of Google’s intent to train and empower as many as 500 Google Cloud managers and others involved in hiring processes “to work effectively and empathetically with autistic candidates and ensure Google’s onboarding processes are accessible and equitable.” He added that the Autism Career Program also aims to “break down the barriers that autistic candidates most often face,” citing the traditional job interview as a common impediment to an autistic candidate’s efforts at getting his foot in the door, because of the lack of accommodations which would enable the candidate to showcase his strengths. For example, allowing for more time for the interviewee to respond to a question or permitting him to answer the questions in writing. No unfair advantage in this case. Rather, the elimination of an unfair disadvantage.

As an autistic individual, I can attest. Back in my high school days when I took the SAT’s, my verbal score took a beating as a result of time running out well before I could finish. Many reading comprehension questions toward the end of the verbal portion went unanswered. In retrospect, it was foolish of me to decline the offer to take the test untimed, choosing instead to be evaluated on the same terms as my classmates. Had I chosen the untimed option, I would not have been granted an unfair advantage. I rejected a necessary accommodation and paid the price on a high stakes exam.

Conversely, I had a music history professor in college who, out of the kindness of her heart, remained in the classroom with me until I completed her exams, sometimes long after time had expired and everybody else had left, no matter how long I took. As a result, I was able to prove the true extent of my knowledge of the topics the exam questions raised. Her flexibility and understanding meant the world to me, knowing that I worked significantly slower than most and that she could have enforced the same expectations equally for everybody in her classes but instead chose to exempt me. I felt understood and valued at a time in my life when I often felt misunderstood and marginalized.

Click here to read the full article on The Hill.

Meet John Cronin: The Founder of John’s Crazy Socks

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John and his dad hugging

During Fall 2016, John Cronin began his senior year of high school and like most high school seniors, John began looking at his options for the career world. He was currently studying retail and customer service, but he also wanted to work in an atmosphere that was creative and enjoyable. Not liking any of the options that were currently available to him, John decided that the best way to find his ideal workplace was to create it himself.

That’s when John decided to team up with his father, Mark Cronin, who created small businesses online. After bouncing around creative business ideas that they could start, John decided that he wanted to start a sock company that specifically sold “crazy” socks.

“I wore crazy socks my entire life,” John said of his choice in business. “They are fun, colorful and creative. They let me be me.”

And thus, John’s Crazy Socks was born, an online sock company specializing in the exact brand of sock that John had come to love himself. The two got right to work in setting up their e-commerce platform, finding sock suppliers to support John’s dream and even shot some commercials that they posted to Facebook.

Despite technical difficulties on their first day, John’s business took off from day one. Orders began piling in from local members of his community who were made aware of the new business from the company’s Facebook videos. With such a positive response, John decided to step up his customer service game and make the first batch of deliveries extra special. He packaged each sock order in a red box accompanied with candy and a handwritten thank you note and made many of the first deliveries personally. As he arrived on the doorsteps of his customers with their orders, his customers began to post their purchases on social media, creating exposure and eventually attracting a larger demographic. In the first month of business, John’s Crazy Socks had shipped over 450 orders and earned over $13,000 in revenue.

But even with the excitement and success that came, the two businessowners decided that they wanted to do more than just sell socks, they wanted to help the organizations that were closest to them. So, from the beginning to now, 5% of all sales are donated to the special Olympics, one of John’s favorite organizations. From there, the duo decided that they wanted to expand their advocacy and create “awareness” themed socks. 10% of profits from these specially-themed socks support awareness efforts for Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer and more.

“Everything we do is designed to spread happiness,” their mission statement reads. “The more we can do for others, the more we can make people happy, the better off we are.”

Entering their fifth year of business, John’s Crazy Socks is thriving now more than ever. Their inventory has expanded to include home apparel, mugs, greeting cards, accessories, masks and customizable socks. Customers can even sign up for a sock subscription club that delivers a new pair of crazy socks to your doorstep every month.

Additionally, the business strives to follow its four business pillars: Inspiration and Hope, Giving Back, Socks You Can Love and Making it Personal. Through these four pillars, John and Mark have additionally began to take part in speaking engagements, facility tours and social events where the two men advocate for people with differing abilities, especially in the workforce.

