Panel Discussion

Disabilities In Virtual Workplaces

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Disabilities In Virtual Workplaces

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Join Patricia Walsh, author of 'Blind Ambition: How to Envision Your Limitless Potential', in conversation with Mary Lipscomb and Svetlana Kouznetsova, to focus in on disabilities in the workplace. The conversation will be moderated by Diversability CEO Tiffany Yu. Patricia Walsh is the Technology Product Director at Dow Jones. Patricia is also a Paralympic champion, and five-time USA Triathlon national champion. Mary Lipscomb is a Program Manager of Diversity at CVS Health. Mary’s work at CVS Health primarily focuses on individuals with disabilities. She is dedicated to delivering strategic, creative, and diverse recruitment strategies, ensuring CVS Health has the best-in-class recruiting model. Svetlana Kouznetsova is an independent accessibility strategy consultant based in NYC area. Sveta has worked with businesses for over 10 years to make their web, media, and events usable and accessible to more people. Tiffany Yu is the CEO & founder of Diversability, an award-winning social enterprise to rebrand disability through the power of community and the founder of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter, which awards monthly micro-grants to disability projects ($37.5k to 38 projects in 8 countries).

Video Transcript

(Video description: YouTube recording of the panel in Zoom. The video starts with a slide cover. The slide background is teal. The slide title is "Upcoming: Disabilities in Virtual Workplaces." It has 4 round photos of panelists: Patricia Walsh - Technology Product Director, Dow Jones; Mary Lipscomb - Program Manager, Diversity, Aetna, a CVS Health Company; Svetlana Kouznetsova - Consultant, Author and Speaker; Tiffany You - CEO, Diversability. The top corner has a window video of Abigail Vachon making an introduction. Then the panel discussion starts. 5 window videos show up featuring Abigail Vachon, Tiffany You, Svetlana Kouznetsova, Patricia Walsh, and Mary Lipscomb. The video ends with a sixth window video featuring Rob Ribar.)

Abigail: So diving into the upcoming conversation ‘Disabilities in Virtual Workplaces.’ We're joined by Patricia Walsh, Technology Product Director at Dow Jones, Mary Lipscomb, Program Manager of Diversity at Aetna, a CVS company. And Svetlana Kouznetsova, Consultant, Author and Speaker. I will read for Svetlana today. This conversation is going to be led by Tiffany Yu, CEO at Diversability. And without further ado, Tiffany I'll pass it over to you.

Tiffany: Sure. Hi everyone, thank you for joining. So again, I just wanted to reiterate the access notes. So if you do need captioning, there has been a link to a stream text posted in the chat. Um, I figured what I would do also in access note is if we would actually have all of the panelists turn on their video and visually describe themselves for those of us who might be blind or low vision.

So I will go first, so my name is Tiffany Yu. My pronouns are she and her and I am an Asian woman in my thirties, but have the – the glow of looking younger, I guess. I'm wearing a black patterned floral dress and hastily tried to blow dry my hair right before this panel. I'll hand it over, Mary would you like to describe yourself?

Mary: I had to get off mute. Uh, my name is Mary Lipscomb, I'm a Caucasian female. My pronouns are she and her. I'm wearing a red and white floral dress with some fun earrings. [Laughs] Um, and I'm happy to be here today. Thank you.

Svetlana (voiced): Sorry, I'm judging several things. My name is Svetlana. I'm voiced by Abigail, I'm a Caucasian female with long light brown hair, wearing a black shirt and white – and white polka dots. The background is a picture of Sky Garden in London that I visited last year.

Operator: Switch off – Switch off Gmail now. Enterprise connecting settings, 30 minutes, switch off.

Tiffany: Hey, Patricia, would you, um, would you like to describe yourself?

Patricia: Sure. Um, are you able to see me?

Tiffany: Your video is currently off.

Patricia: Oh, okay. I'm having a bit of a challenge because, um I have broken my collarbone and a lot of the keyboard commands need two hands. But it sounds like you can hear me, so I'll work on that. Um, but I am blind, uh, I am Technology Product Director. My background is Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Um, I've been a Software Engineer for 15 years and I’m very pleased to be here today. And I'll figure out the video. Sorry about that.

Tiffany: You're good. And I also just wanted to highlight as, since we do have the live captioning we aren't going to have – we're just going to be patient with technology as we have been during this pandemic, um, just to make sure that everyone has a chance to answer their questions. So I figured I would hop straight into it, which is um, yep I think the first question. So Mary, and you wrote an article on LinkedIn about kind of how COVID-19 – this COVID-19 pandemic has allowed transition into a virtual environment. Um, I am curious if you wanted to share some highlights from that article and what accessibility really means in this world of remote work.

Mary: Sure, sure. You know, and just to give you – uh, some quick background of myself. I'm a Program Manager of Diversity at CVS Health, um, with a primary focus on individuals with disabilities. So I'm dedicated to delivering strategic, creative and diverse recruiting strategies, um, ensuring that CVS has the best in-class recruiting model. So I'm passionate about building those partnerships with talent acquisition, strategic diversity management, human resources, also, you know, the business and – and community partners as well.

