A truly accessible workplace doesn’t just meet a legal standard, it creates a space where diversity can benefit everything from culture to product.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This creates an opportunity to celebrate a business and employees that understand the importance of accessibility in the workplace.
Kayla Ryan (online training instructor) and Anthony Melena (online client support) have experienced the highs and lows of finding an accessible job.They both have conditions that affect their vision and require accommodations in the workplace. Some examples include screen readers, compatible computer programs, refreshable braille displays etc.
Perkins School for the Blind met Kayla and Anthony when they enrolled in career support programming (now a part of Perkins’ Transition Center).They were already accomplished college graduates with work experience, but were looking to reinvigorate their job searches.
I had a lot of skills, I think I’m a pretty bright guy. From the beginning it just sounded like it was going to help me package things together. I needed structure and guidance.”Anthony Melena
At Perkins they were able to network, build confidence in their abilities, and learn how to utilize at-work accommodations. Kayla and Anthony had the necessary know-how to get to work: Perkins offered support that clarified their options and brought them closer to next steps.
After his time with Perkins, Anthony took a position with a non-profit hoping to do meaningful work within the low vision and blind community. He moved six hours away with his family for the new position. The provided apartment was in disrepair when they arrived, which seriously impacted Anthony’s trust in his new employer. Incomplete and confusing onboarding led Anthony to realize that his team suffered from serious communication and management issues. This was not a job that provided the longevity or environment he needed.
Around the same time, Kayla took a job at a Fortune 500 company. Her onboarding had similar results. The company provided her with a demo version of her screen reader that needed to be restarted every 40 minutes. After repeatedly reaching out about needing the full program, it was clear that upper management lacked training and protocols to support disabled employees. The result was that Kayla had to do an excessive amount of self advocacy and disability education at work. In the end, she still didn’t have her needs met.
Homebridge is a business committed to helping people make independent living possible with expertly trained caregivers. With such a major element of their mission being tied to accessibility, it was easy for Kayt Norris, Senior Director of Growth and Innovation, to see the value of hiring a diverse team.
They were quickly connected with Homebridge and interviewed by Kayt. And, because she used to work at Perkins, Kayt was easily able to recognize the value of Anthony and Kayla’s skill sets. Their conversations focused on their capabilities, not their disabilities.
What I learned at Perkins is don’t assume what skills or abilities someone has. Problem solving and accommodations can come later. You’ll likely be surprised what’s possible.”Kayt Norris
For Kayla this was an excellent first impression. Other interviews had proven to be the opposite experience where disability and limitations overtook the conversation. Not only is that unprofessional, but hurtful as well. “We can sense the prejudice in those decisions and it has an impact,” she said.
Kayt had experience and training on her side which made Kayla feel more comfortable immediately. “Familiarity with disability allows us to be judged for who we are, not our limitations,” Kayla said.
Similarly, Anthony found his onboarding process at Homebridge to be the complete opposite of his previous job. “They were willing to listen to whatever needs I might have. Once those needs were met, the gloves were off.” Anthony values Homebridge’s faith in his abilities as well as the team dynamics.
When interviewing Anothony and Kayla, Kayt did the best thing an interviewer could do: she left assumptions at the door. Odds are if a disabled person is interviewing for a position, they are confident that they can fulfill the requirements of the role. Just like any other employee, they will need the proper training and tools for the position. This is where collaboration is key!
Kayt described Job carving as “The practice of customizing duties or creating specialist jobs for people with disabilities. The idea is to customize a job in such a way that maximizes their time and skills.” This is a fantastic team building mindset that can apply to non-disabled and disabled employees alike.
This was especially helpful when Anthony started his position at Homebridge. He works in client support, fielding phone calls and trouble shooting reported problems. Unfortunately, two of the programs used to process tickets could not be made accessible.
The solution was job carving. Two other members on Anthony’s team took over the tickets reported through the inaccessible programs. Meanwhile he took over all tickets on the accessible systems.
This didn’t just solve an isolated problem, it increased team productivity by a large margin. Anthony is now one of the team’s highest performing members according to Kayt.
Job carving can improve team dynamics across professions. Make sure you are utilizing skill sets, not just job descriptions.
Inclusive company values and leadership starts with training. Don’t shy away from external resources and expert opinions. Training will enable your employees to find opportunities for product improvement, smoother communication among teams, and ensure that each individual is supported in their role.
If you’re interested in learning more about accessibility in the workplace, come explore our other resources.
The Disability employment gap is a nuanced issue that we discuss in more detail here.
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