“We learned three things,” Mark said of his business venture with his son, “People want to buy socks; people want to buy socks from John, and this young man and this old man can sell socks.”

To order your own pair of socks and to learn more about the business, visit johnscrazysocks.com.

Online Recruitment of & Outreach to People with Disabilities: Research-Based Practices

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Three people looking at a computer in an office

Effective recruitment and outreach are necessary to improve an organization’s pipeline of qualified applicants with disabilities. EARN’s evaluation of the research literature uncovered important implications in a number of areas, including: online messaging, outreach and recruitment, application processes and accessibility, and establishing partnerships to broaden talent pools. The following is a summary of research-based practices and elements of online outreach that increase the likelihood of attracting individuals with disabilities during the job application process.

Online Messaging

Website features and approaches to online recruitment play an important role in influencing job seekers. Often, a company’s website may be the first step to forming perceptions of person-organization fit. Website messaging can affect how job candidates perceive and respond to online application/selection tools such as personality tests, work samples, and situational judgment tests. The perception of bias can even dissuade applicants with disabilities from applying to positions. Early-stage reactions to a company’s disability messaging can also influence employee decisions to disclose their disability to the employer. Their comfort-level in doing so can serve as an informal indicator of an employer’s success in achieving a supportive and inclusive workplace culture. Applicant reactions can include perceptions of fairness and justice, feelings of anxiety, levels of motivation, and a range of other experiences. Increasingly, researchers have been applying a justice lens to applicant reactions, looking at how interaction with online application/selection processes influence factors like employer attractiveness, applicant intention to accept the position, and whether an applicant would recommend the employer to others. There is growing evidence of additional relationships between applicant reactions and hiring outcomes, including acceptance of job offers, performance on selection tests, and possibly even job performance.

A content analysis of 34 corporate social responsibility reports from organizations nationally recognized for their disability inclusion efforts found that four practices were commonly used to promote disability inclusion efforts:

  • Diversity and inclusion statements
  • Employee resource groups
  • Supplier diversity initiatives
  • Targeted hiring and recruitment plans

Corporate social responsibility plans, in themselves, often highlight publicly desirable organizational practices, and are used frequently for the purpose of marketing and recruiting talent.

A study that analyzed the web content of 30 randomly selected Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies rating them for perceived openness to employing people with disabilities reported that several companies exhibited:

  • Message inconsistency
  • A lack of disability awareness
  • Weakly navigable, inaccessible websites
  • Difficult to locate accommodations information and diversity statements
  • Web-based recruiting constraints that exclude or alienate potential applicants with disabilities

Outreach & Recruitment

Disability-focused recruitment plans play an important role in advancing workplace inclusion and overcoming discrimination or bias in the job application process Recommendations from the literature focused on developing more sophisticated career websites that highlight the organization’s hiring goals, include employee testimonials, and give potential recruits deeper insight into the company’s values and policies. Researchers suggest personalizing recruitment processes by allowing candidates to build personal accounts on the website that go beyond an application form or procedure, and engaging in applicant tracking that involves recruiters and other collaborators, rather than relying solely on algorithmic filters. Recruitment practices, corporate advertising, and firm reputation all have direct effects on applicant pool quantity and quality. Organizations with comparatively high existing levels of advertising and reputation, such as more detailed recruitment ads and employee testimonials, are more impactful at broadening applicant talent pools. Technological practices, such as social media recruiting, can also limit talent pools by filtering out qualified candidates with disabilities. In one study of job seekers with disabilities, 50 percent of respondents reported using social media as part of their job search process, but of those, 40 percent experienced accessibility or usability issues, such as features they could not access at all or that were not user-friendly. Research also shows that organizations benefit from frequently auditing their hiring practices for continuous improvement and inclusivity, but this practice does not often occur.