So the article that you're referencing, um, that – that I shared on LinkedIn, you know, there's – there's five ways the work landscape has – has changed due to this Corona virus epidemic. Um, one of them being working from home has become the norm. I know for – for CVS Health they've sent most – majority of their employees to work at home, um, with the exception of the retail stores, you know, the pharmacy and the – and the CVS retail stores that you find on almost every corner, um, for the majority of the positions have been sent home to work at home during this time.

And how we communicate in this environment is virtually through a number of virtual, uh, means. And really those means depend on the business – the business and so forth. Um, another thing that, um, we see change is, you know, flexible schedules are on the table for many, you know, many folks have, um, are juggling having kids at home and then also their workload and so forth. Businesses may be slowing down as well, so we're seeing a lot of flexibility within work schedules.

Um, we're also finding that our virtual meetings are – are coming with more accessibility features. So, um, with – with video capabilities and closed captioning capabilities, so that's – that’s been – that’s been great. Um, we also have, um, seen more employees now have paid sick leaves in this new environment. Um, and then also one last thing I wanted to note is we find that we're bringing ourselves to work.

So as we are at home and our comfort zone at home living our normal life, we have kids in the background, we have family photos in the background. Um, so we're able to really bring a little bit more of ourselves to – to work and checking in with our colleagues. You know, “How are you? How are you holding up during this time?” You know, it really seems to be something that’s – we’re – we're getting more comfortable with asking and – and sharing – sharing those pieces of our personal life.

Tiffany: Thank you Mary. Patricia, we can see your video now. Did you want to chat a little bit about kind of what access has looked like for you in this virtual environment?

Patricia: Well, yeah actually, so, um, we typically at Dow Jones we largely use Google Hangouts, which is very accessible. The only thing that I find kind of a constant challenge as a person who uses accessible technology is that I, uh, obviously use audio output in assistive technology and the voiceover. So you may have heard it that my screen reader will read out loud, but then it gets a bit – they compete a bit.

So then my audio, for what I'm actually saying will then be spoken over by what my computer's reading. For example, if I have my screen reader on right now, it’d read out loud every chat, um, which said, the accessibility I think is fantastic and it's improved tremendously and – and such a leveler, but it is not without, uh, tradeoffs. So it’s – I guess it just requires a bit of patience for everyone involved. But that's probably true for everyone to be honest. So –.

Uh, one thing about accessibility, I would say as a blind person is sometimes less is more. Uh, so I like for example, the describing yourself as you joined. I actually – you know, you might wonder if you’re – and engaging with a person with visual impairment or blindness, you might want to ask them, kind of their preference, because I – I probably wouldn't want people to do that specifically if you're working with the same people every day. You know, so it's really just a matter of every individual with visual impairment or blindness might want a different way of being included.

Tiffany: Thanks Patricia, that's great feedback. And I think one of the things that's really important is that, um, there's a phrase within the inclusive design space where they say design for one to design for all. So those of us who do have the disabilities will know what our particular preferences are.

Patricia: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think you're so right about that. It doesn't – you know, if you ask 10 different blind people what accommodation they prefer, you're going to get 10 different answers, because they're human beings just like anyone else, right. So, um, you're going to get a lot of different responses.

Tiffany: For sure. Svetlana, did you want to comment a little bit about accessibility?

Svetlana (voiced): Yes, hold on. I was planning to publish an article about my experience as a deaf person during the pandemic, but it's not ready. Now I will share a bit about my experience. Hold on. As an independent consultant who works remotely, I already use instant messaging tools like Skype and video conferencing tools like Zoom to do consulting sessions, webinars and presentations online, mostly via typing. I cannot speak to people on the phone, so communicating with them via email, texting and instant messaging is the best way for me as a deaf person.

The only difference for me is the increased number of online presence and the lack of in-person meetings and presentations. I've used different video platforms, Zoom, Google, Microsoft. So far my favorite is Zoom, and I've heard it's a favorite of many, including deaf. Like Patricia said, blind people have different experiences and needs and so do deaf people. We use real time captions as you see in the link and interpreters. Not all deaf people use interpreters. Some – some use interpreters, others use captioners, while others use both. I personally prefer captions because interpreters are harder to use online, as video takes up a lot of bandwidth. It makes hands freeze sometimes. And it's harder to see people in 2D than in 3D.

And interpreters and signing people are in smaller boxes, so it's harder to see them. And eye contact is confusing too. I'm not sure who to look at in Zoom. In person, I can see who looks at who, but in Zoom it's confusing. With more online meetings, there's more demand for interpreters and captioners. Sometimes there are no professionals available.

So we resort to using auto captions that are not as accurate as professional captions. One thing about online is that nobody knows you are deaf. I have no problems with disclosing my deafness, but it's cool sometimes that I can participate in online chat like everyone else. It's like this old comic about ‘Nobody Knows You Are a Dog’ from the 1990s. You know the comic? Everyone is equal on the internet and nobody knows who's on the internet, unless you turn on video.

