A New Social Contract: Centering Disability in the Future of Work

A New Social Contract: Centering Disability in the Future of Work

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VOICE OVER: Welcome. and thank you for joining A New Social Contract: a conversation on centering disability and the future of work. Throughout this program we will provide live audio descriptions, like you're hearing right now, for each shared slide. Each screen in today's presentation features a black slide with a white Ford Foundation logo in the upper left-hand corner, and green and white text.

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Thank you. Our program will begin with a video. Please reference the participation guide to access the clip in our fully accessible video player, able player. The slide on your screen is black and features a white Ford Foundation logo in the upper left-hand corner and green and white text reading welcome, Darren Walker, President Ford Foundation. Please welcome Darren Walker.

DARREN WALKER: Good afternoon. And welcome. I am so delighted that you are all here and thank you, Dessa Cosma, who is the executive director of the Detroit disability power organization, a very impactful Ford grantee there in Detroit.

I'm Darren Walker. I get to serve as President of the Ford Foundation, and today I am here. I am an African-American man wearing eyeglasses. I have on a brown shirt, a brown and blue checked -- Sorry, a brown cardigan, a brown and blue checked shirt, and I am in my home office.

I have book shelves around me. We're so proud to welcome you today to this conversation which centers disability, in conversations about the future of work, and for us it is not just about the future of work, but the future of workers, and disability and people with disabilities. Workers with disabilities must be at the center of that conversation, we believe.

Our future work grant making aims to build power, because ultimately it is about power, and Covid has revealed for us how often people with disabilities, workers with disabilities, are marginalized in conversations about the future of work, employment and labor policy. And so for us, the population we have been most focused on includes, of course, people with disabilities, but Black, indigenous, Latinx, other people of color, women, transgender and queer people, immigrants, because we know that the ableism that infects and is the scourge in our society is deeply rooted and manifests in ways in which work is organized, policies are written, and implemented, which often exclude people with disabilities. Now, there are many reasons that we're proud at the Ford Foundation of the numerous disability rights and justice organizations we support, and we saw the impact of some of those organizations more recently last spring, when the emergency paid family leave provisions excluded leave to care for disabled family members. And it was the advocacy of so many of those organizations, working collaboratively across sectors and certainly across the portfolio of Ford Foundation grantees that helped to bring a positive outcome and continued advance as we move into a new era with new possibilities for the future of work and centering disability in that conversation. We believe a healthy economy has to work for everyone.

And work at the Ford Foundation is indeed to ensure that we all have safe, healthy, workplace environments, where all workers have disability accommodation, unemployment benefits, healthcare, paid leave, PPE, job security, and ultimately higher pay and wages. This is what we are here to talk about today, and this is what we believe in at the Ford Foundation. I'm so grateful on behalf of all of my colleagues to welcome you and thank you for your hard work.

So, it is now my pleasure to welcome Day Al-Mohamed, disability rights leader and supervisory policy analyst for the US Department of Labor, who will be leading us through this afternoon's conversation. Thank you. VOICE OVER: The slide on your screen reads, "In conversation, Taryn Williams, Center for American Progress, Teresa Danso-Danquah, Disability:IN, moderator Day Al-Mohamed, US Department of Labor."

We welcome the speakers at this time. DAY AL-MOHAMED: Fantastic. Thank you, and thank you, Darren and the Ford Foundation for your fantastic welcome. As mentioned, my name is Day al-Mohamed, and I'm the moderator for today coming to you from Washington, DC, the ancestral lands of the Piscataway tribes, the Pamunkey and Anacostan tribes.

My pronouns are she/her. I'm an Arab-American woman in my home office with the ubiquitous book case behind me, and I'm actually wearing my favorite blue shirt and gray blazer. And today we have a couple of really amazing guests that I am so proud to be able to share with you, Taryn Williams and Teresa Danso-Danquah, and I want to give them just maybe a quick moment to introduce themselves and their work.

