And with companies not putting effort into hiring people with disabilities, they’re sending a message to employees with invisible disabilities. According to Harvard Business Review, 76% of employees with disabilities do not disclose their disabilities at work.
Episode 369: Making the Workplace Accessible Both for Employees and Contractors With Meryl Evans (@merylkevans)
Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:49.13] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our Future of Work series, powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging workplace trends are impacting people with disabilities. This podcast is powered by Ace the HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two of the courses I offer for HR certification prep and re-certification for HR leaders. Before I introduce our guest, I want to hear from you. I invite you to text “PODCAST,” “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005 to ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Today, I’m joined by Meryl Evans. She’s a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies, CPACC. She’s a highly sought-after speaker who is known for compelling people to take action by sharing her stories and lived experiences as a person who happened to be born hearing-free, also known as profoundly deaf. Meryl has spoken at TEDx, AccessU, ID24, SXSW, Content Marketing World, AccessibilityPlus, and PCMA Convening Leaders. Meryl, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Meryl Evans: [00:02:26.41] Thank you for having me, Jessica.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:29.50] Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how it led you to do the work that you’re doing now?
Meryl Evans: [00:02:37.15] My career started in the federal government, followed by two telecommunication giant. Then in 2005, I struck out on my own where I work, mainly worked as a writer and digital marketer. Around 2018, I started making videos about quality captioning. That caught the attention of the AccessU team that invited me to speak at their accessibility conference. It was there I found my community. I could be myself. After leaving the conference, I knew I wanted to work on accessibility. I wasn’t sure how as I knew I didn’t want to be a web developer or designer. I kept that in the back of my mind while I continued working and engaging on LinkedIn. The owner of accessibility company started reading my posts. Eventually, he brought me on to work with the company in marketing. Meanwhile, I started getting invitations to speak as a result of my AccessU appearance. It snowballed to many more speaking opportunities. Eventually, another founder of an accessibility company brought me on as a marketing and accessibility consultant. Long story short, I took some accessibility classes and passed the accessibility certification exam. Now, I’m a speaker and accessibility marketing consultant in that I educate people and companies on accessibility and disability awareness.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:30.99] I love that. Thank you for sharing your journey and thank you for, for sharing your time with us today. I wanted to talk to you and ask about how does the work that you do in diversity, equity, and inclusion intersect with accessibility. Because it sounds like you do both things.
Meryl Evans: [00:04:51.46] Well, many companies take pride in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and yet they often overlook people with disabilities. The focus tends to be on race and sometimes LGBTQ+. And with companies not puting effort into hiring people with disabilities, they’re sending a message to employees with invisible disabilities. According to Harvard Business Review, 76% of employees with disabilities do not disclose their disabilities at work. And 80% of C-suite executives and their direct reports are not, with disability are not disclosing. It’s surprising this is happening considering Accenture’s Disability Inclusion Advantage research shows that companies that hire people with disabilities make 28% higher revenue and outperform on profitability and value creation. A lot of big wealth there. The data shows companies who hire people with disabilities and help them thrive in the roles gain a competitive advantage. Research shows people with disabilities tend to have lower absentee rates and high loyalty rates. So, why is everyone jumping on the bandwagon? So, how does accessibility play into DEI? Accessibility isn’t just about making your products and services accessible to customers. Companies need to remember their own backyards. They need to make their own workplace accessible for employees and contractors.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:04.65] I want to make sure that everybody knows that we’re going to include the research that Meryl is mentioning and, and the studies in the transcription of the podcast. So if you were surprised by anything that she shared in terms of statistics and research, we have sources for you so that you can dive in a little bit deeper. I am excited to have Meryl on the podcast for a lot of different reasons, but especially because I am in agreement with her about the DEI side often doesn’t include people with disabilities and for the last five, maybe six years, that’s one of the reasons I have been working with PEAT and PIA to shine a spotlight on ensuring that people with disabilities are in the employment conversation as well as DEI. So moving on to the next question I wanted to ask you, Meryl, how can we as employers show our employees and job candidates that we are prioritizing inclusion?