Tiffany: Great. Thank you. Um, I – there are so many things I wanted to comment on what everyone has said, but I guess I wanted to chat a little bit around disclosure. Um, now that we have moved into a virtual environment around this idea of situations when you can pass as non-disabled, or do you feel like you're more vocal about your accessibility needs? And Mary, I guess – I guess for you, are you noticing that from – from CVS’ and Aetna’s disabled employees? Are they being vocal about what needs they have within this new virtual environment?

Mary: Yes, I would say so. We have a – as a best practice at CVS Health, we have a dedicated Advising Counsel Reasonable Accommodations team to handle requests from any colleagues in the enterprise who may need to request an accommodation of some sort. And I just want to touch on the definition of like self-identification versus self-disclosure, um, and – and how they are different.

Self-identification is – is voluntarily and confidentially providing information about your disability status that is used for statistical purposes, such as, you know, data collection and report – reporting purposes. Um, you know, on the other hand, self-disclosure means just simply sharing about one's disability in any context, other than through a formal self-identification program.

Um, we are obligated, uh, to ask – as employer, we're obligated to ask employees to self-ID their disability once every five years as a – at a minimum. And this year we actually have a count, we're reaching out to the employee population or the colleague population, um, and encouraging them to – to self-identify and sharing the benefits of self-identification and how it helps us in demonstrating our commitment to diversity.

Um, and it measures the effectiveness of the outreach of our work and our recruitment and our reasonable accommodation efforts. And then it also – we also want to do our best to help position, um, CVS as an employer of choice. So those are just a few of the examples, um, of why we really take, um, self-identification seriously in our enterprise. But yes, we are seeing, um, colleagues come forth with accommodation requests, as we have a dedicated team who – who manages that as a best practice. It’s been fantastic.

Tiffany: Patricia, did you want to comment on that?

Patricia: Yeah, disclosure is a tough one. And, you know, I – I don't mind saying I'm actually in the interview process now for, I work at Dow Jones, but I'm looking outside the company. And so if anyone's from Dow Jones on the call, please know I'm a 100% at flight risk right now. [Laughs] So let's factor that into our negotiations this year. Um, but that was, in the interview process I'm going through right now, it’s the first time I've ever disclosed my disability.

I've always felt a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear because I do think there are so many biases and overall general lack of awareness. You know, we are – in this conversation, we – we are all sort of I think speaking of other people who are aware of the value of integration of persons with disabilities and – and really the – the talent that exists in that population. And I think the fact that individuals with disabilities bring talents to the table, the fact that I have to make that case in this day and age is something it’s still very – very sad and – sad to me.

And I know for – at Dow Jones, the argument that I make over and over is that your consumers also could potentially be people with disabilities. And the more individuals with disabilities that you employ and have as part of your product development, the more likely you are to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. So for example, Dow Jones owns Wall Street Journal. Well, one of our key demographics is conditions that are degenerative, that largely impacts that population.

So if you want to secure that market, it is to your business advantage to have accessible products and to have products that are adaptable. So like – I really always try to make the case that it’s not a warm and fuzzy, it's actually a business driver and that this population, which is larger than we realize, right, there's – you probably all know the statistics better than I do, but what I've heard is in the US it's 20-25% identify as having a disability.

So, you know, that's actually a pretty large market that – that it's a large talent pool and it's a large potential market. So in terms of disclosing, like, you know, in the interview process, this was my first attempt with that. And so far it's been very successful and I'm so pleased to see maybe attitudes have, have changed and have become more aware. Um, disclosing at the actual workforce, I'm extremely careful in the tone of how I disclose. So the way I would disclose is I would tend to say – I would tend to lead with how I intend to solve problems, then speak about the identification of the disability, and then follow-up with some accomplishment of the past.

You sort of sandwich it almost in, because what you – what you don't want to do is give them any blank space whatsoever for them to fill in their own brain of how they would solve a problem if they're blind, because they don't know the tools that are available. So I want to take all that blank space away and make sure it's filled with the sense of this person is a competent, capable person who will contribute to the team. So it is – it is not easy, it causes me tremendous anxiety. It's probably the greatest stress I have as a person with a disability is really that educational piece that happens over and over. So I hope that was helpful, that was a bit of a jumbled answer, but that’s a – it is a challenging piece of it.

Tiffany: This is Tiffany, thanks – thanks so much for sharing. And I – and I'll share. So I – um, so my – I have a spinal cord injury, um, that makes it so that my – one of my arms is paralyzed as a result. And, um, I started my career at Goldman and then I worked at Bloomberg and it was almost like once I had those things on my resume, it was – it wasn't a question around capabilities anymore, right. I think – I think there's still – if Patricia, you, as a blind person are experiencing anxiety, if I have never disclosed that I can't use one of my arms in an interview process, we're seeing internalized ableism happen as well and having that manifest as we show up in job interviews. Um, and asking for what we need and the education part of that as well of – of, you know, being like, “Oh, I have this, but I have all of these other tools that I can access.”

Patricia: Um.

Tiffany: Uh, Svetlana what about for you?