Teresa, if you would like to go first? DANSO-DANQUAH: Thanks, Day. Hi, everyone. My name is Teresa Danso-Danquah. My pronouns are she/her. I'm an African-American woman, wearing a red turtleneck and red lipstick and sitting in front of a white wall.

I am coming to you from Delaware and with the Disability:IN organization where I lead the next gen initiatives for college students and students with disabilities. TARYN WILLIAMS: Hello, everyone. I am Taryn Williams. My pronouns are she/her. I am a Black woman, sitting in my home office in Washington, DC. I have on a blue scarf and glasses, and I am the managing director of the poverty to prosperity program at the center for American progress.

AL-MOHAMED: Great. So I was thinking a great place to begin might be with Dessa's video. That's what we all started with. In it, one thing she talks about is about how some of the efforts to address poverty and economic justice and disability. Disability is just not considered and as a result, an entire population is further marginalized.

And I was hoping that you might elaborate on that a bit more, what she is saying. What are these current solutions and how are they actually harmful to people with disabilities, just maybe to give us a shared baseline and some shared common assumptions. And, Taryn, I know you have some fantastic information on that. So we'll start with you. WILLIAMS: Sure. Thanks, Day. Let me start by thanking the Ford Foundation for having me, and for the continued unwavering commitment to disability justice.

Thinking about this question makes me reflect on a quote or really a statement that I read over a decade ago that was particularly revelatory for me, so much so that I come back to it again and again in my work. And it is that disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty. We know it causes poverty because it can lead to job loss and depressed earnings, it can lead to barriers in education, and there can be significant additional expenses sometimes called the disability tax by the community that leads to increased economic hardship.

It is also a consequence of poverty, because we know it can limit access to healthcare and preventative services and it also increases the likelihood that a person lives and works in an environment that may adversely affect their health. I think that is one of the most devastating stories that have continued to emerge, frankly, from this pandemic. So I start there, in part, because if there is nothing else, we sort of highlight today and you heard this in the video, it is foremost, if you're doing economic justice work and it doesn't include disability, then you're not fully pursuing economic justice. The unavoidable reality of disability is that it is inextricably linked with our fight against policies and practices that penalize individuals because of their economic status.

So you asked about solutions, and I want to give an example of something that is playing out in real time, something that has led nearly every conversation or meeting I've had in the last several days. And it is in this moment, advocates are fighting for economic justice, and I include myself among them. And we believe we are on the cusp of winning a battle that has been waged for a long time around raising the minimum wage.

With the recent change in the political landscape, the fight for a fair wage is really accelerating, and the good thing about this is that people with disabilities are at the table. So for a long time this was a fight that played out in silos. We had sort of battles to change wage structure, where we had the broader progressive community really fighting for economic justice and fighting to raise the minimum wage, and at the same time, we had the disability community really fighting to eliminate the subminimum wage that segregated an outdated structure that allows people with disabilities to get paid pennies on the dollar. If we're not engaged in that fight together, something that we have seen in so many different fights that we have had on a national and state level policy front is that we're often, as the disability community, sort of we're forgotten or we're carved out of a solution or, worse, we find ourselves talking about the unintended consequences or the harm that is caused by policies that get enacted.

So I'm giving you that example because I think when we're talking about future of work, one of the sort of contours of the conversation is how do we fight for jobs that are higher quality? How do we fight for jobs that are higher wages? How do we fight for jobs that are more equitable? And we know that if we're not including people with disabilities from the start in conversations about wages, then we may just leave some minimum wage off the table. Or if we're not fully including people with disabilities, then we might fail to do something that the disability community knows is so important, which is to include in any legislation that is enacted the capacity to help ensure that people with disabilities will be able to transition into competitive integrated employment. It is not enough to simply raise the wage or to simply eliminate the subminimum wage. We need to add capacity to the system to ensure that people will be able to transition into fully competitive integrated employment. So that's just an example of a fight that's really central to a lot of the conversations that we're having around economic justice right now where we know and we see why people with disabilities need to be centered. There are many others that talk through what the shape of a job looks like, the technologies that we need, and we know that if we're not including people with disabilities in our conversations about the technology, then oftentimes we'll see the rapid development, deployment and touting of social platforms that are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