Meryl Evans: [00:08:12.90] First, many companies have equal opportunity employer statements and they don’t discriminate. That is not enough because this is a standard statement that’s taken as lip-service. A great place to start is ensure the website is accessible. That’s how prospective employees learn about the company. And if they can’t navigate or consume the information, then that tells them the company doesn’t value people with dissabilities. Another important component is ensuring the application process is accesible. Even if the company outsources the application process to a career website or consultant, the company can ensure they pick one that’s accesible and note that in their contract with the outsourcer. One very simple thing can make a huge difference and that offering communication options. For example, the contact field is usually required. Often, this field only allows you to enter a phone number. You can’t note that it’s for texting only. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered my cell number only to have people calling me. Even if the company doesn’t actually call, we don’t know that. A better way is to give us at least three choices for contact information. One airline changed from just a phone number to ask if we prefer a call, text, or email, and then we fill in the field. This was a pleasant surprise. No fretting over whether they’ll call me. Somewhere on the career landing page, it helps to have an easy-to-find section on inclusive hiring for people with disabilities. This should be easy to find without digging. When you select that, it takes you to a whole section of information and resources. And all contact information should have at least two communication options. Several companies have a statement along the lines that if someone needs an accommodation to navigate the website or complete the application process along with two other communication options.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:01.36] This is such an important conversation and I’ve already talked to several applicant tracking systems giving this suggestion that you and I talked about, where just to add a box that says “my preferred method of communication is text” can really change the game. As employers, a lot of times we send an email and then we call, but we don’t offer that person a way to communicate back via text message or via electronic email. A lot of company HR and recruiting teams have an email that doesn’t receive responses back when you send a candidate a message. So these are small things that can really make a difference, especially in that you want to be an inclusive workplace. And I don’t know why we wouldn’t all want to be inclusive workplaces. Since hybrid work took off during the pandemic, many of us have used accessibility features without knowing. Actually, we’re using an accessibility feature that I really love right now with Zoom. So as I’m talking, this isn’t scripted, Meryl can see what I’m saying in real time. So I think that most people, when you ask them, they might not have thought about how they use accessible technology in their everyday lives, even if they don’t have a disability. They would, you would probably say, no, I don’t use it that way. I wanted to ask you, Meryl, how do you help people understand that these features are not just beneficial for people with disabilities, but can help everyone?
Meryl Evans: [00:12:47.32] Like you said, Jessica, accessibility is for everyone and people have used accessible features without noticing or knowing. Here are three ways everyone uses accessibility: The first is the curb-cut effect. This is when accessibility was originally designed for a specific disability but ends up helping many more people than intended. For example, everyone uses elevators, escalators, ramps, and automatic sliding doors. They also help parents pushing strollers, travelers pulling luggage, customers using shopping carts, and workers moving heavy things. These were all originally invented to help people in wheelchairs get what they need to go. Perhaps, we need to think about it like this, Why do we have our elevators if we don’t think we need accessibility and have customers or employees with disabilities? And digital curb cuts end up helping many of those who don’t have a disability. Captions are the best example of this as 80% of the people who use captions are not deaf or hard of hearing, according to Ofcom. And many browse social media with the sound off.
Meryl Evans: [00:14:21.58] The second is that anyone can become impaired or disabled at any time. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world. And anyone can join the group at any time. In fact, the longer people there are, the greater the likelihood they will have a disability at some point in their lives. Additionally, someone can experience a temporary deterioration of episodic impairment at any time. When I threw a ligament in my thumb, I had to change how I interacted with the world, their jittering and undertone. This is when I first tried speech-to-text software and it was a disaster. All I got out of it was a hilarious blog post. Besides, we all experience cognitive impairment every day. All it takes is one sleepless night, a stressful situation, a meal that disagreed with us, or a distracting environment to affect our cognitive function. This makes it harder to absorb any inputs. That’s why all content should be in plain language. A study showed the more educated people are, the greater the preference for plain language. We are inundated with so much information. Plain language helps us understand the message.
Meryl Evans: [00:16:12.71] And third, there’s reverse accessibility that some refer to as accidental accessibility. This is a product that was, that was not made with accessibility in mind. In using it, people discovered it provided accessibility. My Apple Watch is a great example of this as I originally got it fitness. Little did I know it would be an amazing accessibility tool. When my watch vibrates, I know if it’s a text message, door camera motion, or a timer going off without looking at my watch. We need to get it out of our heads that accessibility is only for people with disabilities. Accessibility is for everyone, and accessibility is not just the development team’s job. It’s everyone’s responsibility including HR.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:17.63] Agreed. And I will say that my favorite Apple Watch feature is Maps for directions because it will vibrate at different levels to tell me whether I need to go right or left. I love it because I know which direction I should go based on the vibration. Incredibly helpful for everyone who is trying to get from point A to point B.
