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Ready or Not! 2019 is Coming!

I often hear companies talking about being “ready” to hire people with disabilities. I know there are plenty of checklists and guides out there available for free. And there are even now benchmarking tools like the Tracker and DEI. But with all of that available, this conversation continues. So, what’s really going on?

When pressed for more information about the claim of “not ready” there are typically 2 points of view:

1. The person isn’t in a position of authority (or influence) to make their company “ready” but they can see flaws in the current status

2. The person is in a position of authority and influence but doesn’t see the priority in creating the “readiness” or doesn’t really understand what “ready” looks like

December is an interesting time, it’s hard to get much done at work because the holidays and time off are great disruptors and/or you see “year-end” looming right around the corner and need to get your books in order.

But December is also the time to get ready for the new year. If your 2019 goals include hiring more people with disabilities, read this!

We are devoting online content in December to “getting ready/being ready to employ people with disabilities” Every Friday I will post a new blog chock full of information and resources for each of the top 4 categories defining “Ready to Employ People with Disabilities”:

1. Recruiting: How do you find them? How do you interview them? Are there partners out there that can help? Are systems accessible? Are all interviewing locations accessible? What can you and can’t you ask about the disability?

2. Disability Etiquette: Everyone in organization trained/able to interact and communicate with pwd comfortably? Leaders and others in the organization don’t want to create a stir or make current employees unhappy by infusing the workplace with people who are so different that they make others uncomfortable? Aren’t there rules about how to talk to people with disabilities? What are they?

3. Managing: What if we need to fire the person? What if our manager doesn’t know how to talk to them? What kinds of jobs can pwd do? Do I have to change my management style? Why are we doing this?

4. Accommodations: process? Budget? How will you know what will need to be purchased? Or what if a manager rejects a request for an accommodation? What if you don’t have the budget to buy a big piece of software? Or what if it’s not compatible with your current systems, doesn’t that create liability for the company?

Perhaps I’m too young to recall companies talking about getting “ready” to hire women, or people of color (or any other minority category) but it’s one of the first discussion points raised in the topic of “Hiring People with Disabilities”. Perhaps there were discussions at those times, I imagine it went something like this: Dude in Charge “We need people to build our (insert any product made in the 1940’s)”! Underling says “But we aren’t ready, all we have is men’s restrooms!” Dude in Charge says “Make it happen” and the underling grabbed some paper, a marker and tape and regenderized (yup, made up that word) some of the restrooms. However, I am also guessing that in many instances, there was no astute underling and it wasn’t until the first female employee needed to pee, that a solution was devised. I understand that was inconvenient for that woman, but I am also guessing that she survived (anyone see Hidden Figures?) and helped to educate the naïve Dude in Charge and his underlings.

I get it, change brings change and that’s uncomfortable and difficult to anticipate. And it doesn’t help that people with disabilities are a very heterogeneous group lumped together. I was on a tour of a company the other day and it was noticed that the restroom did not have grab bars (we didn’t measure the stall, but I am guessing there were many other components of the restroom that were not technically accessible). But, as an advocate, there is no way I am going to recommend that the company overhaul all restrooms to be wheelchair accessible before starting the broader process of devising a recruiting, communication and training strategy. I’m sure some of my fellow disability advocate friends will be very unhappy with that statement, but I’m a realist. Yes, I want that company to have fully accessible facilities so that no qualified candidate has to delay their employment start date, but I also believe that the more people with disabilities (any disability) we can get into the workforce, the more people with disabilities are seen as capable of working (which opens more doors).

When at Walgreens, we created a small laminated card with lessons learned and info on how to do what we did. And we were very intentional to say “obstacles will surface unexpectedly but can be addressed as needed” - We weren’t ready to employ every possible person with or without a disability, but we had the mindset that we’d figure it out as we went along. That was as true 11 years ago, as it is today. It is impossible to anticipate every single person’s needs prior to employing them – how do you know if/when someone will have a kid with soccer practice, or a parent that needs care, or a heart attack or cancer and need time off for recovery. We get pseudo-ready for what we know about, what has already been experienced, and then we go forward from there.

If Walgreens had waited to be 100% (“ready” all I’s dotted, and all T’s crossed) they still wouldn’t have started intentionally recruiting people with disabilities. And they would be lacking all of the benefits experienced from their disability inclusive workforce

So, let’s spend December talking about getting ready so that in January, you’ll be ready to employ more people with disabilities, without having changed anything except your mindset.

See you tomorrow!

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