The very technology that could be used to really transform the workplace and make it more inclusive, in fact, serves as another barrier. I could give a lot of different examples, but I'm going to sort of pause myself here and I know go back to you and Day and Teresa to respond to this as well. AL-MOHAMED: No, I think that's a great point. when you were talking about technology, it reminded me of how so many places will work to make maybe their technology accessible on the consumer side, but they never think to make it accessible on the back end for that way they can actually Even hire people with disabilities to actually work because they never bothered to make it that way because they weren't thinking about people with disabilities as employees, merely as consumers. I think that's a really great point that you make. I love that disability is a cause and a consequence of poverty, And I think keeping that kind of up front means that this is your audience.

If you don't, you're missing out. Just some fantastic points there. Teresa, I'm kind of curious on what your take is, because I know you come at it from a slightly different angle. DANSO-DANQUAH: Sure, this is Teresa speaking. I definitely echo a lot of the points that Taryn made. I really think there is a need to really center the disabled experience, and identity and the work on economic justice, on anti-poverty, on disability justice as well.

But within that, you also can't take a one size fits all approach. The disability community is very diverse within there and there is the intersection of multiple identities of being Black and disabled, Latina and disabled, LGBT and disabled. And so how do you make sure that your policies and practice serve the entirety of the disability community and not but one size fits approach? I think there is a spectrum of where we are in that journey towards disability justice, and I think it really does come it play when we think about things like minimum wage and subminimum wage and trying not to operate in silos, but how do we find that community and that connective work.

And I think that's something that we think about a lot at Disability:IN we're working with corporations and organizations to be able to increase their disability inclusion, not just for their internal workforce, but also for the marketplace and the consumers that they serve and then also the supply chain that they look at within their company's operation. So I definitely think there is a lot of work to still be done, but I think it happens at the intersection of multiple identities that I think the disability community is already working on, where oftentimes leadership in the disability community can often be very monolithic, but doesn't mean we have to end there in looking at the variety of people that can identify as a person with disabilities and join this community at any time. I think we've seen from Covid that that number is also continuing to increase of the incidents of disability as well. So it is definitely a pressing topic for all of us to consider.

AL-MOHAMED: Fantastic. I'm actually kind of curious, because I know you guys work a lot with corporations and businesses on that side, including business who would be potential employers. What do you see is the biggest or the most common thing that tends to come up when these conversations take place? DANSO-DANQUAH: I definitely think it begins with companies first recognizing disability as part of diversity. I think that's often the starting point for many is we worked on diversity from a racial and gender perspective, but, again, it's that intersection of multiple marginalized people that also have a disability as well and fit into those categories. So once we kind of bring them on that journey of recognizing the importance, it is also then of how can inclusion begin.

And I think there is definitely a level of education and anti-ableism training that needs to happen, and as well as setting the language of interacting with disability, communicating to the community, and I think that happens when you also hire people with disabilities. So we kind of work on those aspects that we can be able to have representation and be at the table, and have not only change within an organization, but its products and services to the community as well. AL-MOHAMED: And I like how that, in many ways, that connects a little bit with what Taryn was talking about. The idea is employment, the work to do with regard to the transitioning to that kind of ideal paid wage, intergrated competitive employment that's part of that.

So that kind of gives us a picture of kind of what's going on in the world. Obviously, since March of last year, things have changed dramatically. And I love that, as Darren put it, Covid revealed how disability has been left out, even though Covid changed the way we people work. Employers are reconsidering how their businesses operate. Of course, that is only for those who are fortunate to be able to continue work, but for so many others, that's not been possible. So I'm wondering, if you could give us a bit of a picture of what that has actually meant for people with disabilities in the employment arena? What's going on now? You said it is revealed more about disability, disability employment and some of the issues we have there, and I know we've all read articles about some of the changes, but there's this understanding that it impacts employment and health and transportation.