Application Processes & Accessibility

One assessment of job seekers with disabilities’ experiences using eRecruiting tools found that 46 percent of respondents rated their last experience applying for a job online as “difficult to impossible.” Common challenges included complex navigation features, timeout restrictions, confusing or inconsistent instructions, and a wide range of general accessibility issues. Here are some of the things that made eRecruiting tools difficult to use:

Reliance on text embedded within graphics to convey directions or important information

  • Lack of alt text
  • Applications requiring mouse input
  • Lack of closed captioning
  • Inaccessible CAPTCHA
  • Inaccessible upload features
  • Lack of information on how to request an accommodation

Experts recommended that employers approach accessibility from both a usability and a compliance standpoint. They also acknowledged barriers in the areas of technology, logistics, cost, and complexity or unwillingness to approach accessibility challenges beyond the job application form itself. Ideally, accessibility improvements should include processes related to job sourcing, pre-employment testing, digital interviews, and the need to improve or modify the accessibility features of off-the-shelf technology platforms. Read EARN’s Checklist for Employers: Facilitating the Hiring of People with Disabilities Through the Use of eRecruiting Screening Systems, Including AI to learn more about evaluating the effectiveness and accessibility of online recruiting efforts. EARN’s Disability Outreach and Inclusion Messaging: Assessment Checklist for Career Pages is a useful tool to assess your organization’s career page(s) to ensure they appeal to candidates with disabilities and highlight disability inclusion.

Establishing Partnerships to Broaden Talent Pools

A survey of 6,530 supervisors at private, nonprofit, and governmental organizations across U.S. industries identified several employer practices that supervisors perceive to be highly effective for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. The study indicated that establishing partnerships with disability organizations is a highly effective means of identifying qualified candidates, yet only 28.5 percent of organizations had implemented this practice as a means of recruiting employees with disabilities. Despite the few organizations utilizing this strategy, 75 percent of supervisors reported that this practice would be feasible to implement.

Because HR professionals often play an important role in developing the recruitment pipeline and online recruitment strategies, they should be aware of community agencies that can provide qualified candidates. By collaborating with vocational rehabilitation service providers and local job placement specialists, employers can tailor placement efforts, develop conduits for new talent, and enhance organizational education and knowledge on disability hiring practices.

This can take the form of more formal linkage agreements and long-term partnerships, or simply posting on online recruitment boards/resources aimed specifically at job candidates with disabilities. For more information, visit AskEARN.org.

Source: EARN (Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability)

Physical Campus Accessibility – More Than Just an Occupancy Certificate

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restroom with many stalls and a sign that shows it is accessible

By Sheri Byrne-Haber, Accessibility Architect @ VMware

Every day in the US, a conversation like the following occurs: Employee with disability: I can’t do X because of Y.

Some examples of this might include, “I can’t use this conference room because of the furniture configuration.” or “I can’t make coffee without asking for help because the supplies don’t have tactile labels.”

And the facilities manager replies, “The facility is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The disconnect between what employees with disabilities need and the status reported by facilities’ teams results from the facilities’ personnel not understanding that there is way more to physical work campus accessibility than the sign off by the inspector before the building was occupied.

Most post-occupancy campus accessibility issues fall into these broad categories:

  • Bathrooms
  • Food
  • Office Space / Conference rooms
  • Events
  • Digital

Bathrooms

Problem: There is a hashtag that sums it all up: Bathrooms are #NotACupboard. The bathroom may have been built to be ADA accessible, but once you start throwing stuff into it – I’ve seen packages of extra toilet paper, boxes of paper towels, a broken toilet from another stall and the ubiquitous mop and bucket – the clear space needed to turn a wheelchair becomes blocked and the stall is no longer accessible. Which is a really bad thing if only one accessible toilet is required.

Solution: Make sure the janitorial staff knows to put things where they belong and not in an accessible stall. Not your staff? You still might be held accountable since you contracted for the work, especially if there are complaints that go unaddressed. Put up signs that state clearly that people with disabilities have priority for using the accessible stalls. Have a number posted where people can call if there are issues.

Food

Problem: From buffet lines, garbage can, and drink cooler door handles, to placement of coffee supplies, utensils and condiments, lack of food-related accessibility in an occupied workspace can be problematic for people with disabilities. Wayfinding for people who are blind is as much of a problem as placement height is for people with mobility issues or people who are short stature.

Solution: Make sure cafeteria staff have been trained on setting up buffet lines to ADA criteria for both spacing and height. Have a system for assisting people who are blind to easily find their way from point a to point b.

Office Space / Conference rooms

Question: What do furniture, whiteboards on wheels and plants have in common?

Answer: They are all things that are typically not present when the inspector issues an occupancy certificate.

