Empowering People Through Advocacy

July 2021
A monthly publication from our Disability Rights and Advocacy Specialist,
Patrick Ober, J.D., Ph.D.
Hello again, CILO supporters and Disability Advocates! Below is our monthly highlight of advocacy and policy issues to know and learn about related to people with disabilities and independent living.

Happy Disability Pride Month!!!!

For this year’s 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we here at CILO would like to first and foremost thank everyone for the individual and group advocacy that you have done and will continue to do with and in support of people with disabilities in your community, state, and across the nation and world.  In honor of Disability Pride Month, we will be committing both the July and August Advocate for Independence Newsletters to discussing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices throughout the business and workplace world.

  • This month, we will focus on DEI-focused employment initiatives, and how businesses and governments are incorporating DEI into hiring and employment practices and policies, as well as tips for how you can assist your own business or workplace in promoting more effective DEI-focused employee initiatives.


Let Us Talk About What Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion REALLY Mean

In the past few years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become major workplace initiatives across the country. DEI initiatives often claim to be aimed at reducing discrimination and bias and fostering more welcoming and inclusive work environments and business practices. But what do YOU really know about what diversity, equity, and inclusion really mean and look like? How are they different?

As Erika Johnson, co-founder of Next Wave Strategies aptly stated in a recent Forbes magazine article, “the common misconception is that diversity, inclusion… and equity are all synonymous and that tackling one is tackling them all. Though this would make things simpler, this is unfortunately not the case.” These concepts are very different, and each must be incorporated into a business model to truly achieve the welcoming, acceptance, and opportunities for lifelong success that people with disabilities have been advocating for so long.

How can we clearly define and distinguish diversity, equity, and inclusion? What have businesses been doing to advance these efforts? How can you help your business or workplace advance effective DEI efforts?

How Are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Defined?

Diversity: This term is identified as “a capacity to appreciate and value individual differences.” Diversity focuses on ensuring a variety of differences and representations are part of “the group.” Diversity is often the first step any business or setting can take, as it brings people of different backgrounds, orientations, and life experiences together. Increasing diversity provides the opportunity for equity and inclusion to occur.

Equity: This term is different than diversity because equity moves beyond mere representation of differences. Rather, the focus of equity is on eliminating obstacles that have restricted someone’s opportunity to succeed because of negative perceptions and/or treatment individuals with those differences and providing additional support so those opportunities can be restored. According to Washington University, it “is about creating fairness by ensuring that access, resources, and opportunities are provided for all to succeed and grow.” The University of Oregon further notes that “to achieve equity, more resources may need to be devoted to those who do not have access to them than to those who already do.”

Inclusion: Third, the term “inclusion” allows for acceptance, welcoming, and belonging. Inclusion takes diversity a step further by focusing on meaningful “access to participate in decision-making, obtaining or using resources, and opportunities of all persons regardless of their differences.”

Of these three concepts, Erika Johnson believes that equity is the key that will determine whether any DEI initiatives can be successful. She says: “Equity stands at the threshold to justice, and without it, all other efforts may fall into the pits of superficiality. Because what does it mean to have a diverse and inclusive staff treated equally if they do not all have the same access to higher learning, mentorship, and promotions?”
How are DEI Initiatives Being Prioritized in the Workplace?

Thankfully, both private businesses and state and national governments are making real, substantial efforts to create more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces across the nation. For example, Ohio has been engaging in intentional efforts to promote “Disability Inclusion” and be a “state and model employer of individuals with disabilities” ever since Ohio Governor Mike DeWine took office in 2019. A recent Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) newsletter discussed how "Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s Executive Budget for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023 reinforces his commitment to making Ohio a Disability Inclusion State and Model Employer of Individuals with Disabilities." To that end, the recently passed Ohio state budget for FY 2022-23 includes numerous funds for helping PWD developing job readiness skills and education and connecting them with businesses and jobs for the following programs:
  • Ohio Transition Support Partnership
  • OOD Jobs for Recovery
  • Employment First Partnership
  • Ohio Vocational Apprentice program

The Ohio Budget will also expand the number of businesses OOD assists in recruiting new employees and strengthening diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Even more encouraging, on June 25th, 2021 President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order that enhances the role of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) across the entire Federal workforce. “One of the central tenants of this Executive Order is to advance the equity of individuals with disabilities across the Federal government by decreasing barriers through improving reasonable accommodations and creating a culture of full accessibility.” The order directs federal agencies to improve accessibility both at federal facilities and in the technologies used at work, as well as to make it easier for people with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations from their employer. Various provisions of the executive order are modeled after best practices employed by private sector companies. So, what are some examples of the private companies and businesses engaging in DEI initiatives?