Svetlana (voiced): I have no problems with disclosing my deafness. But my frustration is when I'm denied interpreters and captioners. And I'm often told to use auto captions or asked if there are any tools to do auto captions. And I have to explain many times why it's important to have a professional to facilitate communication. I don't mind auto captions for informal situations, but for events like this, I prefer professional captioners and interpreters.

Tiffany: Great. Thank you. Um, I'm just following some of the conversation that's happening in the chat. And one of the things that I think is interesting is in my personal work, I talk a lot about disability origin stories, because for all of us, they're very different. And I actually see two points of disability origin stories. One is the point at which you became disabled, if it was by birth, it was – if it was degenerative, if it was acquired.

And then the second point of when you were proud of your disability identity. And so interestingly enough in my work, my disability is the first thing that people know because of the organization that I run. Um, I have seen a couple of comments in the chat around captioning as well to Svetlana’s point. Uh, Skype and Google Hangouts do both have auto caption options, Zoom does not yet. There is a closed captioning option within Zoom, but you have to turn it on.

But I have heard from other members of the community that they prefer to have the captions housed on an external link rather than try and read it within the chat. So – so – so yeah, I think what's interesting is the way that all of these technology – all of these technology companies are approaching accessibility is different and at different speeds and different paces. So, um, I did – I did want to add one more thing on Patricia's point, which is if you are unaware of the numbers, there are studies out, one came out by Accenture around the business case for disability and those businesses who have invested, and probably Mary can speak to this.

Those who have invested in disability inclusion actually make more revenue and are more profitable. And then there's another research report and I can include these in the chat around the amount of discretionary spending that people with disabilities hold globally. And I believe the number is US$1 trillion. And then if you include friends and family, because as a disabled person, I wouldn't want my friends and family to support businesses that aren't investing in disability, that number comes out to US$8 trillion.

So, um, so I want to talk about what – what is and isn't working in terms of the virtual environment. We've touched on it a little bit, but I – but I figured, you know, it's always interesting when we have corporates on these – on these accessibility panels, because I know, I know we're coming in saying here all the great things that CVS Aetna is doing, but yeah, Mary, can you – we'll start with you again. Can you chat a little bit more about what – what is working and what isn't working? And you're on mute, technology, right. [Laughs].

Mary: Forgive me. Um, we communicate, um, virtually through all kinds of avenues and really that's depending on the – the line of business as to what they typically use. If they use Zoom or WebEx or other Microsoft Teams, whatever tools, um, that they use. Um, I know that one thing that is working for us is being able – is the virtual communication to our over 300,000 colleagues across the world through town halls.

So we have – we’ve been having a lot of frequent town halls, especially during this time just to keep engaged with the employee population across the world, any updates what's going on with – with news events, communication surrounding the external and internal environment, um, and our response to that. So this has been a practice of ours even – even before the pandemic, but it really has been – uh, we've found it to be very crucial during – during this time and we'll continue to – to do so.

So I know that’s something it is really working. As far as, um, the colleagues staying connected, um, we have our colleague resource groups or, um, synergies. So that's another way how colleagues can stay engaged with one another and we offer, you know, webinars, guest speakers. Um, you know, colleagues can stay informed and seek assistance, um, with available resources that we have to offer. And we have, um, 15 different colleague resource groups, whether it's – a capabilities one, a Christian one, um, you know, African American one, women so forth. We have 15 different colleague resource groups with over 23,000 participating colleagues. So that's been another thing that's been working for us as far as just keeping engaged.

Tiffany: And what's not working?

Mary: Um, I, you know, I can't really speak to as far as what's not working from an accessibility standpoint, just because we all use – there's so many different tools out there that are utilized within the – with the enterprise. I don’t – and I'm not part of the accessibility team. So I can't really speak specifically as far as what would not be working to share that detail. Sorry.

Tiffany: That's fine. That's why we have people with lived experience. So–.

Mary: Yes. [Laughs]

Tiffany: We'll switch up the order Svetlana if you want to share a little bit about – I know you tried it a little bit about your preference for live captioning. I'm seeing a lot of comments in the chat about, oh actually it was your comment about commenting around how expensive accessibility is or it's inconvenient. How can we really – yeah, how can we kind of change that conversation around knowing that these should be carved out of every budget in order to be able to make whatever we're doing more accessible?

Svetlana (voiced): I wanted to add that the reason live captions are not in the Zoom is because the way it's designed is harder to read in real time than in a separate browser. As an Accessibility Consultant, I'm often told how expensive accessibility is. I tell that accessibility is not charity, and it is a cost of doing business, just like any other business expenses, accessibility is also considered a business expense.

Tiffany: Patricia, did you want to comment on kind of what is, and isn't working for you on – in these virtual environments?

Patricia: Yeah, I think generally speaking, it's been largely positive. Um, you know, we use Google Hangouts and, uh, I find that to be relatively accessible. I think the challenge that I have sometimes is that the audio of the, uh, voiceover then competes with whomever is speaking. Um, so it's just a bit tricky that it's actually perfectly accessible. But if – but it almost reads too much and then I now cannot hear the person who's trying to speak to me, so that's a challenge.