Break: [00:17:48.26] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you are listening to the Workology podcast powered by Ace the HR Exam and Upskill HR. Today we are talking with Meryl Evans, Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies. This podcast is part of our Future of Work series with our friends at PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. Before we get back to the interview, I want to hear from you too. You can text the word “PODCAST,” “PODCAST” to the number 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments, make suggestions for future podcast guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.
Break: [00:18:36.68] The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at PEATWorks.org. That’s PEATWorks.org.
Making Sure Everyone Has What They Need to Be Successful
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:06.38] Let’s talk more about accessible technology in the workplace. How can HR leaders be more conscious of what they need in tech, in the products they choose, and ensure that people with and without disclosed disabilities have what they need to be successful?
Meryl Evans: [00:19:26.02] The key is to offer multiple communication options and inputs. One HR consultant advised to ensure your interviewing process is not biased by starting with a phone call. This consultant is forgetting about people with accents, people who don’t speak, people with disabilities like Tourette’s. There are ways to have an inclusive meeting in job interviews. Always have the captions turned on. Always allow people to speak or use the chatbox to communicate. And this is especially important, all interviewer speaking must be on camera. Or if they can’t have the camera on due to medical reasons, have them use the chatbox to ask the question while reading out loud. I’ve heard from job applicants who said no one was on camera during a job interview. That’s important because some people hear better when they have visual cues. Some people like me read lips. I may not be able to catch a much when I have to rely on captions alone. There are many ways to ensure an inclusive hiring process that cost little to nothing. Even if your application system is accessible, still put a note to the effect of if you have a question about filling the job application, please email or call us. We want to ensure you can successfully complete it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:21.99] Thank you for sharing. I think we don’t often think about things like having your camera on or the opportunity to have someone send a message in chat versus communicating the other way. But these are all ways to make the candidate or your employee or your team, or if you’re doing a podcast like we are now, we are recording, we have our cameras on, we can, I can read the transcription, the captioning, you can too, but you can also read my lips. And it’s about making, for me, the candidate, the individual feel more comfortable and welcomed. That’s what inclusion is, is all about. So we do need to make the hiring process have ways for the candidates to be able to ask for what they need or to communicate what they need and to let us know. Because how intimidating is it already for the candidates in the interview process and now they have an automated message and email they can’t respond to and now they have to show up on camera and they don’t have the right tools to be successful in the interview. So these are small things that I think you’re suggesting that can make a huge impact. Can you talk a bit about your own experience and the tools that helped you succeed at work, Meryl?
Meryl Evans: [00:22:49.26] Yes. I can just pick up. So, long before the pandemic, I had a real job interview. The interviewer knew I was deaf. The video quality was terrible. The sound was not always in sync with the person’s lips and the video was jumpy. This was a big problem because it made it harder for me to lipread. And there were no captions at the time. I had a hard time catching the interviewer sharing information about the role and the company. I didn’t want her to see me as too much trouble, which is why I failed any “Can you repeat that?” or “Type it into the chatbox” for when I absolutely needed it like when she asked me a question. When the pandemic hit, companies scrambled to switch to remote working. I’ve been a remote worker since 2005. Nothing changed for me until a few months into the pandemic. As company relied heavily on video calls, it locked people like me out of conversations. It was yet another technology I could not use, but I was used to it. The difference-maker was when the major platforms added automatic captions. Suddenly, I could join a video conversations and feel included. The automatic captions are imperfect, but it is progress because I feel more included. I hardly had any meaning before the pandemic. Now I have them all the time. Captioned video calls have changed my life as they’ve propelled my career as an advocate for people with disabilities and accessibility. And it gave me a new way to communicate and socialize. When my youngest went off to college last year, I thought I would never hear from him. He’s a bad texter. One day, I got the most amazing text message from him. He asked if I’d like to do a captioned video call. The pandemic normalized captioned video calls for him. These calls made it possible for me to speak, attend meetings, meet people, collaborate, and so much more.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:36.11] Thank you again for sharing. And I will say that the process for you and I, and this is one of my first times using Zoom Captioning. It was very, it was very easy. I just got on before our call just to make sure that the live transcription was enabled. Super easy to do. I mean, who hasn’t watched a movie on closed captioning, or listened, or read closed captioning on a social media post? It is part of our everyday lives now and it’s small actions like this, 5 minutes before our call, I just got on to make sure everything was working, and the experience for me is great, and the experience for you is great. And I think that this is how technology can really help bring people together especially, well, everyone but also thinking about people with disabilities, too. As someone who trains employers on this, how do you recommend HR professionals educate themselves and their teams about inclusion and accessibility?