How are Some Major Companies Addressing DEI in Their Policies and Practices?

Kroger, Meijer, Target, CVS and Walmart each earned the distinction of “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” according to the 2021 Disability Equality Index, a benchmarking tool that helps companies build a roadmap of measurable, tangible actions they can take to achieve disability inclusion and equality. These companies have all been applauded for their external recruiting efforts geared specifically to people with disabilities, their willingness to offer flexible work accommodations, as well as providing wellness benefits that extends beyond Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or mental health benefits.

-         Meijer was highlighted in particular for its Disability Awareness and Advocacy Group, “whose mission is to advance the company's commitment to respecting and valuing diversity and inclusion by serving as a resource and liaison for all team members on issues of disability inclusion and equality.”
Amazon: In June 2021, Amazon Studios on Wednesday released its new inclusion policy and an inclusion playbook that serves as guidelines for its collaborators. Amazon worked with experts at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and other groups to create the guidelines and policies.

-      The “playbook” offers recommendations for casting actors whose identity aligns with the character; more frequent inclusion of actors/characters representing minorities, including those with disabilities; using minority-owned vendors or suppliers on productions; and achieving pay equity across casting, camera staff and crew, and for vendors and suppliers. It also includes accountability measures to ensure the policies are being followed.
Glassdoor: This past year, employment website Glassdoor has included mechanisms in its website that allow job seekers, employees and employers to see company ratings, CEO ratings and workplace factor ratings by race/ethnicity, gender identity, parental or caregiver status, disability, sexual orientation and veteran status. In addition, Glassdoor has also provided tools to view salary discrepancies for a particular job or position by gender identity and race/ethnicity, with more demographics likely to be included as more data is collected. As of February 2021, Glassdoor received roughly 800,000 demographic insights from 187,000 employees at more than 3,300 companies, with more data added every day.

So… How Can You Help Your Business or Workplace Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

In a company or business’s hiring practices, there are a few fundamental steps that can be taken to address barriers to employment for people with disabilities:

1. Job Postings, Descriptions, and Hiring (opportunities to increase diversity):

a. Where are you promoting the job opening? In paper?
Online? Are those sites or materials accessible to people
with disabilities?

b. How are you describing the job position and responsibilities? WORDS MATTER! An effective job description will describe what needs to be done, not how the applicant needs to do it.
Example: one job description might state that an applicant “must have strong written and oral communications skills;” another description for a similar position says the person “must be able to communicate with others effectively.” The first is narrow and can exclude plenty of people with disabilities that affect verbal or written communication but can communicate just fine with others in other ways. The second description states what the job requires but does not specify it has to be done a particular way, making it a more inclusive job description.

2.     Workplace Policies and Practices (opportunities to increase inclusion):

a.     To retain employees with disabilities, accessibility and inclusivity must extend beyond the recruitment process. Every employee needs to feel included in and comfortable with their physical working space, and office design needs to take accessibility into account.

b.     Examples can include flexible work schedules; health promotion programs tailor-made for those with disabilities; or availability of assistive technologies such as text-to-speech in core employee tools.

3.     Promoting Leadership and Advancement Opportunities for All (opportunities to increase equity):

As mentioned above, Erika Johnson is a firm believer in the importance of equity in DEI initiatives. So how can you assess your company’s attention to equity? Ms. Johnson outlines five questions for a business to consider:

a.     Is there diversity among leadership positions (i.e., boards, committees, and all levels of management? Do not be afraid to ask yourselves “why not?”

b.  Is there legitimate, actual, equal access to training, mentors, and opportunities for advancement? “This takes diversity from the pages of a pamphlet to the structure of a company.”

c.     Are your staff outreach efforts engaging everyone equally? Is one type of staff member (i.e., race, disability, sexual orientation, gender) offered more outreach assistance than another?

d.  Are there clear rules outlining an anti-discrimination framework of policies and culture that can be followed and evaluated?

e.    Is there a system of accountability in place - feedback from the staff, surveys, and evaluations – that ensures that the framework will be followed to ensure success in your diversity and inclusion efforts?

Along with these tips, these organizations provide helpful resources and assistance for your business to promote and develop diverse, inclusive, and equitable hiring and employment practices:
-         The Cincinnati Chamber

Please reach out with any comments or questions.

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