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This episode, originally recorded as a DEI call, features a conversation with Carmen Jones, President/CEO at Solutions Marketing Group and John Kemp, President & CEO at The Viscardi Center.

You’ll discover the ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Movement for companies to ensure they are inclusive and representative of the community they employ and serve, as well as the implications and connections with DEI work in general, and specifically for people with disabilities. You’ll also hear about the impact of AI as part of core HR processes, and why we must be vigilant and mindful of the anti-bias tools we choose.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • How the Viscardi Center is looking to become more sustainable (13:00)
  • Why your office needs to be accessible (17:00)
  • How to help people with disabilities identify their contributions to a company (22:00)
  • The cost of accommodating an employee with a disability (26:30)
  • Why an accommodation is an investment and not a cost (29:00)
  • Why we need to avoid excluding people from opportunities (32:00)
  • The harm that can come from using AI screening software (35:00)
  • How people often try to connect to people with disabilities (40:00)
  • Why the workplace is not structured for persons with disabilities (48:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Hello, all of my listeners on The Will To Change. I am so glad you’re tuning in today. And as I sit here in early November, we are going through some really intense change as a country and on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, which is my passion and I know probably yours too. If you’re listening to The Will To Change, there’s so much to learn and so much to flex around that’s occurring as we close out 2020, what a year. And so I wanted to make sure that everybody knew the kinds of support that we are providing. We are providing something every week on Thursdays at Noon Eastern, which we called the DEI community call. And it is a three-hour long call. People have called it the DEI spa because it is known to restore us, to connect us with each other.

To remind us about the critical importance of our work. To remind us of the strength of our community and that we aren’t alone at this moment. And the beautiful diversity within our community of people doing this work, whether it’s folks who are doing it as their paid job and organizations, folks who are volunteering your time, folks who write about and podcast about the topic and people who want to do this work, which is more and more all the time. So we hold these calls on every Thursday at noon. And I wanted to make sure that you have the text, that you can send a text too to get on the RSVP list. And once you’re on that RSVP list, you will always know about the upcoming calls, who the guests are, what the topics are. And also you will have the opportunity to listen to the replay, which is really important because sometimes we just can’t make that call at Noon Eastern on Thursdays.

You could also read the chat, which is really interesting in these calls, really vibrant, full of ideas and resources and links and offers to connect and offers to meet up offline. And I know that much serendipity has been introduced into the world because of the connections that have been made on the chat alone for these calls. So I really encourage you to stay close to us because we are constantly pivoting in this changing world. We are constantly doing our head and our heart and our hands work to figure out how do we create change amidst so much uncertainty and chaos and countervailing forces and polarization? So if you would like to get on this list, you can text DEI Community to 33777. So if you put 33777 into your text to field and then write all one word DEIcommunity it will prompt you to provide some information, which we will guard of course and keep safe, but it will get you into the mix and onto the list.

And you can download a calendar reminder and you can join us and feel all the things that I described. I just have to say, we’ve been doing these since March of 2020, every single week. And they have kept me going on a personal level. The checking in with the community reminds me of the magnitude of the work, but also the brilliance and the intelligence and the creativity of this community of advocates. And I know for me, it’s been a touchstone in 2020, so please consider joining us. And now on to today’s Will to Change.

JOHN KEMP: Age and disability are directly related on average people with disabilities are 16 years older than non-disabled individuals. So people who have worked at the company longer and probably have gotten elevated into higher level positions are actually fearful and perceived sort of like in the FDR mode. If I show I have a disability, I’m going to be perceived as weak and not going to be able to be accepted as a good strong leader, which is nonsense. We’re looking for those leaders who are out and proud about having a disability and really disclosing it. But I hope that they’re encouraged strongly to take that as part of their affinity group or other groups in the company that really embrace disability.

Everyone has a diversity story. Even those you don’t expect welcome to The Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.

DOUG FORESTA: Hello, and welcome to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta and this episode was originally recorded as a DEI community call and features a conversation with Carmen Jones, President and CEO of Solutions Marketing Group and John Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center. Let me say a little bit, let me just give you a little bit of a background around Carmen and John. John Kemp was the co-founder of the American Association of People with Disabilities and is currently the president and CEO of The Viscardi Center. Due to a congenital anomaly John was born without arms and legs and use this four prostheses to inspire people and empower people with disabilities.

He has received the Horatio Alger Award of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. In 2006, he received the Henry B. Betts Award, which is America’s top award in disability leadership. And in 2014, he was awarded the Dole Leadership Prize by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Carmen Jones is, as I said, CEO of Solutions Marketing Group, and at age 20, a terrible car accident caused her to become a paraplegic. She went from being a 5’10 student walking around campus of Hampton University to being in a wheelchair and dependent on friends at times to carry her literally, which exposed her to a whole new set of stereotypes to overcome. As CEO of Solutions Marketing Group, Carmen’s agency works to position her clients to understand, penetrate and retain the disability market.