But I don't know if I see a good picture about how it connects to disability. And so this time I'm going to pick on you, Teresa, to go first. DANSO-DANQUAH: Thanks, Day.

This is Teresa speaking, And I definitely think Covid has I think widened the disparity of both the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate and just employment in general. I think, typically, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of the nondisabled population, and along with Covid increasing unemployment overall across the board in 2020. I think it has kind of gone a little bit down the end of 2020, but we're still seeing that disparity still exists to where people with disabilities are still unemployed higher than people without disabilities. And the same thing is still stark with the labor force participation rate. How many people are actively seeking work or working and that is often only 20 percent, I believe, for people with disabilities actually actively participating in the labor force, compared to almost 70 percent of nondisabled people.

And so it is a stark contrast when we think about in a normal economy, and in the economy that we have right now, where anywhere kind of far from that, and so how do we make sure that we do have kind of a safety net and protections for people with disabilities in the workplace. We're definitely seeing a transition at least, both on I see it in college students and recent graduates, people who are just now entering the workforce or just been in the workforce for only a couple of years being able to face the realities of either transitioning from college to the workforce and that transition of now needing to be working more remotely, or being able to work through hiring freezes at many of the companies we work with, we're dealing with in 2020. But then it is also the accommodations piece, too. I think that's one thing that's been kind of a benefit or a side effect of the Covid pandemic is that we have had to work virtually and how does that affect the workplace when not all companies are being accessible digitally and have had to kind of face that forefront pretty quickly in transition, whether it's accommodations for virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to just accommodations of being able to work remotely from your home and not in the office space.

It's definitely affected all levels of employment, but I think it's something that we've touched on a little bit at Disability:IN, is how does it affect both the employers who are grappling with these issues of hiring, and keeping their workforce afloat, but also people with disabilities who are looking for that job or looking to keep their jobs as well. AL-MOHAMED: Yeah. So, basically it sounds like things are pretty busy for you guys, because while the unemployment rates have kind of stayed the same, there has definitely been more of an interest at looking what are ways because of the changes in the way people work. There's been interest in looking how that impacts disability. I'm trying to make sure I understood right, or am I putting words in your mouth? DANSO-DANQUAH: No.

That's definitely true. We're recognizing the need to center the perspective of people with disabilities, as we see the fluctuations in unemployment and unemployment for people without disabilities as well. I think generally when an overall impact is happening to our economy, we kind of focus on what is that typical norm, and oftentimes people consider a disability outside of that and think of it as an afterthought as Taryn mentioned. But really when you work for and try to include people with disabilities at the core, you work for and include everyone. And so it is keeping that mindset when we think about who is most impacted by a pandemic that's targeting people with disabilities and people who are immunocompromised, but also the effect on people who are Black, Latinx, who are all disproportionately affected as well.

AL-MOHAMED: Thank you. So, Taryn, I would love to get some of your thoughts on this as well. What are some of the things we're seeing with regard to some of the poverty and economic work THAT you do that has been a direct result of the pandemic as it applies to disability employment, the ways people with disabilities can be included in work and also the ways they cannot work because of this.

WILLIAMS: Sure. This is Taryn Williams speaking again, and I will just pick up really and continue to amplify what Teresa shared, because we know that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on people with disabilities in the workforce, right. We started with a workforce and environment where people with disabilities were unemployed, underemployed or not even in the workforce. And that was due to number of barriers that existed.

It was due to systemic challenges, a lot of stigma that existed, and sort of fast-forward into the pandemic, and record job loss and unemployment and people with disabilities, particularly those who have intersectional identities have been impacted the most. We're talking about the sectors that have been the most devastated by the pandemic where we see a lot of the disability community. That could be in retail, that could be in hospitality. When we start to think about what an economic recovery looks like, we know that a lot of those conversations about recovery will have to and should be centering the people with disabilities who were some of the first to get let go. I think what we need to do, both from I would say a cross multiple sector, those of us who are doing economic justice work, those of us really pushing policy at a national level and employers, is amplified the messages that we had about the barriers and how to break down the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from being hired. To give a concrete example.