Um, other challenges are, you know, people presenting a deck or presenting a whiteboard, obviously, I can't see that, which often people will share it anyway. And I think they – I think its good practice for everyone that they share it. Whiteboard conversations, um, I think in engineering, obviously that's critical, but I also think their drawings likely are not as illuminating as they think they are. So I always try to just remind them that I can't see them and for them to describe it, which I actually think is better for everyone involved, because you're drawing with your boxes and your arrows probably isn't as clear as you – as it is to you. So I think it's just generally good practice.

Um, one other challenge I've had recently, you know, as I mentioned, I've broken this collarbone, so I can't use this right hand. So the keyboard commands for accessibility often required two hands and I don't even know if I noticed that. So I will say as a person with a disabilities, you know, there's like my normal function and then unfortunately right now I have a further adjustment. And I think people generally don't understand that, um, why – why is it different now than it was a week ago, why is it different now?

You know, and I think they oversimplify accessible technology by no fault of their own. Um, but I think there's a lot of times I feel like, they’re sort of minimizing that, you know, for example, I've had a few people ask me why I don't use dictation. Well, when I dictate, I make so many more mistakes and now it's harder for me to correct it because I don't have my right hand. Um, and I think we just have to, you know, be constantly educating that there's – there's the adaptation – adaptation that is my normal and then there's now a further level of adaptation that I'm also learning as I go. You know, so it's just – I mean it’s just adding complexity.

Tiffany: For sure. Um, and – and I'll add, so I – I normally type with one hand because my other arm is paralyzed. And I have five keys on my keyboard that just decided they wanted to stop working. Yeah, [Laughs] and so it's funny because I will tell other friends that I feel really proud of myself, that I'm able to still function in a way online with all of these keys not working. Um, but I guess I wanted to segue a little bit and Patricia I know you mentioned this, Svetlana, you also mentioned this – this as well. And interestingly enough, in part of the prep for this panel, it was proposed that in lieu of a phone call, here's a document. Um, at which point I – I believe this maybe Svetlana had brought up that a phone call doesn't work. So I kind of wanted to ask both you and Patricia around being vocal about your needs. Like how – because – at least what I have heard is that sometimes that part can feel really exhausting, but how can we remind ourselves that some people – some people may not be aware of other people's access needs. And are you finding this within your workspaces as well with your colleagues? Patricia.

Patricia: Oh, thank you for letting me know. Um, what I find is that if it's someone I work with regularly and if I have established trust with that person, then I will be much more communicative about what I need or don't need. I probably would not spend a lot of time and energy educating someone who I don't interact with very often, um, just because it is such a conversation and some people, I can say something once and they understand and some people I can explain it and then now that is the whole conversation and then maybe they still will never understand it.

So it’s really case by case. Um, and I would tend to, ah, explain it kind of, you know, one-on-one sort of scenario, because I think people can be very, ah, defensive about when they feel they've been corrected. And I really never mean it as a correction, I really just mean it as I never expect that you will anticipate my needs, because every person you meet is going to need something different. So I'm not expecting them to – to – to be prepared.

But I would expect that once I've communicated and the responsive, that – like I'm the expert in what accommodation helps me, not necessarily what accommodation helps all person with blindness and visual impairment. Um, and I think that can be a very tricky conversation. Um, and I never want someone to feel like they've been called out, or – like I don't expect they would know that. Um, and I think that's part of the cultural shift that has to happen is that, it is – I'm not expecting you anticipate I'm really expecting – I'm expecting to be the advocate for myself, um, if that makes sense.

Tiffany: Svetlana.

Svetlana (voiced): I would generally advise organizations to hire a consultant to explain how to better accommodate disabled people. There are organizations that do this. I also offer those services to help organizations improve accessibility for their web, media, events, education and workplace. A consultant can add value for advice on general needs of disabled people. Since the needs of disabled – disabled people vary greatly, it's best to ask them individually what they need. Ask for feedback after every event.

Tiffany: That's great. And I also believe Svetlana is available for hire. [Laughs] Um, and so I – I guess I just have one more question. I've been following some of the questions that people have put in the Q&A, so we’ll – so we'll turn over to that afterward. But I guess my last question for you; and Patricia, you chatted a little bit more about, you know, hopefully the environment that we're in now sets the standard for what access looks like in a virtual environment. I guess my question is around how – yeah why did it take a pandemic for us to finally be focused on what access looks like for people who have different types of disabilities and what are you hoping? Yeah, are there parts – are there learnings from this that you're hoping employers who are on the call, ah, HR reps, et cetera, will – will carry forward into the future?

Patricia: Yeah so one thing I think that’s been really eye-opening uh, even for myself, is that all – you know, I'm in management, I have a team of 15 direct reports. And so I'm in all of these conversations that aren't even necessarily about disability. But they're all about – now everyone's working from home, they may or may not have ever planned to work from home. So we all as leaders have to be accommodating and have to understand that they might need to work different hours, they might have childcare needs, they might have workspace needs.

