Episode 291: Invisible Disabilities and Apprenticeships

This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (or PIA). PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). In November of 2020, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. 

Episode 291: Invisible Disabilities and Apprenticeships with Devin Boyle, Director of Communications, PIA (@Devin_Boyle)

PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.

Mental health awareness month was in May of this year and I’m so grateful that it continues to be a topic of conversation. In the news recently, tennis star Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open after being fined for refusing to attend press meetings. Osaka shared upon her exit that she suffers from depression and anxiety, which are two different types of mental health disabilities. 

I spoke to Devin Boyle, PIA’s Director of Communications. This has been such a challenging year in general, particularly so for people with disabilities. We’ve talked a lot about disabilities in general, but for this podcast we wanted to focus on the types of disabilities that aren’t always visible. As your organization focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, people with mental health disabilities can help diversify and bring new perspectives to your workplace. But it’s essential that employers create a stigma-free work environment where people can talk openly about their mental health, from depression to anxiety to PTSD, and get the support they need to be healthy and successful employees.

Devin’s background includes advocacy for social justice issues, especially for underserved communities. She began working with The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEATWorks.org) as Emerging Technologies Lead and became Director of Communications for PIA in December of 2020. Devin has uniquely personal experiences with mental health disabilities and can speak directly to how they have impacted her work and personal life.

“I have diagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD, both are recognized as disabilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA. I believe the statistic is one in five employees have been diagnosed with mental health disabilities. People refer to these disorders as mental illnesses, but I prefer mental disabilities because I think naming what they are carries more weight and gravity. I have done everything from guest lecturing to speaking at conferences.My disabilities have not gotten in the way of my success.”

The past year has been particularly challenging for people who have mental health disabilities. As reported in a recent article by Fast Company, Thirty percent of the workforce has a disability and 62% of those individuals said their disabilities were invisible. I asked Devin to talk about the perception of “invisible” disabilities. 

“Unlike having a physical disability, for example, someone who is blind and has a guide dog. An employer may not know that someone has a mental health disability. It’s typically something that people have to disclose to employers. I personally will let my employer know so that I can have appropriate accommodations, but not everyone works in a safe space to disclose their invisible disabilities, especially with the stigma associated with mental health disabilities.”

How to Advocate for Apprenticeships for People With Mental Health Disabilities 

Devin said, “People with mental health disabilities can be just as successful as anyone else. Hiring people with disabilities creates a more diverse and well-rounded team and contributes to DEI efforts. In particular, apprenticeship programs offer a unique opportunity for people with disabilities to gain experience at their level of comfort.”

“Employers and intermediary organizations that lead apprenticeship programs need to create a culture of inclusion, giving space to people with invisible disabilities so they feel comfortable disclosing them,” said Devin. This is how we learn how to accommodate their needs. Employers who are open to hiring people with all kinds of disabilities have more diverse workplaces and opportunities to train and educate everyone involved in the process. 

I asked Devin what the most important thing we as HR leaders can help our employers understand about mental health disabilities. “There can be a lack of understanding from employers and people running apprenticeship programs about what the types of mental health disabilities are and how to support them. The first step is education. What some people don’t realize is that accommodations for people with mental health disabilities may be more simple and not very costly. For example, remote working is an accommodation, some flexibility around scheduling for doctor’s appointments, and allowing employees to turn their cameras off while participating in work conferences…these are all accommodations.”

“Mental health is being talked about more because of the pandemic, but early in my career that wasn’t the case. But over time, as I started to disclose, I received more support from HR – and now working with PIA I know it’s a safe place for me to disclose and be open about my mental health disabilities.”

When apprenticeship programs are inclusive of people with all types of disabilities, from different educational backgrounds and from underrepresented groups, the value of the on-the-job training model is magnified. That’s because disability is an important dimension of workforce diversity and inclusion—and people with visible and invisible disabilities are an untapped talent pool. 

I really appreciate Devin’s insights and her willingness to share her own experience on this special podcast episode. Talking about mental health is the first step in removing the stigma associated with disclosing an important topic and I’m grateful that Devin is sharing her story. 

Connect with Devin Boyle.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

– Devin Boyle on LinkedIn

– Devin Boyle on Twitter

– Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship

– Naomi Osaka’s French Open exit shows difficulties of bringing up mental health in workplace

– National Alliance on Mental Illness

– Episode 286: Ethics and Bias in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technology

– The Cost of Workplace Mental Health… And What Employers Can Do About It

– Episode Transcript

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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