In this conversation, you’ll hear several things covered, including the ESG or environmental social governance movement for companies to look at broader community and ensure it’s inclusive and representative of the community they employ and serve. The implications and connections with DEI work in general, and specifically for the community of people with disabilities. Interesting statistics and research that reveal the breadth of the disability movement. The impact of AI as part of the core HR processes on people with disabilities and how some of the anti-biasing tools meant to help these processes also create bias. And we must be vigilant and mindful of the tools we choose. They talk about allyship language and more. I know you’ll get a lot out of this episode, so stay tuned. Here we go. Enjoy the episode.

JENNIFER BROWN: All right Carmen. So take it away. And I’m so excited for this. Thank you so much for joining us.

CARMEN JONES: Absolutely. Jennifer, thank you for creating this space for John and I to be able to share. Welcome everyone. I’m looking at some of the comments coming in on the chat, and I can tell this is a warm, welcoming community. So we’re excited to be with you for this hour. Just a little bit about me. I’m in Atlanta, I am a paraplegic of 34 years. I am a single parent. I’m also the mother of a teen girl. So I always get raised eyebrows whenever I say that and share that with folks because they know what a teen can be like. And I’m also a professional who has worked in the disability space for over 25 years. Initially I started my company when I recognized a void where companies targeted me as a woman of color and as a woman and a person of color, but not as a person with a disability.

So with that really simplified essence, I started the Solutions Marketing Group, and now we focus on three core areas which are marketing, customer service and employment. I have the pleasure of introducing John Kemp, who is not only a leader in our community. He has a very long list of accomplishments, but he is a really good guy who leads an organization called The Viscardi Center in Long Island, New York. And so we’re just happy to be with you all just to share a little bit and hopefully open your understanding to be able to take some action and implementing anything that you’ve heard us share today. John, did you want to add anything to that, sir?

JOHN KEMP: It’s my pleasure to join you, Carmen and Jennifer, thank you very much for this opportunity to meet some new friends and to really talk about a topic that’s critically important to me and has been all my life. You’ve got that one photo in your repertoire that you use all the time. And I was looking at the photo at the very beginning. I’m like, “I don’t quite look like that anymore.” And that’s kind of who I am. I’m like, I’m saving that one. That was about 10 years ago. Purple is still a good color for me. But I’ve gotten grayer and probably 10 years older. So anyway, it’s a pleasure. So he is him. I am married to a wonderful woman who was married before, I was also married before, but we both got divorced and found each other.

And she has two kids who are grown now in their 40s and early 50s. And we have five grandsons who are teenagers and one’s at the University of Alabama. So everybody’s in Birmingham, Alabama. So I see this whole movement in the broadest sense from a lot of different angles from New York to Birmingham, Alabama. But my life has been devoted to disability issues and I’ll disclose that I was the 1960 National Easter Seal poster child. Now I think you all probably remember me, right? You all remember that little kid with a mustache and goatee and was hitting you up for some money and doing all those kinds of things. But anyway, that’s how I started those kind of passe to use poster children today as props. And I’m so glad to see someone from [inaudible 00:10:52] Peter Slayton on who’s a great writer and is very educational about what he’s doing with magazines and informing the public. So anyway, this is going to be a great dialogue and I’ll turn it back to Carmen, but thank you all very much.

CARMEN JONES: Thank you, John. And just to describe myself, I’m an African-American woman. I have gold earrings and a gold top. So just wanting to give that description in case there was someone on who was not able to see our picture. So we’re going to dive in. Now I know, I hope most of that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It’s the 75th year that the country has celebrated NDEAM. And for John and I every October we have these types of conversations with leaders like yourself, and we hope that what we share inspires you all to do some things differently within your organizations. We’re going to share, as Jennifer said about some data, some cultural things about disability. So let’s dive in. John has developed some expertise and insight into the ESG movement. So I want to pose the first question to him. John, to whom does the ESG movement appeal? And again, for review that’s environmental, social and governance.

JOHN KEMP: I would say it appeals to everyone. And it should to all the progressive companies out there that want to have a relationship with especially younger employees, but it should appeal to anyone with a social conscience. I find it to be incredible that a lot of organizations, including nonprofits and I run a medium-sized nonprofit actually three sets, three corporations under the umbrella of The Viscardi Center. So we have about 400 employees and a $30 million budget. So ESG means a lot to us. We have a carbon footprint, we have social responsibilities to the communities that we serve starting with our own employees, but also to the community at large on Long Island and throughout the country.

So looking at the environmental issues, we have a beautiful 170,000 square foot building with a nice flat roof that would be perfect for some solar panels. And we could be energy self-sufficient if we just had the wherewithal to be able to make that initial investment. The cost of solar energy has come down dramatically in the last five to 10 years, and I would hope that we would move in that direction, but it’s not just for non-profits or for profits, it’s for any employer.