Meryl Evans: [00:26:55.89] I strongly recommend companies hold disability and accessibility awareness training for all employees, and I’m not saying that because this is what I do. I would rather companies hire somebody else and get it done than to skip it. HR professionals may get a separate one or an additional one that focuses on ensuring the job application and the hiring process is accessible. Accessibility is just as important as security and privacy. A company can have all the right security measures in place. But all it takes is one employee mistake to create a hole in security. The smartest companies hold security training to educate employees to prevent human mistakes. By that same token,a company’s accessible website can send a message that it’s welcoming of everyone including people with disabilities. But that message will mean nothing if someone asks for accommodation and doesn’t get it, or someone diclosing and then being taken out of consideration. Both of these things happen. And that’s because of a single person’s decision or action.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:28.35] My last question for you is what is your best advice for how we can make new employees, especially those from historically underrepresented groups, feel more comfortable in the post-hiring and onboarding process?
Meryl Evans: [00:28:46.41] Once again, all new employees should receive accessibility and disability awareness training as part of the onboarding process. This accomplishes three things: First, reinforces that the company cares about accessibility and accommodation for everyone, including employees. Second, it will educate the employee on how to ensure they work with everyone inclusively. For example, they will ask others how they prefer to communicate and collaborate. Third, it will educate the employee on how to help an employee who is open about their disability. For instance, someone who is open about depression, one day doesn’t seem like themselves. The employee can talk to them and see how they can best support them or ask another employee to do that if they don’t know each other well. Create how-to documents on inclusion such as how to host inclusive meetings, how to communicate and collaborate inclusively, and so on. People can’t remember everything from training. Keep reinforcing the inclusive practices that always having the caption on. It takes time to make things a habit. Accessibility isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. Get started. Sometimes you have setbacks and that’s OK. The important thing is to make progress every day.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:32.00] Well, Meryl, thank you so much for, for talking with us and sharing what you know and, and just all the work that, that you do. For those who are listening, who want to connect with you. Where’s the best place to do that?
Meryl Evans: [00:30:50.05] I would say my website at Meryl, my first name, Meryl.net and I’m not related to Meryl Streep or anything. We just have the same first name.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:00.01] I will also include your LinkedIn profile too, so they can connect with you there as well. We’ll link to Meryl.net on the transcript of the podcast. It’s Meryl.net. Really easy to be able to reach out with you.
Meryl Evans: [00:31:18.91] Thank you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:19.57] Thank you so much.
Closing: [00:31:21.13] I can’t tell you how excited I was to speak with Meryl and she did not disappoint. I know that you feel the same way that I do. The insights and resources and conversations that were had today are, I know we’re going to make a profound impact on the future inclusive initiatives at your workplaces. The workplace has dramatically changed over the last year, but we don’t have to fear it or let it overwhelm us. Highlighting the positive elements around what we’ve learned and how we can support employees with disabilities and our efforts to recruit them is a broad topic, I know, but it really is about progress over perfection. I appreciate Meryl’s insights so much. Her expertise is invaluable, and this is really one of my favorite podcasts ever in the history of this podcast. I appreciate partnering with PEAT on this and the continue conversation on elevating our DEI efforts, along with a focus on employment and technology for people with disabilities.
Closing: [00:32:30.52] Before we go, I also want to hear from you. You can text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005 to ask me questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. I know you have them. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast. I appreciate your time. This podcast is powered by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Thank you for listening to the Workoloy Podcast and helping disrupt the workplace together. I’ll see you next time.
Closing: [00:33:06.31] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access life training, community, and over 100 on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
Connect with Meryl Evans.
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