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Dismantling Barriers for Disability Inclusion

Technology companies continue to face unprecedented challenges in recruitment, hiring and retention of diverse employees. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are focusing more intently on addressing workforce challenges faced by marginalized identities in the workplace — particularly women, people of color, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities — and their intersections and impacts on the workplace. During National Disability Employment Awareness month, the WTIA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Office and Apprenti jointly share our collective passion for the work of inclusion and equity. 

The WTIA DEI Office leads and supports the creation of anti-racist multicultural organizations where equity is deeply rooted and sustained in our workplaces and the communities we serve. While the focus of our work is underpinned by the need to dismantle systemic racism, the services we provide to partner organizations also focus on other dimensions of diversity. As sister organizations under the WTIA umbrella, the DEI Office and Apprenti partner in sharing best practices and solutions for clients looking to advance in their DEI journey. 

Apprenti is committed to increasing employment in the technology sector for underrepresented groups through the pathway of apprenticeships. Since its inception in 2018, the organization has successfully placed 1,200 apprentices — predominantly people of color, women, and veterans. In early 2021, Apprenti established the Access Team — a team focused on expanding labor force participation rates for working-age individuals with disabilities. 

According to the “Survey of Income and Program Participation,” approximately 18% or 56 million people in the United States have a disability. One in five adults in America lives with a disability. With the unemployment rate positioned 2.3 times higher than the rate for non-disabled people, there is an urgent need to advance economic security for people with disabilities (Department of Labor statistics, July 2021). 

Although people with disabilities form the world’s largest minority group, disability is often missing from the conversation of diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly for organizations in the early stages of their DEI journey. Additionally, the lived experience of being disabled differs depending on a person’s age, gender, race, and other identities. When identities collide —  sexual, religious, racial, disability — it can magnify discrimination and marginalization. People are complex and everyone holds more than one identity. It’s important to keep in mind, both when it comes to hiring and retention considerations, disability may be one facet of a person’s identity, helping to shape but not define them.

While our product offerings are distinct, the WTIA DEI Office and Apprenti’s Access Team are identifying ways to collaborate on an intersectional approach to disability inclusion. Through its service offerings, the DEI Office works with organizations that may have already identified a need to implement diversity, equity and inclusion programs and strategies in their operations. DEI products are designed to complement internal training, progress metrics, strategic planning and other key activities that support diversity-focused recruitment, retention and organizational development.

For its part, Apprenti’s Access Team works with internal and external stakeholders to promote positive language and the social model of disability as well as focus on improving access to digital and physical assets. The Access Team started by addressing the negative prejudices and mindsets in the workplace —  these biases can lead people to assume that people with disabilities are unable to perform as effectively as non-disabled workers, which is not the case. Apprenti implemented staff training on disability etiquette and the basics of reasonable accommodations. The team also crafted and shared additional resources with training and employer partners. While it is critical to address biases relating to disability in organizations, it is also just as important to design an accessible digital and physical environment. The team is in the ongoing process of making changes to the Apprenti website, remediating documents, and conducting staff training to align assets with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1). WCAG is a set of standards for making digital content inclusive. This means it is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all people, including people with disabilities.

Currently, about 13% of apprentices at Apprenti have disclosed a disability. This stands in contrast to the national disclosure rate of ~3.3%. Apprenti is committed to transforming the U.S. economic system by dismantling barriers to access and building a strong talent pipeline that includes individuals with disabilities.

The DEI Office and Apprenti identified five tips for making your workplace more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities:

    1. Normalize accessible practices like turning on CC (closed captioning) in Zoom calls – this can be helpful for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, individuals with learning disabilities, and others!
    2. Establish a clear, easy, pathway for requesting an accommodation. Apprenti includes information about accommodations on their website, assessment, and email communication. There is an email address as well as a phone number that individuals can use to contact and learn more. 
    3. Ensure that DEI efforts at your company include access as well. If you are looking for additional DEI support, the WTIA DEI Office leads and supports the creation of equitable, inclusive, and diverse multicultural organizations where equity is deeply rooted and sustained in our workplaces and the communities we serve. 
    4. Get to know your regional American with Disabilities Act (ADA) center. ADA centers have lots of resources. Their staff are extremely knowledgeable and can connect you to webinars, resources, and assistive technology to help further your organization’s access efforts. You can find your region on the ADA center map.
    5. Start a disability Employee Resource Group (ERG). Having a disability employee resource group can be a great way for people with disabilities (and their allies) to connect and feel supported in the workplace. 

The WTIA DEI Office and Apprenti are working together to transform the U.S. economic system by dismantling barriers to access and building a strong and diverse talent pipeline that includes individuals with disabilities. To promote retention and advancement of people from diverse backgrounds, we continue to develop solutions to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces. For more information, visit Apprenti and the WTIA DEI Office.


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