Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

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Senate will grill tech execs after report that Instagram can harm teens’ mental health

By Lauren Feiner, CNBC

A Senate panel plans to bring tech executives back to Capitol Hill following a revealing report from The Wall Street Journal about the impact of Facebook’s Instagram platform on teens’ mental health.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, announced the hearing in an interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” Blackburn said the hearing would take place in a couple weeks and would include representatives from Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Google-owned YouTube.

A spokesperson for Blackburn said a hearing date and the specific attendees from the companies have not yet been confirmed.

The Journal’s report, which the outlet said was based on internal documents from Facebook, revealed that the company had been aware of significant negative impacts of its photo-sharing Instagram app on teenage girls. At a March hearing, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in response to a question about children and mental health, that research he’s seen shows that “using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits.”

While the research cited in the Journal’s report did not show entirely negative effects, it seemed to cut against Facebook’s narrative about mental health. That angered several lawmakers across parties and chambers of Congress, some of whom called for Facebook to abandon plans to create a child-focused Instagram product.

“What we know is a lot of this anecdotal information that we had from parents, teachers, pediatricians about the harms of social media to children, that Facebook was aware of this,” Blackburn said. “They chose not to make this public.”

Blackburn said her staff met Friday with a whistleblower who has worked for Facebook, and who had access to documents on which the Journal reported.

Although both the House and the Senate have hauled tech CEOs to Congress several times over the past couple years, Blackburn said she expects this hearing to stand out because of its bipartisan nature. She said she is working with the subcommittee’s chair, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on the effort and the two will look at rules around how social media is able to market to children, as well as statutes meant to protect them online, like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) Rule.

Representatives for Blumenthal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are determined to do something in a bipartisan way that is going to protect our children in the virtual space, that will allow them to be able to use the internet, do Zoom school if they need to, do research, but to be protected and to have their privacy protected when they are online,” Blackburn said.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Lululemon pledges $75 million to wellbeing programs

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Lululemon Athletica inc. has committed $75 million to supporting physical, mental, and social wellbeing programs by 2025

By Anne Stych, Biz Journals

Lululemon Athletica inc. has committed $75 million to supporting physical, mental, and social wellbeing programs by 2025, starting with a $5 million investment in three nonprofits, and through the launch of a Centre for Social Impact.

Lululemon said that through the Centre, it will invest in removing barriers through philanthropy, research, and advocacy, amplifying its existing social impact programs, with a goal to positively impact more than 10 million people.

The three organizations that will receive initial grants are:

  • The Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation that empowers adolescent girls around the world through education.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the United States’ largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Lululemon will help lead the establishment of a 9-8-8 crisis number for mental health and suicide prevention services.
  • The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.

“At Lululemon, we believe everyone has the right to be well and we know the path to wellbeing is possible when tools, support, and resources are accessible to all,” said Esther Speck, Lululemon vice president of global sustainability and social impact.

Lululemon said that since 2016, its Here to Be program has supported more than 750 non-profit organizations with grants amounting to $25 million, and that its Peace on Purpose program has provided thousands of UN workers with mindfulness and self-care tools for their physical and mental health since the collaboration’s launch in 2019.

Click here to read the full article on Biz Journals.

It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work

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illustration to describe mental health. A person in a suit with water color design covering their face

By Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas, Harvard Business Review

When we published our research on workplace mental health in October 2019, we never could have predicted how much our lives would soon be upended by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Then the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans by the police; the rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs); wildfires; political unrest; and other major stressors unfolded in quick succession, compounding the damage to our collective mental health.

One silver lining amid all the disruption and trauma is the normalization of mental health challenges at work. In 2019, employers were just starting to grasp the prevalence of these challenges, the need to address stigma, and the emerging link to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative. Fast forward to 2021, and the stakes have been raised even higher thanks to a greater awareness of the workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health, as well as heightened urgency around its intersections with DEI.

Although employers have responded with initiatives like mental health days or weeks, four-day workweeks, and enhanced counseling benefits or apps, they’re not enough. Employees need and expect sustainable and mentally healthy workplaces, which requires taking on the real work of culture change. It’s not enough to simply offer the latest apps or employ euphemisms like “well-being” or “mental fitness.” Employers must connect what they say to what they actually do.

Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow offers a rare comparison of the state of mental health, stigma, and work culture in U.S. workplaces before and during the pandemic. This follow-up study to our 2019 Mental Health at Work Report uses the same metrics and includes additional questions and segmentations on the effects of the pandemic, racial trauma, and the return to office; it also fleshes out our less comprehensive study from April 2020. As in 2019, we collected responses from 1,500 U.S. adults in full-time jobs, with statistically significant representation across racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, membership in the LGBTQ+ community, generational divides, primary caregiver statuses, levels of seniority, and other factors. Here’s a summary of what we learned and our recommendations for what employers need to do to support their employees’ mental health.