And the redefinition of a statement of corporate purpose by the business round table was a extremely important statement a year ago that really talked about it is going from shareholder economies to stakeholder economies. And that’s a widening of the aperture pretty dramatically. You’re not only pleasing your shareholders, but all the stakeholders in your business. Now non-profits don’t have direct shareholders that I’m aware of. But that you really are looking at your broader community when you look at environmental, social and governance issues. We have undertaken a diversity equity and inclusion committee study that will run forever. Our work will never be done, and we are going to open up and uncover everything that we are doing from all of our business practices with whom we are subcontracting. Who are our vendors, are our vendors diverse? Do they include vendors with disabilities? As just a personal interest, but that’s our mission as well.

So the environmental social responsibility to our employees to make sure that all of our hiring decisions are fair. Our promotion decisions are fair, that our onboarding or recruiting of board members, and we have 46 board members across three corporations are inclusive and representative of the community and the broader community. And then and that includes the governance part as well. So the ESG movement is very real to me and something that I’m living every day. And I hope that you would as well.

CARMEN JONES: Thank you, John. Now I know that we get asked frequently about how large, how big is the population of people with disabilities in the United States and globally? And we can tag team and share on this one. So just so you all know, there are 1.8 billion people with disabilities in the world, and there are 61 million in the United States. And so the opportunity begins to swell when you count in friends and family. And so the data indicates that there’re globally about 3.3 billion potential employees or customers that have some experience around disability and exposure. John, did you want to add anything to that?

JOHN KEMP: No, I do think that I’ll just say that allyship is really an incredible affect in the disability community. It’s because we are, many of us or at least 17% of us are born with our disabilities. Most people with disabilities become disabled during their lifetime, that the fact that our families and friends include people with disabilities and become very empathetic and understanding, and in fact, become very strong advocates for the exclusionary policies that exist. They will actually, our friends, my friends will point out, “There’s no curb cut here. Why is there no curb cut? I don’t understand this.” Get outraged even more outraged than we have sort of gotten conditioned to being. So it is really it’s a huge, a very wide group of people. And one of the early founders of people that recognize the breadth of the disability movement was Walt Disney.

When Disney decided that you say no, if your facility is not accessible in the widest sense possible to people with disabilities, you might be saying no to one person who happens to have a disability in your family, but you’re losing five ticket sales every day. And he started realizing from an economic standpoint, this makes no sense. I’m sure that and I know Disney well now, and Disney has done very, very well. And I know that from time to time, there are lawsuits against any and all employers, but Disney has done a very thoughtful job of trying to be as inclusive as possible, just knowing that our movement is very broad and very inclusive. And I’m sure the other could be said about the same for all movements.

CARMEN JONES: Yeah. And picking up on what you shared about Disney. I mean, personally, I took my children to Disney and throughout the theme park, I’m wheelchair user, so I didn’t have that in my description. And my son who passed away 11 years ago also had some disabilities as well and I got an accessibility map of the theme park and built within the infrastructure in the magic, there were private rooms that I could go to, to take care of some of his needs. So Disney is a forward-thinking company. So continuing on the line of the data. So when we talk about in the US so 61 million people, so that’s one in four. Now here’s the catch, John and I both have visible disabilities. So the term you may hear are visible or invisible, or apparent and non-apparent.

And so you can see our disabilities, but the data indicates there about 70% of those who have disabilities have non-apparent or invisible one. So you wouldn’t know. And that’s probably what you may be encountering or have encountered in the workplace where there are people who work on your teams who either have a disability or someone in their life has a disability. And those invisible disabilities are categorized as in four areas. So there’s people with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, mental illness, or chronic dizziness, which can impair their ability to walk or drive or work. And then additionally, as of September the employment rates or the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is 12.5% versus the general population, which is 7.5%. So we’ve just dumped some data on you all. And we’ll answer questions throughout, but I guess are the numbers surprising to you all? Okay. We’re getting questions. All right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Can you see that question, Carmen?

JOHN KEMP: Is that a disclosure? That’s almost a disclosure question.

CARMEN JONES: Yup. We’re going to talk about disclosure in a little bit, but we want to just begin to start your thinking in terms of candidates that you’re looking for. Just a personal story about me. I became a paraplegic my junior year in college and returned to school less than a year after I had the accident. And this is before the ADA. When I went back, there was no one to prepare me for entering the workforce. And I went through about 30 first interviews, two second interviews, and I had no job when I rolled across the stage. And I did everything right. All the extracurriculars, got my grades together after I pled the sorority, did all that stuff. And I had people asking me on my resume, they were saying what they’re thinking, now I could sue them.