The disability community and our allies have spent years addressing some of the myths that suggest that accommodations are expensive when in fact we know that they average around $500 or that oftentimes they can be free. And as we move into a new world where we are already having to address some of these stereotypes and this, to be frank, we're going to have to even escalate that message even more because we know that Covid-19 has really transformed and touched millions upon millions of people across our entire population in the US. So I would simply say there is a need for every sector to really focus on what steps they need to take in order to ensure that we're centering people with disabilities in the conversations about economic recovery, because if we don't, then we'll see, again, poor policy. we'll see perhaps employers being held exempt from some of those really hard fought equity standards that we put into law over the last several decades. We might see a retreat from some of the gains that we had started to make prior to the pandemic. So we have got a bit of the carrot and the stick approach, which is working with employers to ensure that they're centering disability and they're thinking about how their workforce is being -- or their workplace is being transformed by the pandemic and making sure folks aren't getting excluded.

But also a little bit of that stick in making sure we're enforcing in any large packages, any legislation that will get enacted over the next several months, that we're looking for every opportunity there to hold folks accountable for continuing along this journey of really including people with disabilities in the workforce. AL-MOHAMED: I think that's actually a really great key point because people talked about the changes that have taken place because of Covid, but you're right, as we move into recovery, things are going to change again. And it is incumbent on all of us, all of us here and I know all of you in your teams, to actually make sure that any of those changes include disability as part of the thinking. Otherwise we're just re-creating those kinds of systemic barriers that were there in the beginning. I guess with the current administration, the build back, you want to make sure the better is in there.

So, we've done past and we've talked a little bit about the the present and what's going on currently with Covid, and you started to hint about the idea of the future and recovery. So I'm, like, yes, so let's jump right into this whole future thing. Covid has been a disrupter for economic and our employment system, and I guess the thing is rapid changing of the way we work permanently. And this is where you hinted at some of it, and so a part of me goes, "I want to get into something a little more nitty-gritty on the what are things we should keep, what are things we should get rid of, what are things that need to be taken further? And I'm going to go ahead and start with Taryn this time.

WILLIAMS: Sure. This is Taryn speaking, and you were talking about what's been disrupted since the start of the pandemic. And I actually want to go back to a word that has been used I think at least twice in our conversation thus far. We talked about ableism, and I want to talk a little bit about disruption of ableism, but before I do that, I want to give a definition of it, because I think we often throw around the term, but don't work with the shared understanding of what we mean. And to do that I'm going to actually reference someone in our community. So this is not a definition that I own.

This is something that T.L. Lewis, an advocate in our community, that they have defined and continue to define. It's a working definition of ableism.

And it states, I'm going to read it because it's quite important, but it is a system that places values on people's bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity. It goes on to explain that the definition that the system is rooted in anti-Blackness, colonialism and imperialism, and that it is a systemic oppression that leads to a people and a society determining who is valuable and worthwhile based on their language, appearance, religion, and their ability to satisfactorily produce, excel and behave. And I think about ableism quite a bit because we talk about it so much in the work that we do as disability advocates. And one sort of concrete way that's played out in workplaces across the country is in the policies and the norms that have prevented us from having or being able to take lead even when our health demanded it. I would say prepandemic, I would often find myself, just speaking from a personal experience, but I know this is replicated across the nation, fighting against a culture that advocates for showing up and producing at all costs.

Sort of regardless of our physical and mental health needs, we privilege and celebrated individuals who would unfailingly arrive each day at work and labor for long hours without breaks, and sort of brag about one's ability to perform without pause. Think about those workplaces where we celebrate folks for attendance, right? So this played out across any number of sectors and across multiple social economic classes. It played out in occupations where paid sick and family leave were not guaranteed. And it played out in occupations where there was leave, however in the latter, we knew that employees were often encouraged by their workplaces and by their culture to show up sick, regardless of what it meant for that individual, or for the people around them. I don't want to say that we are by any means past this point, but what I have seen since the start of the pandemic is a slight changing of the narrative about what it means to show up to the work when we are not physically or mentally well, my word, well. What it means to be an essential worker place and not have access to the emergency leave, to paid leave, in order to take care of one's self.