So I think it's really been this eye-opening experience to see that every employee as an individual, and every employee as someone who has individual needs. And then individual with disabilities are – are with that. But we've been advised to be, um, asking each of our employees how we can better accommodate them, sort of as a blanket statement, not even just around disabilities. So I think now just disability fits naturally into this narrative that previously was seen as an outlier, although I don't necessarily agree that it's an outlier, it was seen that way.

But now we're really being asked to accommodate everyone. You know, so – if we imagine, like I have an employee who has five children, well now he's – now childcare for five children. He and his wife both work from home and now they're in-charge of being, you know, homeschooling five children, they never meant to do that. So we're – you know, for every unique situation we're being told to accommodate them. And then like I said, I think accessibility just kind of naturally fits in that narrative.

Tiffany: I love that. It's almost yeah, the question everyone needs accommodation right now.

Patricia: And one thing I will – I will add to that is, you know, initially, um, when we were having these conversations in leadership, people were saying leniency, they were throwing out the word leniency. And when they – with the accommodation that I always really – accommodation as it relates to disability that I always try to be clear about is that we're not asking for a lower bar for performance. What we're asking for is tools and what we're asking for is to have, you know, time, if time is necessary, but I'm not asking for a lower quality bar.

And that's what I've kind of brought back to the table as we're looking at everyone in the unique situations is that, let’s not just say leniency on the quality, but how we get to that degree of quality, that's where the accommodation can take place. And really, I still want – um, even if it takes less workload, if it takes more time, whatever it takes, I want the quality bar. So it’s – I always really try to hammer that point as often as possible.

Tiffany: For sure. One – yeah I think one of the interesting things is when I would always talk about my previous work experience, I'd always frame it in terms of my abilities versus disabilities, when really it was capabilities and qualifications for the job. So I actually think my own language that I was using about – talking about, how I would add value to workspaces mattered as well. Mary, what about for you? Are there certain best practices that you're hoping we – we carry out of this pandemic environment?

Mary: Sure. I think with – with our– most of our organization working from home, we're really learning new tools and resources, um, to communicate with colleagues virtually. Um, so learning those new tools and the capabilities and what the needs are of all colleagues regardless of whether they have a disability or not, I think, and being flexible with that is – is – is key moving forward, absolutely.

Tiffany: That's great, thank you. And when the – when the pandemic first started, I remember a lot of my non-disabled friends were talking about how inconvenient many parts of being in a virtual environment were. And it made me think about how those of us who have different types of disabilities have been having to adapt and be flexible in a non-disabled world our whole lives. And one of my hopes out of all of this was that people then turn to the disability community and people – and the type of consulting that Svetlana does around really looking to us as experts for how we navigate and adapt through this environment. Svetlana, what about for you? What – what are you hoping we – we carry out of this pandemic environment?

Svetlana (voiced): I think it's because everyone was forced to stay home and work and study from home and attend events from home that more organizations decided to make more flexible accommodations. It seems that it's when people finally realize accessibility issues experienced by us disabled people. I've seen articles mentioning this too. And I second other panelists, my disabled – many disabled people have been asked for flexible workplace accommodations and have been denied.

Now the pandemic finally made people realize how disabled people feel. I hope that post pandemic, more organizations will be open to remote options and flexibility. For me and other deaf people, post pandemic would be frustrating for us as many people will be wearing masks and keeping distance. Masks make it impossible for us to lip read. Harder – harder to read sign language as it's more than just hands, it also includes facial expressions.

Even if people don't talk, we cannot see behind masks their expressions, not to mention if they also use sunglasses in addition to masks; it's a nightmare for us. So people wearing masks need to be patient and understanding of deaf – deaf people. I've heard many complaints from deaf people with people who are not patient and got mad when they asked to communicate in writing or try to tell them they are deaf. Instead of removing masks temporarily, they only yell louder, speak louder, which doesn't help deaf people. Masks also muffle speech, which makes it harder for people who wear hearing aids to hear.

Tiffany: Thank you. Before we turn over to the Q&A, um, I did want to ask a disability specific question, which is “What is your hope?” or I guess I'll frame it this way. I'll say, “I am hoping that we can really move the needle on closing the disability employment gap, now that we know that we can work remotely and we can navigate in virtual environments.” I was curious if any of our panelists had similar thinking around what – what the pandemic has taught us about disability hiring and disability employment.

Patricia: I would answer that, you know, I really hope that this is an opportunity, because it is a bit of a leveling the playing field a bit to say that individual with disability can be a value add to the team and they might be interested in working in the accessibility space. Because something people ask me about all the time is why I don't work in the accessibility – but – accessibility space. But just like any other human being, they have their unique interests and want to work in line with those interests. So I think to be seen more as a human being with all the complexities of likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses and less as this sort of separate entity. Um, and I really hope this is our opportunity to kind of level that and include that as a part of – you know, everyone's talking about the new normal and I do hope that becomes part of the new normal.

Tiffany: Beautiful. Thank you. Svetlana, Mary, did you want to add anything?

Svetlana (voiced): I would say that disabled people are great problem solvers. So they can bring a lot of value to the community.