“So what’s your prognosis. So how do you travel?” One person asked if I could wiggle my toes and this was in the span of an interview. And they’re just trying to gauge. My job at that point was to make them as comfortable as possible. But there are hundreds of thousands of people like John and myself who email us, who are looking for work. And so we hope that this conversation opens you all up to being influencers within your organization. John, let’s talk a little bit about the barriers to employment. From your perspective what do you think some of them are?

JOHN KEMP: I started a long time ago in this field and I thought it would take five or 10, maybe 15 years to get past the issue of attitudes. And I just thought it was the preconceived ideas that people had about people with disabilities and everyone would just become part of the community. And everybody would learn about each other and everybody would be very accepting. It’s by far and away still the biggest issue that we have is the preconceived ideas that people with disabilities are limited in almost all areas that you present with a certain condition and you are totally and completely incapable of contributing anything to society. And it’s just that I’m being harsh and direct, but that’s the viewpoint that comes across to many people. They just don’t, they aren’t willing to take the time or the effort to say, “What talent do you have that is going to contribute to our bottom line or to our productivity?”

So, part of what we do with people with disabilities is to help them prepare for interviews that really stress what their contributions can and will be to a company. I think you have to focus on that, but for far too long, it’s been not the physical barriers or the position descriptions to some extent are unnecessarily restrictive. You might have too many lifting requirements. You might have too many other kinds of physical, mental, or emotional requirements that are written into job descriptions. And job descriptions themselves can categorically be very prohibitive and very limiting because it doesn’t relate necessarily to exactly what’s going on the job. And if we use the assumption that 20% of the jobs responsibilities change every year because of technology or different processes or different people are hired to do different things and everything shifts. You’re working in a company or with an employer and everything just keeps moving a little bit.

And the job that you were hired for a year ago or two years ago, isn’t exactly what you’re doing today. That’s what’s going on. That’s what’s really happening out there. So it’s the barriers can exist in the job descriptions. They can exist physically. Now they’re in the information and communication technologies arena in a big, big way. I think we’ll reserve some of our conversation for artificial intelligence for a little bit later, but there’s just a huge issue going on about people not being able to access websites and just use technology as efficiently as other people are able to do it, who don’t have disabilities.

CARMEN JONES: Absolutely. And attitude, no barriers and organizational will, I would say you all are all part of Jennifer’s tribe, and now we’re part of the tribe as well. And so you get the conversations on diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging, but somehow some way disability has been on the fringes and an outlier. But it comes with the understanding of what an effective recruitment strategy looks like, so that you can be successful. And it shouldn’t be something that’s feared or something that’s overwhelming or something that’s necessarily even a collateral duty. It’s something that has to be institutionalized within the organization. Some other barriers to employment are just people fatigue from looking… I’m data head today. So the data indicates that we have people with disabilities where it requires 10 times as much effort in terms of looking for work than their non-disabled peer.

So 10 times as many contacts, 10 times as many sending out resumes and people just fatigue. Additionally, there’s a lack of transportation or reliable transportation. So if someone lives in an area that doesn’t have a good paratransit or a metro system, they’re up a creek, and then there’s also some limited education. So let’s talk a little bit about accommodations and that’ll be a good segue into AI. So some accommodations, well, I’ll ask a question. How much on average do you think it costs for a company or an employer to accommodate an employee? You can put the number in the chat. Okay.

DOUG FORESTA: Sorry. Was that question for a day, annually? What was it? I may have missed that.

CARMEN JONES: How much on average do you think it costs an employer to accommodate an employee with a disability?

DOUG FORESTA: Okay. Total. Okay. Got it. Thank you.

CARMEN JONES: Yeah. All right. This is a savvy crew, John

JOHN KEMP: I’m like, they got the answer.

CARMEN JONES: Yeah. It’s less than $500. And I mean that is not a barrier to employment. I mean, if you think about how standup desks, how employers are buying these stand-up desks, are buying these chairs that are ergonomically designed. I’d venture to say they cost more than 500. So that is good. You all have done your work in that area.

JOHN KEMP: Carmen, this is John. I just want to say if somebody presented and said the cost of the accommodation that I want is $12,000, how would you evaluate whether that is an unreasonable accommodation or not? And you do have to take into consideration what the job is that is being accommodated. Who is the person being accommodated, but what is that level of job and the value of that job to the corporation? If the CEO needs a private jet to be able to go all over the world to visit his or her clients, is that a reasonable accommodation to have the private jet that’s wheelchair accessible if they’re using wheelchairs or is the $500 for an entry-level or lower-level person?

And when is $12,000? Is it for a $250,000 a year person or a half a million dollars a year person? I think there has to be some relativity to that determination. So $500, isn’t just for everybody. It has to be in relation to the value of the job that the person’s applying for and then the accommodation to it. So I’m just asking, or just saying that that’s just an observation that it’s not a hard and fast rule.