The Employee Mental Health Experience

When we examined the data on how employees experience mental health challenges, we found that prevalence increased from 2019 to 2021 and that younger and historically underrepresented workers still struggle the most.

Increased attrition. More employees are leaving their jobs for mental health reasons, including those caused by workplace factors like overwhelming and unsustainable work. While the 2019 rates of attrition were already surprisingly high, they’ve gone up even more since then. Sixty-eight percent of Millennials (50% in 2019) and 81% of Gen Zers (75% in 2019) have left roles for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 50% of respondents overall (34% in 2019). Ninety-one percent of respondents believed that a company’s culture should support mental health, up from 86% in 2019.High prevalence. Mental health challenges are now the norm among employees across all organizational levels. Seventy-six percent of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019. While that’s not surprising due to the many macro stressors, it supports the notion that mental health challenges affect nearly all of us on a regular basis.
Our 2019 study showed the same prevalence of mental health symptoms across all levels of seniority, debunking the myth that successful leaders are immune. Perhaps as a result of having to lead through this unprecedented era, our 2021 study showed that C-level and executive respondents were now actually more likely than others to report at least one mental health symptom. Let’s finally put the stigma to rest and admit that mental health challenges affect us all.

Widespread disclosure. More employees are talking about mental health at work than in 2019. Nearly two-thirds of respondents talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year. This is an important step in the right direction, especially in terms of reducing stigma, which affects willingness to seek treatment. That said, only 49% of respondents described their experience of talking about mental health at work as positive or reported that they received a positive or supportive response, which is comparable to 2019 rates.DEI implications. Demographics continue to play a strong role in workplace mental health, with younger workers and historically underrepresented groups still struggling the most. Millennials and Gen Zers, as well as LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents were all significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms. Like Millennials and Gen Zers, caregiver respondents and members of historically underrepresented groups — including LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx respondents — all were more likely to leave roles for their mental health and to believe that a company’s culture should support mental health. In fact, 54% of all respondents said that mental health is a DEI issue, an increase from 41% in 2019.

The Company’s Role in Employee Mental Health

Employees don’t experience mental health challenges in isolation. Employers play a role, too — both good and bad.

Certain workplace factors negatively affected mental health. The way we’re working isn’t sustainable, and it’s hurting our mental health. Until recently, the conversation has primarily centered on preexisting mental health conditions and the related stigma. Increasingly, the focus is on work’s effect on everyone’s mental health.

An overwhelming 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health. Younger workers and members of underrepresented groups were affected even more severely. When looking across all respondents, the most common factor was emotionally draining (e.g., stressful, overwhelming, boring, or monotonous) work, which also worsened since the pandemic. This was closely followed by work-life balance.

The other workplace factors that most notably worsened since the pandemic were poor communication practices and a low sense of connection to or support from one’s colleagues or manager, perhaps unsurprising in a predominantly remote workforce. The workaholism that characterizes much of U.S. culture has only been exacerbated by the challenges of the pandemic, leading to increased employee burnout.

Companies increased investment in employee mental health — sort of. Companies are finally investing more in mental health support out of necessity, but they still haven’t achieved true culture change. Our respondents noted that the availability of many resources provided by employers grew since the pandemic, including extra paid time off, company-wide mental health days, and mental health training.

In addition, employees used accommodations to a much greater extent — especially those that provided day-to-day support. These included extended or more frequent breaks from work and time during the workday for therapy appointments. Utilization rates for other accommodations included time off and leaves of absence, which saw no growth from 2019. This highlights a contrast in what employees used versus what employers provided, which were often more temporary, Band-Aid solutions. In fact, the “resource” most desired by respondents (31%) was a more open culture around mental health.

Companies took steps toward culture change. While there is still a great deal to be done, some companies have made progress on the culture front, likely fueled by the pandemic. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that mental health was prioritized at their company compared to other priorities, up from 41% in 2019. In addition, 47% of respondents believed that their company leaders were advocates for mental health at work (compared to 37% in 2019), and 47% believed that their manager was equipped to support them if they had a mental health condition or symptom (compared to 39% in 2019). These are both potentially results of increased training and discussion.

However, the added awareness surprisingly didn’t translate across all dimensions. There was a 5% decline in respondents who felt comfortable supporting a coworker with their mental health and a comparable percentage in who knew the proper procedure to get support for mental health at work.