Mary: Yeah so, yeah individuals with disabilities make up one billion of the world's population, are two times likely to be unemployed. Um, and there is such a critical talent pool that are significantly under-representative in the workplace. Um, we find individuals with disabilities tend to be some of the most creative and innovative and most loyal employees and provide a unique perspective based on their own personal experiences and challenges that translates into a significant business advantage.

So I think employers are really going – I really hope – like to see employers move forward and hiring more individuals with disabilities meeting their – their needs, their accommodation needs. And – and that it's – um, it’s oftentimes there's individuals who don't even need an accommodation or that the need is at minimal cost. So I'm hoping that this is really – um, that employers are educating themselves with the market and the – and what they can do as far as best practices on their outreach to help drive that diverse talent to their – to their enterprise.

Tiffany: For sure. And – and I think I'll just add to that having more visibility of people who are vocal about the fact that they have disabilities and/or in the workplace, I think are really important. Because I think as I look to, you know, future generations, a lot of times, if you don't see yourself as – if you don't see other people who have disabilities in – on those teams, then you – then you actually don't think that those may be opportunities for you.

Um, I wanted to – this question, it sounds like it's for Mary, I'm going to combine Amanda and Janet's questions, which are; as a recruiter, I'm thinking of adding a confirmation email and asking if the candidate has a disability. If so how can we communicate, how can we better communicate during the interview process and what are your viewpoints around language making accommodations versus modifications?

Mary: Okay, I'm sorry, the internet was kind of spotty there. So I want to make sure that I understand the question, um, as far as asking candidates, if they had a disability – did I understand that–?

Tiffany: So there's – there’s a question from a recruiter asking about how to ask the candidate if they have access needs during their interview process. Mary you're on mute again.

Mary: Okay, sorry. My internet's been a little spotty. So we want to be sure that we're not asking candidates if they have a disability. Um, one thing that we do is we train all of our talent acquisition, all of our recruiters within our talent acquisition team on unconscious bias, because bias affects every decision you make, whether you, you know it or not. So we do provide that training for all of our talent acquisition recruiters and on what to ask and what not to ask, um, of candidates. We want to be sure that we're not asking candidates if they have a disability.

Um, all questions should be the same for each and every candidate interviewed for that particular job and the questions need to be job specific, um, whether they're capable to do the job. Um, but we want to be sure that we're not asking anything disability related. If the candidate shares or discloses that they have a disability or is in need of accommodation, then absolutely what we do is we refer them to our dedicated reasonable accommodations team where they will work confidentially with them on – on their needs.

Um, so that's one thing that we want to be sure that we're not asking for that information. We want to be sure that we're focused on, “Okay, what's required, um, of the job and let's ask questions pointed toward that.” Um, but one thing we found to be helpful within our organization is training on unconscious bias. Um, and so, and really just tackling your unconscious bias and when you challenge your unconscious biases, um, and you think through things, you have a better chance of making good decisions for yourself and your organization.

Tiffany: That's great. And I hope there's an entire track on tackling unconscious bias, because I know, I know that's a big one. But a – but a big part of that is really slowing down, right. The whole fact that we have – the whole reason we have biases is because we want to make these shortcuts. So I'm going to ask one more question and then I want to close, ah, lots of great stuff in the chat – I want to close by asking if people want to follow-up with you what's the best way to do that?

But before I get there, I've been seeing a lot in the chat around people who have chronic illnesses, um, ways to disclose that because that's more of a hidden disability. Again, you can cover, or you can pass as non-disabled. There was a question in the Q&A, and this question is for everyone around how we can really combat these ideals – ideals around capitalism, efficiency and productivity with the fact that – or maybe not the fact that – with – with sometimes the way that those of us who have disabilities will do things differently. And anyone – anyone can go, if you want to raise your hand, I can call on you. Or you can just –.

Patricia: Yeah, I mean – I can – I can speak to that. You know, I – I do hiring – often I do hiring and one of the things that has been a learning curve for me, you know, it's a matter of my own bias to hire someone that I think has a similar mindset or similar attitude. But now as my team grows, I really have to look at it as hiring for balance across the team. So for example, I have some people who are excellent big picture engineers, I have some people who have no idea why they're doing what they're doing, but they're excellent technical engineers.

So really as persons with disabilities, as we're, you know, going for employment and in this capitalistic world, don't try to be the perfect candidate, just make sure that you are clear about what differentiates you and that that person hopefully is hiring for balance across the team.

So for example, if you are an excellent problem solver, if you have disability or not, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone who's listening today has something unique that is their value add that has nothing to do with their disabilities. So just make sure you know what your strengths are and you make a case for yourself. And, that hopefully it's a right fit for that company, right opportunity that, you know, I have absolute confidence in everyone who's listening right now that there is capabilities that you're bringing to the table that no one else has, something uniquely suited to you and your strengths. Um, so that's kind of how I look at it.

Tiffany: Thanks, and I guess I'll say for me, it – it has been very important for me to vocalize that because I only type with one hand, I'll get the work done, just let me know what the deadline is, and then I'll work on my own time. Um, and I think being able to have the flexibility in that communication with my managers has been important. Svetlana? Oh, go ahead, Mary.