CARMEN JONES: Okay. So John Peter Slayton asks us, “What is the value of that 12,000 person’s insight?”

JOHN KEMP: Well, I hope it’s worth the half a million dollars that the company is paying the person. I hope that that person is returning on investment everything that is worth the salary that’s being offered. It’s still a diminimous responsibility. In law, it is diminimous, that is the requirement on reasonable accommodations. And so the accommodations have to be a diminimous responsibility by the employer, but diminimous is measured against how valuable or important that job is to the corporation.

CARMEN JONES: Okay. All right. All right. We have another comment, accommodations. Okay. So Peter said exactly how much does it cost a company to recruit anyone? Yeah. Okay. So John, let’s talk a little bit about AI. Who purchases or who vets purchasing of software to assure its potential discriminatory impacts are reduced or removed?

JOHN KEMP: Well, this is where the chief human capital officer, the chief diversity and inclusion officer, the chief information officer usually should be meeting to talk about how broad and how extremely valuable technology has to be able to reach to the margins of human factors. And this is a conversation that rarely happens, rarely happens. I would strongly encourage, this is not an isolated decision, and it should not be an isolated decision. I think that the chief diversity inclusion officers have a primary responsibility to look at this issue and determine how important it is that they look and test out technologies that can be adaptable by the user. Or that they would have an internal policy that they would just would never publish videos or put out information that is not captioned and put out in with alternative formats.

These are really critical decisions that have to be made, and they can’t be made just by the DNI officer or the DNI officer gets beat up all the time as being the person that costs this company too much money. That’s not good. I think this is a shared responsibility that has to be spread over a corporations territory, it’s internal management responsibilities. But it’s really important that people think about this as a shared responsibility and that input to the kind of software and even hardware that’s being purchased. How usable is it by as many people as possible? How far out to the margins do you get to that 98 and 99th percentile of people being able to benefit from it? And that’s really critical. So it’s not just on the DNI person. It is really a bunch of other people in the corporation that are in leadership positions.

CARMEN JONES: Right. Well, I was probably premature. So let me preface, let me go back to the question I should have asked. So how have you seen John, the growing utilization of AI in core HR processes at dangerous levels of excluding us from opportunities?

JOHN KEMP: Oh, man, I love this topic. And I just hope that you all understand and appreciate this because I think you all will have experienced this. We’re always being pressed really hard to be as efficient as possible in our jobs, get this done, get this job done as efficiently, as possible, as quickly as possible. So we’re going to use a lot of AI. We’re going to buy some software that says that we can scan resumes and details, and we can have the AI pick up gaps in the employment history. No human being’s ever seen it, but we’ve got AI scanning the history of somebody’s work-life and they’ll kick out gaps of three to six months or more, just kick it out and move it over here. That’s one big worrisome thing because some people with disabilities or others without disabilities have gaps in their employment history and they deserve, or maybe don’t need to be deserving of explanation.

The worry that I have really is the use of AI. And especially in the interviewing process where you are talking to a camera like I’m talking to this camera and you are asked to answer five questions as an applicant, and everybody’s given the same five questions. And this is a very dangerous area for not only people with disabilities, people from other cultures than the US based cultures. People who have difficulty maintaining eye contact with the camera. Maybe they’re not looking and supposed to look people in the eye. Maybe they have a slight speech impediment. Maybe they have a cadence that is often different than a norm. And the norm that is being used is the database of all the applicants and employees who have been hired by the company. So they take all the history, which doesn’t include people with disabilities and applies it against all the applicants.

So if I have cerebral palsy or I’m blind, and I’m having difficulty answering in a regular cadence and looking at the camera and being really confident, it gets kicked out. And you hope, can only hope that the software says, “Oh, they’re in time-out zone.” And the company is going to look at those in this timeout zone, and they’re going to bring them back in another door or another gateway into the applicant flow process. This reminds me of what it was like, and I wear artificial limbs. All four limbs are artificial and I can walk around and I ride a scooter wheelchair and I can get out of my chair and I can walk short distances.

But years ago we used to go to buildings. There’d be a flight of stairs. Somebody would meet us at the bottom of the stairs. They’d walk us around the building to the freight elevator that isn’t clean and nice and neat at all. Then they’d bring us up for an interview and we’re supposed to have our full game on, and our head on straight. We’re coming in confidently going after this job. And we’ve just ridden up the freight elevator and come through the back door, being treated like secondary citizens and it doesn’t work.

So this is just part of the harm. It can screen out people of color, it can screen out people arbitrarily in so many different factors. So I’m just telling you, please be leery of buying AI HR hardware and software that has not been tested. And you need to be asking the vendor how they assure that all people are coming through the same doorway, same entryway into a company and getting the same fair treatment. That’s what the big fear is in using AI.