I'm not naive to think that the glimmers of the change or the disruption in that system. Even the legislation that has passed most recently, both in emergency leave that has been put into place, that that will transform and we'll never have to have this conversation again. But I do think that as a result of this pandemic, we're really starting to have a different type of conversation about what needs to happen with respect to leave and how important it is to have it, not only for your family, but sort of your chosen family in order to take care of one's self. So, again, I'm looking at this from the economic justice perspective and understanding that part of the fight that we're engaged in as a disability community is fighting for the actual high quality wages and benefits that we need in order to thrive in the workplace. AL-MOHAMED: There is so much in that, like, I have three different strands I want to follow. I actually think that's a really great example, and it's based in kind of the assumptions and cultural values, the things we don't even think about that are connected to the ideas of productivity and expectations in the workplace and we don't ever think to question that maybe there is something wrong with that idea of how we measure.

And maybe this is our chance to look at that and go, maybe we need to find a better system to do that. This is one of those very first simple steps, which is the fact that being able to have that time and space to take care of yourself, to take care of those you love, to actually improve individuals so they can actually be. It's not just about being better contributors, but also having better lives, because isn't that what all of the success, all of the idea of justice and equity is about, right? It's about giving everyone better lives, so thank you.

And at some point, I'm going to make you reread that definition again because that is absolutely powerful. Teresa, I want to give you a chance about this, because I know you have ideas about where things are going and I know you have an eye on and the ear of some of the way corporate has worked with these things and what they're looking at going into the future. DANSO-DANQUAH: This is Teresa speaking. I definitely think this pandemic has really just opened our eyes to what we really need to be doing to change workplaces to be more inclusive for people with disabilities. I think one of those ways is the way that we work, so flexible work environments and the fact that we're even able to work remotely from home in some occupations, and I think that's something that has been a previous comment accommodation that people with disabilities have requested in the past and often have been denied based on workplace policies that really prioritize being in person and being in that open space kind of layout or format Not saying that ubiquitously it's across the board, everyone has been denied for flexible work arrangements in the past, but I think we have seen definitely an unprecedented amount of being able to work from home and companies that are realizing that that is a benefit that moving forward from the pandemic they would like to keep as well. And so we're definitely seeing that in the tech industry.

We're seeing that in other companies as well as how do we able to encourage people to live their best life and be able to produce the work they need to for their jobs, but also recognize that they can do that anywhere. And how does that then increase who can be participating in the workforce if they have flexibility to be able to work from home. That is something that we definitely are keeping eye on.

That would be a benefit for people with disabilities to be in more location independent in how they're searching for their next job. I think the other area that we're seeing a focus on for corporations is on the mental well-being and mental health of their workers. I think companies are now realizing the value of mental health benefits and programming and opportunities in the workplace, and that's something for anyone regardless of their disability.

But essentially making sure there is parody in the benefits that they're offering to take care of that need as well. And so I think a lot of times we're seeing that there is more openness into discussing mental well-being and mental health from a top-down approach, from leadership and prioritizing that. And that is a very great sign in being able to increase the variety of other disabilities that you may have as well that will also be prioritized when we begin to speak up and not be held back by stigma on talking about these issues, whether from an internalized ableism perspective or in general from the stigma that society places on people of mental illnesses in society and in the workplace particularly. So those two areas are something that I'm really excited about. I think the other area too is that when we talk about flexible work environments and working from home, while we definitely quickly have been able to adapt to that, I think we do have to keep in mind accessibility and really starting from the ground up in accessibility.

