Dave Herr

USBLN Key Takeaways: If you’re not hiring staff with disabilities you’re missing out!

US Business Leaders Network (USBLN) annual conference saw over 900 delegates and the leading US technology and business names converge in Florida - it’s the largest USBLN conference to date!




I was impressed by just how many large US companies and organizations are actively taking steps to recruit people with disabilities, recognizing the enormous contribution they can make to businesses. Technology leaders such as Microsoft, as well as business leaders from Walmart, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC, EY, Boeing, BAE - to name but a few - were united in one message:
 
If you are not including people with disabilities in your hiring practices, you are missing out on a substantial and unique talent pool.
 
The session "Rising Leaders with Disabilities: Making Their Mark in the Evolving Workplace", chaired by Russell Shaffer of Walmart Stores Inc., was particularly thought provoking. It featured the success stories of four rising leaders with disabilities and their amazing careers:
 

  • Allison Chisenhall, Chemical Process Engineer, BAE Systems
  • Zakiya O. Mabery, Consultant, Deloitte
  • Chris Schlechty, Software Development Engineer, Microsoft
  • LeAndre Yarrell, IT Security Analyst, Incyte
 
Each had a powerful story to tell of how they overcame bias and achieved career success despite their disabilities, making a considerable and valuable contribution to their employing organizations in the process.
 
One recurring key theme of the conference centered around ‘self identification’ of disability and the need to do so without shame or prejudice. As Microsoft's Jenny Lay-Flurrie succinctly put it "to not self-identify (my disability) is an injustice that I do to no one by myself".
 
With many employees affected by hidden disabilities (such as Dyslexia)  it can be difficult for employers to provide assistance and solutions if they are not aware of the need.  But as much as employees should be actively encouraged to ‘self-identify’ to their employers, it’s equally important that they have a clear reason for doing so. Companies need to have support programs in place for employees with disabilities, to help them reach their full potential - and actively encourage self-identification as the entry point.
 
During the conference there was much discussion around the role digital technology can play in supporting inclusion in the workplace, but we were reminded, too, that technology can be both a barrier and bridge.
 
For example, the internet makes it easy for many people to find companies which are hiring, then helps them apply for jobs quickly and easily. Over 90% of all job vacancies are now advertised and must be applied for online.  But if a disability prevents you from using the internet, it makes it very difficult to successfully find employment.  
 
If we want to make our workplaces more inclusive a good starting point would be to ensure our job recruitment sites are accessible. Then we can go on to look at what accommodation needs to be put in place to support people to actually do the job.
 
There’s no doubt, whilst technology can be an obstacle, the right technology can also be a key enabler for workers with disabilities - like Texthelp’s web accessibility software Browsealoud and a literacy support software Read&Write. Having the right assistive technology in place can help organizations offer more inclusive working environments to employees with disabilities – from recruitment through to enablement in the workplace.
 
These were my key takeaways from USBLN 2016 but with so much going on it’s hard to capture everything that was covered across the three days. Did you attend USBLN? If so, I’d love to hear your takeaways. Add a comment below and join in the conversation!

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