CARMEN JONES: That’s good. That’s good stuff. And I can tell that our friends think so as well. So let’s shift a little bit to disclosure. What have you seen or let’s talk about John, when you were applying for jobs, did you disclose your disability during the application process?

JOHN KEMP: No, no. I would intentionally not disclose. And this is going back a number of years since the ADA, I don’t have any problem disclosing, because I almost want to say now you know it, now you have to deal with me in a non-discriminatory fashion. It’s on you if you say no to me. All right. So that, but way back when I would never tell anybody, because it was too easy to deny me a job and come up with a subterfuge for discrimination, they could make up any reason they wanted to and say, “Oh, we hired someone with more experience.” This, that and I would never know. And most people don’t know if they’re turned down for a job why they did, but I’m going to ask the same question of you, Carmen. Do you disclose your disability on anything like application forms and?

CARMEN JONES: Never, I mean, it’s not something I can hide and there’s always that awkward moment when you appear for the interview and they see you rolling up, I know, you know what I’m talking about, but no, I don’t disclose. And by the time we get into the meat of the interview, I’m talking about what I can do for the job and my qualifications, which hopefully in their minds shifts the focus to really what we’ve come to do business to do. Do you say John, most of our peers… So that begs the question. If someone has a non-apparent disability, is it your experience that those folks disclose or no?

JOHN KEMP: They don’t disclose. They intentionally don’t disclose. And you have to stick with job-related questions. Any question you ask has to be anchored in what job requirements are you asking about? Can you do this? Are you able to, do you have examples of this? If you aren’t anchored into a job requirement, then you are in dangerous territory. So just make sure that your questions are anchored directly to a job requirement.

CARMEN JONES: Right. That’s right. And I would say too, that a lot of people don’t disclose if they were hired and they didn’t have any disability or chronic health condition. They have one, I remember meeting a mid-level director-ish person from a corporation that I won’t name. And he told me, I was doing the spiel. And he said, “I’m with you. I have multiple sclerosis. And no one here knows that I have it because I don’t want it to impact or impair my ability to advance in my career.” And he said, he went on to say, “Thankfully, I haven’t had a lot of flare ups and I’ve been able to perform the duties of my job.” But a lot of times people like John and myself and our peers don’t find it beneficial to disclose.

JOHN KEMP: I just want to comment because I’m sorry, it’s so intriguing that as people become familiar with us, with our disabilities, they want to tell us about themselves and their experiences and the place that this happens the most often is on an airplane. And assuming we’ll get back to flying someday and everything will be normal again. Never. But anyway, we’re sitting next to somebody and somebody usually says to me like, “Well, where are you going? Where are you from? What happened to you?” And I’m just going to show you, these are my clamps, right? These are my artificial arms clamps. So they’re absolutely blown away. They’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, okay, we’re going to go through that.” And we go through this little and they say, “My brother-in-law lost his arm in a corn picker. He has an artificial just like you.” They’re trying to find the bridge to the social connection that says, “I know somebody like you. So you can trust me. You can talk to me as a friend.”

Carmen’s conversation is she endeared this person to feel familiar enough with her to have him disclose his disability, a hidden disability to her. This happens to us all the time and it’s okay. We deal with it every day. We deal with it in the grocery stores and supermarkets and every place else, we do it.

CARMEN JONES: Yes. Totally. I am your amen corner. We definitely deal with it. And people do try to connect in that way to let you know.

JOHN KEMP: “My best friend’s black.” How about that for a white person, a Caucasian. “You can trust me. You can trust me. My best friend is black.” Oh, okay.

CARMEN JONES: “I don’t see color.”

JOHN KEMP: Then you’re good. Okay. You’re all good.

CARMEN JONES: Well, the other one is, “I don’t even think of you as disabled.” Yeah. That’s the one, right? That’s like, “I don’t see color.” That’s up there with that one. Okay. John and I are telling you all the family business. All right. So let’s talk a little bit more about disclosure. So when we talk about disclosure, there’s a difference between disclosure and self ID. Self ID is more performative, so it’s a box checking exercise. And a lot of companies may have every few years, they may do some sort of campaign. With disclosure, it’s more collaborative and supportive. And there’s a benefit that the employee and the employer focus on the benefit to the organization. The fact that we’re elevating the profile of disability as part of diversity within our organization. So I just want to make that distinction. John, which companies are required to invite employees to disclose that they do have a disability?

JOHN KEMP: Well, the federal contractors are absolutely required to do it. So if you have OFCCP contracts or subcontracts with a contractor, federal contractor, you are absolutely required under the Section 503 laws. There’s a great deal of desire to have disclosure by all people or all employers that are subject to ADA and the ADAAAA. I don’t know when it stops. But anyway, we would like to know because it’s hard to measure progress when somebody says, “Gosh, we’ve increased the employment of people with disabilities by 40%.” How do you know your end number or your starting number? What is it? How do you know it? You don’t know it. You’ve got a lot of people, 70% that have hidden disabilities that may not be disclosing. And even with disclosure requirements, you’re still going to get someone with a hidden disability who’s working for a federal contractor or subcontractor that’s not going to tell you.

