Why you should care
Because smart employers know that top workers come in many forms.
OZY and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have partnered to bring you an inside look at how entrepreneurs and their good business are helping the communities around them. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.
For individuals with disabilities, job hunting can be particularly arduous. Never mind that few offices accommodate their needs — even though the Americans with Disabilities Act is meant to ensure that they do — landing a job is more difficult too.
As of 2016, only 17.5 percent of disabled Americans over the age of 16 were employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Bureau also found that when a disabled and nondisabled individual with the same level of education were both up for the same position, the candidate without a disability was far more likely to receive the offer. Part of the problem is that many employers have a misconception over what hiring someone with a disability entails, says Chetan Bakhru, the senior accessibility specialist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. He notes that some employers worry about the effect hiring someone with a disability will have on the office culture, or on their budgets. The issue, he says, is a lack of understanding.
“Once you show them hands-on or force them to sit at a computer, for example, and experience it first-hand, they gain sympathy and have empathy for what it’s really like for someone with a mobility impairment. … They finally get the message that [abiding by the law is] the right thing to do,” he says. To that aim, Bakhru and his colleague Joel Isaac, an accessibility specialist at JPMorgan Chase, set up a series of events at the firm to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The event not only provides Bakhru’s able-bodied peers with insight into the challenges faced by workers with disabilities, but it also informs them of how the company’s disabled employees utilize specially designed technology to perform their job functions. “The purpose of GAAD is to get people talking about and learning about digital accessibility,” says Bakhru, who is blind and relies on a screen reader and Braille display when using the computer and phone and also walks with a cane.
In order to show what it would be like to watch a film with a visual disability, Bakhru and Isaac play 15 minutes of the movie Daredevil with the audio description turned on. With audio description, a voice-over providing detailed explanations of the actions and scenery depicted on the screen is spliced between dialogue so it doesn’t interrupt the movie-going experience. Bakhru and Isaac also give tutorials on screen readers and Braille displays before sending the participants off to try them on their own while blindfolded or wearing vision-modifying glasses. Finally, to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to have a mobility impairment, participants are tasked with eating cake with chopsticks.
Bakhru hopes that, along with being an educational experience, the programming will also spark a greater sense of compassion among his nondisabled coworkers.
“We got people really excited and interested in learning more about accessibility,” he says, noting that, often, employers just see reasonable accommodations as an encumbrance that they have to deal with because it’s the law.
Over the last two or three years, JPMorgan’s development and design teams have made major strides in considering accessibility needs during the initial creative and engineering stages rather than as an afterthought. For Jim Sinocchi, head of the office of disability inclusion at JPMorgan Chase, the decision is a no-brainer; how better to attract and retain top talent?
“This is a new era. People with disabilities are coming into firms with the right qualifications and competing for jobs that able-bodied people are doing. And they are not here to replace able-bodied people, by no means — they want to be part of a workforce because they have the skills,” he says.
Since the company first began running training programs for internal employees, Bakhru has noticed a shift in how he and other disabled employees are seen within the office. “They don’t see you as a burden or someone they have to ignore in the office because they’re scared to interact with you,” he says. “After these events, they realize that … you may have your own way of doing things and have specialized technology to get that done, but at the end of the day, you’re just like everyone else.”