Employers benefit from supporting mental health at work. Employers that have supported their employees with the pandemic, racial injustices, return-to-office planning, and/or mental health overall have better mental health and engagement outcomes. For example, workers who felt supported with their mental health overall were 26% less likely to report at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year. Respondents who felt supported by their employer also tended to be less likely to experience mental health symptoms, less likely to underperform and miss work, and more likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work. In addition, they had higher job satisfaction and intentions to stay at their company. Lastly, they had more positive views of their company and its leaders, including trusting their company and being proud to work there. This reinforces the tie between workplace culture and its ability to support mental health at work when done intentionally.

What Employers Need to Provide

Employers must move from seeing mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority. Given all the workplace factors at play, companies can no longer compartmentalize mental health as an individual’s responsibility to address alone through self-care, mental health days, or employee benefits. Here’s what they need to provide to make real progress.

Culture change. Culture change requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach to succeed. Workplace mental health is no different — our recommendations from 2019 still hold. Mind Share Partners’ Ecosystem of a Mentally Healthy Workplace Framework illustrates that everyone has a role to play, starting with leaders and managers.

Leaders must treat mental health as an organizational priority with accountability mechanisms such as regular pulse surveys and clear ownership. It should not just be relegated to HR. Leaders should serve as allies by sharing their own personal experiences to foster an environment of transparency and openness. Due to fear and shame, even companies with the best mental health benefits won’t see an uptick in usage unless a stigma-free culture exists.

Organizations have to train leaders, managers, and all employees on how to navigate mental health at work, have difficult conversations, and create supportive workplaces. Managers are often the first line in noticing changes and supporting their direct reports. Building an environment of psychological safety is key. Mental health policies, practices, culturally competent benefits, and other resources must be put in place and (over)communicated.

Investing in DEI to support employee mental health and address its intersectionality is also crucial. Black and AAPI employees have been hit especially hard by the trauma of systemic racism and violence. Workers who are caregivers — often mothers — have faced school closures and the associated burnout. Our study found that allowing employees to discuss challenging social and political topics at work is also part of a mentally healthy culture. At the grassroots level, employees should be empowered to form mental health employee resource groups (ERGs) and other affinity groups, become mental health champions, and start peer listening initiatives.

Click here to read the full article on the Harvard Business Review.

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.

Biden admin says ‘long COVID-19’ could qualify as a disability

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Biden pictured with the american flag. The Biden administration on Monday released new guidance on how to support those experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19 as part of a broader effort to recognize the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

BY Morgan Chalfant, The Hill

The Biden administration on Monday released new guidance on how to support those experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19 as part of a broader effort to recognize the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice rolled out guidance making clear that symptoms of “long COVID-19” could qualify as a disability under the federal civil rights law.

The guidance makes clear that long COVID-19 is not automatically a disability and that an “individualized assessment” is necessary to determine whether a person’s long-term symptoms or condition “substantially limits a major life activity.”

The Administration for Community Living at HHS also released a guide outlining services provided by community-based organizations to help individuals experiencing long-term symptoms after contracting COVID-19.

Additionally, the Education Department released a resource document including information about the responsibilities of schools and public agencies when it comes to providing services and “reasonable modifications” for children and students for whom long-term COVID-19 symptoms qualify as a disability.

Finally, the Labor Department launched a new webpage that includes information and links for workers experiencing long COVID-19, like information on employee benefits.

Most individuals who contract COVID-19 recover and see symptoms dissipate within a few weeks of experiencing effects from the virus. However, some individuals who have contracted the coronavirus have reported experiencing new or ongoing symptoms a month or more after testing positive for the virus.

Research released by the nonprofit FAIR Health last month found that a quarter of people who had COVID-19 sought care for new medical problems at least a month after being diagnosed with the virus.

Replay Video
The Biden administration on Monday released new guidance on how to support those experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19 as part of a broader effort to recognize the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice rolled out guidance making clear that symptoms of “long COVID-19” could qualify as a disability under the federal civil rights law.

The guidance makes clear that long COVID-19 is not automatically a disability and that an “individualized assessment” is necessary to determine whether a person’s long-term symptoms or condition “substantially limits a major life activity.”

The Administration for Community Living at HHS also released a guide outlining services provided by community-based organizations to help individuals experiencing long-term symptoms after contracting COVID-19.

Additionally, the Education Department released a resource document including information about the responsibilities of schools and public agencies when it comes to providing services and “reasonable modifications” for children and students for whom long-term COVID-19 symptoms qualify as a disability.