Problem: Once people start moving things around, anything that gets shoved into a clear path becomes an obstacle ranging from the difficult to the impassable for someone with a wheelchair to get around.

Solutions: Identify on the conference room booking platform which conference rooms are normally ADA compliant, and which ones aren’t. Ask people not to move furniture around in the non-compliant rooms, or put it back the way they found it when they are done. Don’t allow employees to clog up clear space areas with anything, not even short-term craft projects. Don’t forget you may need to keep some conference rooms animal-free for people with disabling allergic reactions, and you may be asked for a quiet room with acoustic dampening, soft lights and bean bags for people who are neurodiverse.

Temporary Signage

Problem: Most everyone is now obligated to put up signs about COVID and hand sanitizing stations. There may also be single flow arrows and signage about spacing in elevators. How does anyone know the signs are there if they can’t see?

Solutions: Figure out a way to get information from temporary signage to people with vision loss who need it. Tactile maps or accessible HTML pages/email are just two of many ways to accomplish this.

In-person Events

Problem: You don’t have enough space for that event everyone wants to go to. Can you have it in the parking lot or on the grass?

Solution: Not without some really careful planning. Grass is not safe for people with mobility issues. Temporary flooring needs to be used to create an accessible path. Parking lots are dangerous unless there is lots of security directing cars away and nearby accessible parking is planned for.

Digital

Problem: Digital accessibility is just as important as physical accessibility for candidates, vendors and employees with disabilities

Solution: Make sure all online maps have text descriptions and that all websites comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility criteria.

Key Takeaways:

  • Post-occupancy activities can trigger many access issues for people with mobility issues, vision loss and other disabilities
  • Keeping a building “ADA compliant” requires constant vigilance, not just a one-time inspection

Sheri Byrne-Haber has been working exclusively in the intersection of business, disability and technology for more than 15 years. She previously built a global accessibility team at McDonald’s and is currently doing the same for VMware. She has degrees in IT, law as well as business and is CPACC and ADA certified.

Med Student’s Disability Helps Him Connect With Patients

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A man siting in a wheel chair is wearing a medical jacket and is smiling at the camera

By Nick Romanenko

Tom Pisano has been working on both a medical degree and doctoral degree in neuroscience to help to study and treat conditions like his own.

When Tom Pisano started making rounds in his wheelchair, he worried his patients would consider him less capable than his Robert Wood Johnson Medical School peers.

However, he quickly found it had the opposite effect on patients and put them at ease.

Photo : Rutgers

“Patients are more willing to share what’s really bothering them,” said Pisano, 33, who was paralyzed from the chest down during a skiing accident at 19, during his first year of college. “Everyone has an internal struggle or challenge of some form, mine is just visible. That helps give me a connection with the patient.”

On Friday, during what is nationally known as Match Day, Pisano was one of 162 soon-to-be physicians in RWJMS’s Class of 2021 who discovered the name of the residency program where they will spend the next three to seven years training in the medical specialty of their choice.

Nine years after embarking on his journey to earn both a medical degree and doctoral degree in neuroscience, he was elated to learn he was matched with his first choices: an intern year at Mount Sinai Morningside-West, followed by a residency at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Neurology. He will continue his medical training working to study and treat neurological conditions.

“I feel so fortunate to have gotten exactly what I wanted for my preliminary and advanced neurology residency,” said Pisano, who grew up in Alexandria Township, NJ, but now lives in Manhattan with his partner. “I can spend my first year close to my partner, who is a pulmonary critical care fellow also at Mount Sinai Morningside-West.

Pisano is among 95 percent of his classmates at RWJMS who matched to the residency of their choice. Among them, 35 students matched to a New Jersey program: 22 students matched to a Robert Wood Johnson Medical School program, and four to  New Jersey Medical School.

“Our medical students have my greatest respect for the work they have accomplished these past four years, and for the exemplary way that they have conducted themselves during the pandemic,” said Robert L. Johnson, interim dean of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and dean of New Jersey Medical School. “Their success and resilience are evidenced by the excellent programs into which our students matched to continue their specialized education as residents.”

When Pisano was in his first year in college at the University of Virginia, medical school was not his end goal. But after his accident and rehabilitation, the doctors told him he would never walk again, and he had to learn to navigate his new life. Pisano returned to school with a renewed focus.