And they’re entitled to their privacy. They don’t have to tell you unless their disability interferes with the safe performance of the job, and you can use safety to require someone to disclose. But other than that, I don’t think we’re ever going to get to the bottom of what’s your starting point. What’s your starting point in hiring? How many people do you have currently working for you who have disability? You are not going to know that. You can measure, but just know that it’s a loose number.

CARMEN JONES: Right. And OFCCP requires that you ask all employees and you ask them within a five-year span. So every five years. And a lot of times when as you, as an employer become more visible in your disability inclusion efforts, employees, you’re going to start to see an uptick in employees that feel comfortable disclosing because they will know the tone will be set, that they’re not any fear of reprisal. There won’t be any negative if they do share and that they do have a disability.

JOHN KEMP: Carmen, I can kind of make one quick comment if you don’t mind, I’m sorry to jump in here once in a while. But-

CARMEN JONES: It’s cool.

JOHN KEMP: … Age and disability are directly related. So on average people with disabilities are 16 years older than non-disabled individuals. So people who have worked at the company longer and probably have gotten elevated into higher level positions are actually fearful and perceived sort of like in the FDR mode. If I show I have a disability, I’m going to be perceived as weak and not going to be able to be accepted as a good strong leader, which is nonsense. We’re looking for those leaders who are out and proud about having a disability and really disclosing it. But I hope that they’re encouraged strongly to take that as part of their affinity group or other groups in the company that really embrace disability.

CARMEN JONES: Right. And for those of you, John said, FDR quick, that was our president Franklin Delano Roosevelt who served three terms. And only within the past 20 to 25 years, has it been publicized that he was a wheelchair user, but he was always propped up to stand behind lecterns and there’s only a couple, how many pictures John? Maybe three pictures of him in a chair.

JOHN KEMP: Right, right.

CARMEN JONES: Yeah. So just giving you that little historical tidbit as we’re in an election season. All righty. We had a question. “Can we clarify is the invitation to disclose requirement for applicants or for employees?”

JOHN KEMP: Well, you’re asked to disclose as an applicant and you’re also asked to disclose recurringly as an employee, but applicants are definitely asked to disclose, they’re measuring it.

CARMEN JONES: Right. And the applicants that most likely disclose where John and I may not, are applicants who are deaf and they would need an accommodation like a sign language interpreter. All righty. So let’s talk a little bit about allies because all of you are allies. We told you you’re in our family now that we’re on this call. So we’re putting you in the ally bucket and we want you to influence your peers to become allies. John, let’s talk about what people with disabilities are facing versus their non-disabled peers each day. Because sometimes when you have understanding, that helps and we’re not looking for sympathy and we’re not looking for a handout, we’re just looking for equal and level treatment.

And sometimes when people understand, I’ve heard some of my friends who are wheelchair users say, “If I have to be at work at eight o’clock, I have to wake up at four o’clock. My personal care attendant comes around five. Then I have to do my whole routine.” Their personal care. And then that leaves them a window of time to get to whatever public transit system, if it’s running reliably so that they’re at their desk by eight. So that gives you some understanding that that’s just one aspect of our lives. I mean, John and I have to think through everything from vacations to if we go to visit an organization we’re speaking with, okay, where’s the accessible entrance? How do we make sure if there’re steps? So these are the types of things that we have to troubleshoot, which makes people with disabilities very resourceful in solving problems. Sir, is there anything you’d like to add to that?

JOHN KEMP: You’re so good. I wouldn’t think of… You’ve nailed it. Perfect.

CARMEN JONES: Okay. John, what would you say are some of the stereotypes that people have of us? We talked a little bit about it, but are there any others?

JOHN KEMP: I think the generalizing just, if you have a physical disability, you obviously don’t want to have the intellectual capability or some other aspects that it just becomes, it just washes over your entire body and being, and the generalizations occur. So that’s just wrong. And I think hopefully we’ve gotten smart enough to know not to do that, but that’s really still out there. And some people still live with that.

CARMEN JONES: Right. Let’s talk about some things that our friends on today’s Zoom call can do to become, to build their disability confidence. You want to start off, sir?

JOHN KEMP: Well, I see my friend, Marcy Albacore, and I, first of all, Marcy, it’s great to see you. And I think so much of you and Encore and all that you stand for. And I think you do find allies and friends in various wonderful places. And presence, just our presence in everyday life is an education for everyone around us. And this can lead unfortunately to a phrase that I’m not going to try to shock you with, but it’s this inspiration point can be the extreme, inspiration porn. Right. “You’re so amazing. How are you at this baseball game? I can’t believe it. It’s so good to see you at a movie.” And we’re like, “Please, we’re just doing what you’re doing.” And we try not to embarrass people, but this is sometimes people go to the extreme of saying, it’s just so incredible.

