We surveyed our board and team leaders on their thoughts for the current status of workplace inclusivity for individuals with disabilities.
Workplace Inclusivity for Individuals With Disabilities By Courtney Hyde
Ria Severance - Board Member
Ria says,“Undoubtedly there is always much more that we can do, in order for the world to be more accessible for individuals with disabilities. If it were your parent or child who was challenged by disabilities, we'd likely see ways that basic access is limited for those with disabilities and their caregivers.”
She continues, “While I'm aware of the challenges presented by multiple disabilities, I need education on how we could improve the workplace and other spaces. I think just as we have education to help us all counter our implicit racist biases in different arenas of our lives, we also need more public education regarding a wide range of disabilities, the real ongoing challenges faced by those with disabilities, while also knowing more clearly how to be supportive as determined by those needing assistance and research on the matter.”
When asked how we could include them more in the workforce and create a diverse and inclusive place, Ria states, “Clearly leadership is lacking in this arena. While we've made some limited strides in the realms of ‘accessibility,’ the vast majority of us are still pretty clueless about how to fully engage a person with challenges effectively. And respectfully. What most of usend up doing - mainly due to ignorance and a lack of skill- is side-stepping the person in question - avoiding the risks of either offending or ‘having to carry the person's weight' somehow in ways that might risk being burdensome. “As I'm self-employed and work alone or on teams, but not in a corporate America, I can only imagine, for example, that employers could be expected to be more affirming and supportive of any co-workers who give care to those with disabilities in the workplace - if the person wants and or needs help - rather than ‘dinging’ an employee in a myopic way for some related, albeit limited, reduced productivity. Employees who are invested in the wellbeing and success of co-workers tend to increase productivity for all involved. We're just happier when we care and invest in one another's success. “For example, we need to consider what greater value a person with challenges brings to the workplace, aside from their actual skills and abilities. I've seen a third-grade teacher provide remarkable, indeed beautiful, growth and learning for her entire class by having them share in the caregiving of a child with severe psychiatric challenges - without diminishing or disrespecting the non-disabled or the child with a disability. There are matter-of-fact ‘this-is-just-how-life-is’ and ‘who-are-you-going-to-be-as-a-human-being?’ attitudes that equalize the playing field for all involved, while affirming and challengingeveryone. Such an approach in leadership teaches us to care such that no one is left behind or left out, and holds everyone responsible for equity and consideration. Collaborative teams are actually strengthened and more efficient and productive in the long run. How could this not benefit us all in the long run? Much of the effectiveness depends on the training, experience and skill of the leadership.” Ria suggeststhat isolation canultimately beone of the greatest burdens or challengesfaced byan individual with a disability, i.e., our lack of understanding and skillallowsus toavoid, even if subtly and graciously, the discomfort of not knowing how to behave toward or engage a person with disabilities fully, meaningfully and respectfully in attuned ways. This leaves our implicit biases firmly in place, untested. Effective leadership could help counter the ongoing acting out of our implicit biases. Ria had a client with learning disabilities around reading and writing. This female attorney was a respected and successful personal injury attorney who needed special software to help her read and write. What she constantly had to deal with is colleagues and clients often assuming that her learning disabilities meant she was "stupid" or "just slow," for example.
Ria agrees that there should be better training and procedures for hiring individuals with disabilities. “Forleadership in the workplace to be effective, my guess is that it would need to be sufficiently malleable to be tailored to each situation and person, while establishing some solid cultural norms for how employees at all levels will engage differences, and manage conflict arising out of differences in ability, race, learning styles, etc. We're a part of a culture that sues when the coffee is too hot, so I can understand some employers' fears in this area. I'm not defending such fears andit's not completely unreasonable to fear being sued, regardless of the issue, given our cultural inclinations.That said, there is a lack of ethical accountability in simply avoiding the issue altogether or failing to hire experts to help create and implement equity at a systemic level. One person treated inequitably, impacts everyone else, whether it's acknowledged or not.” She concludes by saying we need researchers, true specialistswho follow the research to guide such training, as well as the implementation of policy protocols,for either to be effective.More importantly, we need industry leaders, employers and business colleges/universities to care enough to invest in modeling the way in this realm.
Felice Shiroma - Team Member Felice does not think the workplace is accessible enough and that there could be improvements. She added that getting to and from work could be better as well as allowing working remotely. She thinks that identifying roles that are suitable by skill set is how we create a more inclusive workplace. She believes the interview process is the most challenging for individuals with disabilities and agrees wholeheartedly that there should be better training and hiring procedures.
Felisha Marecki - Team Member Felisha starts off by saying that she does not find the world accessible enough for individuals with disabilities. She thinks it could be improved by requiring all new public construction to be developed with the advice of an individual who is actually disabled to ensure that their needs are met.
Felisha feels that at her workplace there is adequate accommodations to support their needs. However she is not sure outside of her company what could be done.
She finds that the most challenging thing people with disabilities experience is being treated fairly on their abilities instead of what they cannot do. When asked if she thinks there should be better training and procedures for hiring individuals with disabilities, she says that hiring processes can create limitations rather than providing accommodations to those with disabilities. She concludes by saying that we all have biases and that she tries to be consciously aware of how they can influence her decisions.