Mary: I was just going to chime in really quick, you know, research shows that companies that embrace best practices for employing individuals with disabilities in the workforce have outperformed their peers and were on average twice as likely to have, um, higher total stakeholder returns in those, um – of – of their peer group. So that's just another advantage of why – why employers should be mindful of hiring individuals with disabilities and really work toward that goal.

Tiffany: Svetlana, I see you kind of answered in the chat.

Svetlana (voiced): Um, when invited to interviews, I disclose my deafness in order to get communication access services. Even though my deafness is invisible, it's hard to pass as a non-deaf person, I will have communication issues.

Tiffany: So we have three minutes left and I do want to be cognizant of time. I have one more question, though. If you could add anything to the ADA, it's the 30th anniversary this year on July 26th. What is something – what's your dream, one thing you would like to see added? I guess I can go, I would like to abolish subminimum wage. It's still legal in the US to pay disabled people minimum wage.

Patricia: You know, I hate to say this, but I don't think I know enough about the specifics of ADA to like have a real request. But I will – basically, I guess I'll say that I wish that there was, ah, if I had to change one thing, I wish that there was a different attitude about disability. And I think when people see me, they go immediately, they want to tell me about everything they've ever heard about a blind person. And it's, they see it as my most defining characteristic, which I always find a little cringe-worthy because I have a very full and complete life. I have – like just the same likes and dislikes as anyone else. And I wish that that if there was one cultural change is that, individuals with disabilities as their whole selves and not as this one defining characteristic.

Tiffany: Svetlana, I'm not sure if you have anything to add, but I am wondering, based off of our conversation, if it would be mandatory, um, captioning – option to have mandatory captioning and/or interpreters at everything.

Mary: Uh-hmm. [Affirmative].

Tiffany: And then finally to close it out, thanks Svetlana. Um, to close it out, if people want to continue the conversation with you, what is the best way to do that? I know Svetlana has included a link in the chat, two ways you can get in contact with her. Patricia, Mary, do you have preferences?

Mary: Sure. I'll add my email on the chat. Absolutely.

Tiffany: And yeah, you're welcome to follow – to find me on LinkedIn, just to include in the – in the note that you're from PowerToFly.

Patricia: Yeah. And I would also say LinkedIn and I noticed a few people have added me already, which I greatly appreciate, and I'm always happy to help in any way. Unfortunately, I type so slowly right now, I have not yet adjusted to typing one-handed, particularly left-handed, one-handed. But my email is patricia@blindambitionspeaking.com. And I do, for anyone who's interested, I do have a book published. Nothing – nothing to do with disability as a matter of fact. But I have a world record in Ironman Triathlon. So it's a book on goal achievement that way. So if anyone's interested, you can find it in Amazon, anywhere.

Tiffany: And fun fact, Patricia is a Paralympic – a Paralympian as well. So–.

Patricia: Oh, yes, thank you so much, yeah, yeah.

[Laughter].

Tiffany: We’re right on time. Thanks so much everyone. And I will hand it back to the PowerToFly team.

Meet The Speakers

Patricia Walsh
Patricia Walsh

Patricia is the Principal Technology Product Director and Engineering Manager for Dow Jones Professional Information Business. She is also the author of “Blind Ambition: How to Envision Your Limitless Potential” and has delivered keynotes on the topic of goal achievement to schools, conferences, corporate audiences, as well as fundraisers.

Mary Lipscomb
Mary Lipscomb

Mary is a Program Manager of Diversity at CVS Health, with a primary focus on Individuals with Disabilities. She is dedicated to delivering strategic, creative and diverse recruitment strategies, ensuring CVS Health has a best-in-class recruiting model.

Svetlana Kouznetsova
Svetlana Kouznetsova

Your product and customers are important. Research shows that 97% of websites and digital products fail at user experience and accessibility, suffer from frustrated users and poor conversion rates, and inflate costs to businesses.

I can help you make your product user-friendly and ensure that it satisfies both your business and user needs and increases sales by:

- Identifying your product's value, enhancing product positioning and improving product profitability;
- Helping you better understand your customer needs and develop creative solutions to increase value;
- Working with you to create, develop, and maintain a clear product vision, strategy, and roadmap throughout a project's life cycle.

When talking about diversity and inclusion, often people with disabilities are dismissed despite being the world’s largest minority. They make up over 1 billion people worldwide which is the population size of China!

I provide customized consulting services, training sessions, and workshops to business owners, media producers, corporations, educational institutions, event organizers on how to make their websites, media, events accessible so that everyone is included and your message can reach a larger audience.

In addition to this, I’m a founder of Audio Accessibility and work with clients on making their podcasts, videos, and events accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people via high quality captioning and other communication access services.

Tiffany Yu
Tiffany Yu

Tiffany Yu is currently the Director of Business Development at REVOLT Media & TV and the Founder of Diversability. She is also a Merchandiser at lifestyle brand Chloe + Isabel. Previously, she worked at Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg Television. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently lives in New York City.