Finally, the Labor Department launched a new webpage that includes information and links for workers experiencing long COVID-19, like information on employee benefits.

Most individuals who contract COVID-19 recover and see symptoms dissipate within a few weeks of experiencing effects from the virus. However, some individuals who have contracted the coronavirus have reported experiencing new or ongoing symptoms a month or more after testing positive for the virus.

Research released by the nonprofit FAIR Health last month found that a quarter of people who had COVID-19 sought care for new medical problems at least a month after being diagnosed with the virus.

Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act
French parliament approves COVID-19 passes for restaurants, domestic…
The White House announced the new resources on Monday morning, before Biden and Vice President Harris were slated to deliver remarks in the White House Rose Garden commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Then-President George H.W. Bush signed the sweeping civil rights act into law in 1990. Biden, who at the time was a Democratic senator representing Delaware, co-sponsored the legislation, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in a wide range of settings, including places of employment, schools, community living and transportation.

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.

A More Perfect Union: Celebrating Inclusivity at Inauguration

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Amanda Gorman speaking behind podium at inauguration

By Natalie Rodgers

This year’s presidential inauguration was different than any other inauguration in the past. Not only did the United States swear in its first woman Vice President and introduce the world to the youngest inaugural poet, this year’s ceremony could arguably be one of the most inclusive ceremonies to date for people with disabilities.

While this may not come as a shock given President Biden’s early promises of disability inclusion throughout his campaign, the ceremony not only attempted to cater to the specific needs of varying disabilities, but also showed the country how we should be better considering this kind of inclusion in our day-to-day lives.

Before the ceremony had even begun, the inaugural committee made several livestreams available with different types of translations and accessibilities. This was to ensure that everyone could watch the inauguration live without feeling excluded from any part of it. The committee displayed these livestreams on the “Accessible Inauguration” webpage which offered live coverage accompanied by closed captions, audio descriptions, ASL translations and even Cued Speech transliteration. These kinds of resources were also made available for the children’s inauguration event that was hosted by Keke Palmer.

Unfortunately, the website did experience many technical difficulties that rendered some of the day’s events inaccessible such as incorrect captions and cut away shots to show the audience rather than ASL interpretations of the Pledge of Allegiance that was done by Fire Captain Andrea Hall.

But despite those cuts, Hall’s leadership through the Pledge of Allegiance proved to be just as integral and important to including disability in the narrative. In a conscious effort of inclusion, Hall led the Pledge verbally and through American Sign Language, a rarity for the Inauguration.

“I really just wanted to pay homage to the deaf and hard of hearing community,” CBS reported Hall saying, “The words of the pledge are significant not just for us, but for them as well.”

Hall’s signing of the Pledge of Allegiance was also an homage to her late father who was deaf and ensured that the Pledge was one of the first pieces she learned in ASL.

Other forms of representation throughout the ceremony were present, but more subtle. As Reverend Father Leo O’ Donovan prepared to lead the invocation, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt asked the crowd “Stand if you are able.” Advocates for disability inclusion have been trying to encourage the normalization of the sentence for years to include those in wheelchairs or with conditions in which standing was not an option. Though a short moment in the scheme of the event, many took to Twitter to show their appreciation of the phrase’s inclusion, crediting it as one of the most appreciated and notable moments for them.

Other more subtle forms of inclusion could be seen in the performances of the inauguration. After capturing the attention and appreciation of the world through her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman revealed that she has dealt with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment for most of her life. Up until a few years ago, Gorman heavily struggled pronouncing words with the “r” or “sh” sounds and used poetry as a way to practice her speaking skills while expressing her thoughts.

“The voice I’m hearing aloud can’t pronounce Rs, can’t pronounce ‘sh.’ It kind of sounds a bit garbled,” Gorman told TODAY. “But I hear this strong, self-assured voice when I am reading this simple text, and what that told me is the power of your inner voice over that which people might hear with their ears.” While many credit Gorman’s poetry as a device for her to overcome her impediment, Gorman claims that she still struggles with her impediment at times and her condition better frames her identity as a storyteller.

Her inclusion in the inauguration is also reflective on President Joe Biden, who has also openly spoken of his own speech impediment, a stutter. President Biden, even with his new position still advocates for the normalization of speech impediments that has inspired others with similar conditions around the world.

Since the beginning of his campaign, President Joe Biden has promised for further inclusion and accessibility to an array of differing abilities. Though his inauguration was not the perfect model for what these changes would look like, it does show the kind of attention to inclusion that needs to continue to better unite the nation.

Sources: TODAY, CBS News, The Verge, CNN

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Upcoming Events

  1. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022