In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor released a resource guide written to help government employers better understand the “recruitment, employment and employment of persons with disabilities.” The timing also coincided with its 50th anniversary Rehabilitation Act of 1973hailed as “the first major federal disability rights law in the United States.”
“Government agencies should set the bar high for what a great accessible experience looks like. That means not just being minimally compliant, but striving to set a high bar for accessibility and usability—a gold standard to which commercial organizations can and should aspire,” said Chris Gianutsos, managing director of government and public sector at USA at London-based professional services firm EY. , he said in a recent email interview. “Government agencies have a real opportunity to define what excellence looks like. If they perform, we will see an improvement in the service model for all components that will lead to better results. Companies can achieve this by taking a very customer-centric approach – one that includes people with disabilities not only in initial user research, but throughout the design, testing and iterative improvement cycle.”
Yanoutsos was last interviewed by yours truly in early April.
Yiannotsos said the normalization of assistive technologies in the workplace is critical to the success of workers with disabilities. He cited Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman’s recovery from a stroke, saying the use of assistive technologies on Capitol Hill has made national news. It was news, Yanoutsos told me, that they made unnecessary headlines.
“This should have been just business as usual as this accommodation enabled Senator Fetterman to do his job effectively,” he said of the hoopla. “Stories and use cases like this should become the norm.”
In a simultaneous interview with Giannucci, his colleague Lori Golden explained that several studies have shown that proper inclusion of disability in the workplace ultimately leads to better business performance. Golden, EY’s capabilities strategy leader, went on to say that organizations that embrace disability inclusion “have nearly 30% higher revenue and 4x the shareholder value of their average disability inclusion peers,” adding that the research has also shown “higher levels of engagement and productivity when people with disabilities are in a team.”
“Diverse groups are stronger because they are made up of people who have different life experiences and perspectives. this combination tends to lead to the most innovative ideas. People with disabilities move through the world differently out of necessity — they perceive, feel, and experience the world differently. They really bring that perspective that has a huge impact on creativity,” Golden said. “According to this, people with disabilities are necessarily problem solvers. The world is not made for them, so they must navigate with flexibility, agility and resourcefulness. While all diversity tends to lead to superior business solutions, the diverse perspective that people with disabilities bring to the table is born out of the constant need to iterate and innovate [because disabled people constantly need] to recalibrate and figure things out.”
Golden called this innate need for ingenuity “a major contributor to superior business solutions, innovation and productivity.”
Golden went even further, echoing a sentiment I’ve shared in this space several times: disability inclusion is at least as important because anyone can become disabled at any time. Not only is the disability community the largest marginalized and underrepresented group on the planet, it’s also the easiest club to join. Anyone could, say, slip in the shower one morning and break an arm or something. Businesses are better when they encourage everyone to be their most authentic, productive selves while on the proverbial clock, Golden said.
“Government agencies and private companies can adopt practices and policies to ensure that everyone can access information, communicate and use the tools and resources needed to do their jobs effectively and have fair experiences “, he added.
According to Golden, support for workers with disabilities should extend beyond absolute basic compliance with federal law, such as the venerable Americans with Disabilities Act. To Giannucci’s earlier point about normalizing accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities, Golden emphasized that the ADA should only be a starting point for organizations to build on. Companies need to be detail-oriented when it comes to the actual workplace, ensuring that the environment is set up in such a way that a person with a disability can be more effective. Golden noted how, for example, frequently used items should be placed on lower shelves for more accessible access. Likewise, spaces should be relatively clear so that mobility devices have adequate avenues for maneuvering. Laws like the ADA do not regulate to this extent, but it should still be prioritized in the name of creating an inclusive work culture.
These seemingly innocent gestures mean a lot.
“[These] go a long way towards creating an inclusive environment that works for everyone. [they’re] small examples of where having a compliance mindset is a good place to start,” Golden said. “We can go above and beyond to get to how things are organized and how we interact so that everyone is efficient and productive and doing their best, let alone comfortable and feeling like they belong and have a real sense of belonged to him”.
As with recruiting, Golden said businesses should go beyond what the law says about reasonable accommodations and invite people to “have choices about how they participate in a process or how they receive information.” The majority of organizations, he said, use algorithms at the initial screening stage during hiring. More companies (and the government) are increasingly realizing the need to inform candidates never and how said algorithms are used. That, Golden said, gives candidates more power to opt out of more mechanized approaches in favor of something decidedly more human.
“Beyond the basics of accessibility and accommodations, another layer looks at how benefits, processes and rules in an organization can be more human-centered, focused on helping people feel healthy, comfortable and able to be their best them,” said Golden. .
As for EY practicing what it preaches, Golden told me the firm has “been working to build our culture of agility for many years.” The concept of hybrid working, for example, has long been recognized by EY, long before COVID-19 and the pandemic became indelible parts of the social consciousness. “Our organization has long recognized that to perform at their best, people need flexibility in how, when and where they work, in relation to what works for the individual, the team and the larger team and organisation” , Golden said. of the EY ethos for inclusion.
In doing this work, Golden said, education and training are critical to success. Not everyone can or should be trained in the same ways, but there should be “subject specific training pieces” in order to create the most diverse and inclusive organization. Golden wanted to emphasize the so-called “curb-cut effect,” named after wheelchair ramps on sidewalks that, while intended for disabled people, apparently have utility for everyone, such as people pushing the child them in a cart. In EY’s case, using assistive technologies such as captions during presentations not only helps someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, but visual transcription benefits everyone else as well.
“We have a website that brings together all of EY’s disability-related policies and programs, including information on all disability-related employee networks with accessibility foci,” Golden said of EY’s internal accessibility practices. “The site links to another dedicated landing page aimed at all professionals with accessibility tools, tricks and training aimed at creating a more accessible environment and more inclusive meetings and self-devices.”
Golden also mentioned that EY has a “full-time technology support function” staffed by trained pipe professionals who are “advising our firm on the technology we’re implementing and how it fits in with the other systems we have.” These people, he added, “consult and provide tools that make sense for each individual’s needs, including assistive equipment such as text-to-type software.” In addition, EY also has an IT accessibility office, which Golden said is open to all employees, clients and anyone using their website. “We try to make as much of our content accessible as possible, but if there’s another accessible format that someone might need, for example Braille, the accessibility help desk can change it so that everyone can get information in the formats they need they need,” Golden said. reach of the accessibility office.
EY’s accessibility website states in part that disability inclusion “is the foundation” of the company. Co-founder Arthur Young went partially blind after a cricket match and later lost his hearing while attending law school. After immigrating from Scotland to the United States, Young’s disabilities “led him to become an innovator and entrepreneur as he grew his accounting firm into what it would become today: a global leader in insurance, tax, trading and consulting services.”