It is not just on the platforms that we use, which we do need to make sure are also accessible, but the way that we communicate, the way that we have ASL, captioning, CART, all the other transcripts, audio descriptions, so many other accessibility measures that help people fully bring their whole selves to work. And how can we embed this from the start so it's no longer putting the onus on the person with disability to request these accommodations but they're seen as part of a natural inclusive workforce and workplace that has these already built in. So I think that's another thing we have to keep in mind is that we can quickly transition to being able to offer this flexible work environment, and I think companies are very open to that, but how do we make sure that we hold their feet to the fire on making sure they're accessible in doing that and not leaving that as an after thought in their speed to become more flexible.

AL-MOHAMED: So, I actually have a question. I know Taryn was talking about policy and legislative solutions, and I'm really curious about what you're seeing actually on, say, the private industry side on how they're sharing these practices and sharing the recommendations saying, "Hey, this is something you should be paying attention to," to encourage other companies to take on some of these ideas and these more, basically at the end of the day, productive policies that support the well-being of their employees. DANSO-DANQUAH: Yeah, disability, and that's something that we really see ourselves in doing is being a connector and a convener of bringing companies together within industries and across industries as well to be able to have these conversations and share best practices that they're seeing that apply not only to their workforce, but to other companies and competitors as well. I think the way that we approached it is having listening circles where we convene companies together in leadership together to talk through these issues and to share best practices. I think that's where we have been able to see some progress in the hospitality industry and the tech industry as well. I definitely think there is some leaders in this space of at least having the commitment to being inclusive for people with disabilities.

Of course, Microsoft comes to mind, and then there is other great companies that are taking great initiatives, both for their workforce and for their products. And so they're being open about where they are in their journey, and no company is perfect and no one is doing it right, but the more that we increase the openness and share these practices and share the experiences of disabled employees, the more we can see that progress in the future. I think as everyone's being affected in different ways by this, I think we have seen this more openness to just be acknowledging that we're not doing this all right, but how can organizations like Disability:IN be the ones calling them to help other companies and help other people with disabilities be able to leverage the opportunity to work at those companies when they are trying to be more inclusive. AL-MOHAMED: Great. Thank you.

Now we're getting to my favorite part of the discussion, alright? And this is the one I think for many of you out there watching this, this is -- Well, I'm hoping you heard her too, which is we're looking at those concrete action steps. Well, this is great. How do we make it happen? How can we leverage this Covid disruption in a way to work towards greater inclusiveness? What are some specific steps that we can take to address poverty, to actually work towards greater economic justice? And I'm going to ping this one to Taryn first. WILLIAMS: Sure. This is Taryn speaking again, pronouns she/her.

There are a lot of different things that we could talk about, and really it depends on the audience. I would first say. I tend to think about this from a policy perspective, but I would say to funders that one thing that I think is important to keep in mind is if you're going to do this work, one question you should be asking is are you holding your grantees responsible for their disability related outcomes? If you're funding services, are you collecting data on the number of people with disabilities served? if your funding systems change, how are you holding your grantees accountable for the shifts and hopefully the improvement in equity and the addressing of inequality related to disability? We talk a lot about how if you don't have an explicit process for really measuring something, then typically means we don't have a good plan for improving it.

So I would just frame whatever I'm saying today and sort of as we go into the Q&A with the point that everyone has a role in ensuring that disability is included and is centered in conversations about the future of the workforce. I've already talked about some of the concrete steps that we could do, so raising the minimum wage, and working to phase out subminimum wage for all is an important one. And being part of the advocacy for not only getting rid of subminimum wage, but ensuring that there is essential capacity building resources that will help those employers and more importantly the employees be able to transition into competitive integrated employment. We also know the future of work in order for it to really lead to economic security means ensuring that we got comprehensive and inclusive paid family and sick leave and guaranteed access to accessible and affordable child care. Without those, we're not yet talking about high quality jobs.