It is nice to be appreciated, be a part of society. But if it goes, if it tips too far, then we’ve kind of lost the equality factor and we’re now put up on a pedestal for something, but it’s probably not going to be that we’re going to be a workmate. We’re just going to be somebody that you admired for that moment. So just a few random neural firings there, Carmen.

CARMEN JONES: Nothing like if you random neural firings. I would add to that around the whole notion of inspiration porn where people think we’re brave. We’re not only amazing. They’ll say, “You’re such an inspiration.” Or they’ll say things like, “Wow, when I see how John and Carmen get around, I have nothing to complain about.” That’s a form of inspiration porn. I mean, it’s that comparison. And if we did not have a disability, you would not be thinking of us in that way. So people deserve to be seen based on their merits and what they contribute and not the fact that they just show up and have a disability, and that’s an amazing thing. Let’s hit on ableism John, what is your definition?

JOHN KEMP: Well, it’s an ism like racism. It’s highly offensive. And it architecture, thoughtless planning, the environment, the inaccessible, information and communication technologies can all be ableist. And the assumption that you have to have certain physical mental and emotional capabilities presumptively, to be able to accomplish things without thinking through what is it that is minimally required to do a job satisfactorily, that’s ableism in its worst form. And you see it every day, you see it in the way things are built and the policies that are approved and government is probably the leader in ableist and we try to work on getting government behaving properly. And I hope everybody votes on Tuesday.

CARMEN JONES: Yes, yes. We’ll leave that there.

JOHN KEMP: I’m not going to make this political, but I’m just saying vote, please.

CARMEN JONES: Please, please. Our people need you to vote. Okay. So and in my view if I could leave you with this, not necessarily defining it in terms, people with disabilities do not need fixing, there’s this medical model that of course there are things we need to do to be healthy. And of course, when I was first became a wheelchair user, I sought out all sorts of treatments for therapy to see if there was any opportunity to regenerate my spinal cord so I could get some movement back, but I want you all to abandon the notion that we need to be fixed. And so ableism is wrapped around that, that we need to be fixed to help you feel more comfortable with us and for us to have to take on your perceptions of what we can and cannot do.

So if we’re fixed, then there’s no discomfort. There’s no hesitancy in hiring us. So the whole thing that I guess, John and I want to stress is that meet people where they are in terms of being an ally. If you make a mistake, own it, just own it, and just view people for what they can contribute as a friend, as a potential partner, as an employee, as a peer, not making the disability a big deal. When John and I described ourselves at the beginning, we shared a lot of things about ourselves. Our disability is just a dimension of who we are. It doesn’t, while we have to give some thought to things, trust me, I watched… John and I laughed. I watch Schitt’s Creek, just like you all. I put money in my daughter’s bank debit card just like you all do for your kids.

I drive, I vacation. We do the same thing. So just realize that people just want to be seen for their value and what they can do. And I think another thing about becoming an ally is just as you build rapport with people who have disabilities, asking questions, so you can understand how many of you, especially black people who are on this Zoom, after George Floyd’s murder, you had your white peers come to you and say, “Are you okay? Can we talk?” I mean, I see nods, I mean, so it’s the same thing. They’re trying to become an ally. They’re trying to bridge their understanding and it’s the same thing with disability. So I got those questions as well. All right. Let’s close with language because we’re running out of time. So I know that a lot of times people can get all wrapped up around what to say. Do we say differently able, do we say physically challenged? John, in your view, what is the best lexicon around disability inclusion?

JOHN KEMP: Yeah, I think if you need to identify someone as having a disability, there’s sort of a split between calling people, people with disabilities using people first language or using the adjective, disabled persons. And one of the absolute leaders in our disability community globally is Judy Heumann. And she is all for using disabled people, disabled person, the adjective and so it does leave you with a little bit of confusion. If you want to see a great film, look at Crip Camp where she stars. But we’ve come from cripple to handicap, to people with disabilities or disabled people. I don’t see us going any further other than only when it’s necessary and important that you identify someone with a disability, that’s just my thought.

CARMEN JONES: Yup. And I would say the words that you would want to avoid that are very out of date are handicapped. The euphemistic terms, which I focused on, and I know some companies have employing all abilities or differently abled, and we’re not going to get wrapped around the axe on that, but I would suggest, and we would suggest that generally in your day-to-day dealings use people first language. And you’re fine.

JOHN KEMP: Jennifer, thank you for having both of us. And we both admire you greatly and you’ve got a great group of people that are following you and include us in.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, you are a part of our other family. Absolutely.

Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work. And discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

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