“When you get down and depressed, you try to rethink your life. The new purpose of my life became to help others and have fun doing it. I found medicine and medical research was the way to do it,” said Pisano, who graduated from UVA in 2011 with a double major in cognitive science and biology.

He spent the following year trying to determine whether he wanted to attend medical school to become a neurologist or graduate school to become a researcher in the field of neurology. After a stint as a research participant and researcher in the spinal cord division of the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, Pisano decided he would do both.

“I want be a neurologist who sees patients and I want to do clinical-based research that somehow improves my patients’ quality of life,” he said. “The best way I concluded doing that would be to treat few subsets of the population with diseases that I’m also researching.”

He knew he could accomplish this in New Jersey through a combined program that sandwiched a graduate research degree between four years of medical school. When he graduates in May, Pisano will be one of a handful of RWJMS classmates who started medical school at the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which became part of Rutgers in 2013.

Last year, after Pisano finished his graduate program and was wrapping up his third year of medical school, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to derail his progress. He wasn’t sure if he’d still be on track to graduate this May.

“When the world was collapsing in March or April, I thought, ‘I want to graduate, but if the attendings (physicians) teaching me have to go save lives, I’m more than OK with that,’” he said.

Read the full article at Rutgers.

Starbucks to release new large-print and Braille menus this summer amid other accessibility moves

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By Annabelle Williams

Starbucks announced Monday it would be making several major steps to make its menus and stores more accessible for blind and low-vision customers in a release preceding its annual shareholders meeting.

This summer, the chain will distribute large-print and Braille menus to all stores in the US and Canada. The chain is working with the National Braille Press to create the new menus.

Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

And in the meantime, starting Monday, March 15, the company announced that it would be giving customers in the US access to Aira, an app that “connects blind and low-vision people to highly trained, remotely located visual interpreters to provide instant access to visual information through a third-party smartphone app.”
Starbucks has made other efforts to make its customer experience more accessible and equitable, and the company is highlighting those steps ahead of its annual shareholders meeting.

At the meeting, Starbucks is also expected to discuss its earnings from the first quarter of the fiscal year 2021, which saw the effects of the pandemic driving a 5% decline in consolidated net revenues.

Read the full article at INSIDER.

Starbucks offers new service to make menu accessible to blind, low vision customers

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Starbucks drink on table with employees in the background working on the cash register.

By Ronnie Koenig, TODAY

Starbucks is now offering more options to make their stores and ordering experience accessible to all individuals. Starting today, customers will have access to Aira, a third-party app that connects people who are blind or have low vision with agents who can help them access information, including the menu. This summer, locations across the U.S. and Canada will also offer menus printed in large-format and in braille.

These changes are coming as Starbucks is working to be more inclusive of all its customers.

“At Starbucks, it has long been a part of our mission to create a culture of warmth and belonging,” said Katie Young, senior vice president of growth and development at Starbucks in an email to TODAY Food. “We want all of our customers to feel welcome when they enter our stores, in all of the communities we serve. Integrating accessibility throughout our business gives us the opportunity to offer the Starbucks experience to even more customers. We know that the more we design for inclusion, the better our business will be.”

In its Starbucks Stories, the company describes the experience of Susan, a woman who lost her vision as a teenager due to multiple sclerosis.

“Earlier this month, Susan walked into a Seattle Starbucks and, using Aira, was able to ask a remote agent to describe the layout of the store so she could navigate to the order line and point-of-sale, read the menu to her and describe options in the pastry and Ready-to-Eat and Drink cases and on the counters,” read the story.

“‘It helps me scan the environment and learn what’s there and do it quickly,’ she said.

Instead of having to try to remember what’s on the menu, and possibly miss new seasonal options, through Aira, ‘I can be like every other customer with the same number of choices,’ she said.”

Click here to read the full article on TODAY.

Bumble Is Driving Powerful Change for Disabled Women Like Me

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Bumble founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd at the Fast Company Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article at CNN.

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Upcoming Events

  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
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    September 27, 2021 - September 29, 2021
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    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
  2. The Arc’s 2021 National Convention
    September 27, 2021 - September 29, 2021
  3. CSUN Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022