We're not yet talking about the type of work that can ensure a secure future for people with disabilities. There are other sort of large policy areas I think are particularly important. Ensuring adequate housing, ensuring that it is both affordable and accessible, ensuring you're engaged in conversations about accessible transportation, making sure that in rural and urban areas alike that we're not under resourcing or defunding resources like paratransit, which can be an important piece of the employment conversation. And I would be remiss, I wouldn't be a disability advocate if I didn't say that in the midst of the conversations that we're having right now, we're still very much in the middle of a pandemic, and we're talking not only about the sort of pivoting to economic recovery, but we're still talking about relief and sort of the steady drumbeat of our community throughout these conversations is ensuring that individuals have access to home and community-based services in order to be able to thrive in their communities so they aren't forced to live in institutions and congregate settings.

I say that is a very important part of the conversation about employment as well because we're truly talking about economic justice and we're talking about disability justice and we're defining that in part by being able to live and thrive in your communities, and home and community-based services is a part of that conversation. And it is something that the disability community has advocated quite a bit for, quite a bit, sort of unwavering and persistence would be how would I define the advocacy. I haven't yet seen it really be taken up in arms by the broader progressive community as we fight for relief and recovery. So I would add that too as a policy area where I would like to see more collective action. The same type of collective action that we're seeing around wages, the same type of collective action that I know we've seen and will continue to see around building worker power.

Those are some of the concrete things that I would love to see, both on the part of advocates, certainly on the part of government, but also from the funders who are supporting those on the ground who are really pushing for this to get done. AL-MOHAMED: That is a list, and that is a list of some actually very, very concrete things. Thank you.

Teresa, do you have anything to add to that list? DANSO-DANQUAH: Yes, this is Teresa speaking. I definitely think the three areas that can also be focused on as well is education, communication, and amplification is how I would bucket them. I think first, with education, it really starts with educating your organization, your staff, your contractors, your grantees, as Taryn mentioned, to be able to understand the language and the community of disability and the pressing issues that we're facing.

I think it is often obvious to us as advocates, but many people who are just not aware of this space have not had exposure, even despite people with disabilities being the largest minority group in the US, but there's just a lack of awareness and education still needed within your organization as a foundation or as a grant-giving organization. I would say starting there, and also sending that to the people that you do award grants to as well and increasing that education and awareness there. I would say the next thing too is also communication. Oftentimes, people with disabilities are left out of representation in our communication media assets and imagery and the events that you're holding, and if you're wishing to receive what you're seeking, you often need to have representation and that often comes from having people with disabilities at the table when you're creating your work, when you're advertising your work, when you're seeking grantees.

So making sure that that is accessible, as we touched on earlier, but also making sure that you have disability represented as well. And then last is amplifying the work of disabled access and organizations that are on the ground are nationally doing this work. Invite and hold space for communication and events and disabled groups to be able to be at the table, and leading the charge in this work. Understand where you are in this journey, and the need to amplify and center the voices of disabled activists first and then be a connector and convener of other organizations to be able to be in the space. I know Taryn mentioned Talila Lewis. I think Darren mentioned the Detroit Disability Power.

There's many great organizations and activists that are leading this work on the ground, and how can we make sure that we are amplifying the work that's happening in grassroots organizations. I think in addition to the policies that Taryn mentioned that we're advocating for, how do you create education awareness of those issues? How do you fund those organizations that are working on those issues, and how do you amplify their voices and center their voices first? AL-MOHAMED: Wow. That's a fantastic list. And if you guys will give me a moment for moderator privilege, I actually would like to take a moment and go back through some of the specific things you said that I took notes on because I actually think they were so good, they're so powerful and they're things I think people, one, I think you should do, but, two, they are easy things that can be done. Let me start with number one, which is collect data on disability.

Just basic data collection. What gets measured gets done, and that's very much a truth to that. The second part was holding grantees accountable. There is a tremendous amount of leverage that comes from being the funder. People will do it because you have requested it. And so you have the ability to actually drive that change because anyone who receives funding from you has the ability to then follow that.

We have the idea of -- the specific mention of working with folks on increasing the minimum wage and eliminating subminimum wage, and the two are inextricably linked. And I know, as a part of that, is kind of doing that advocacy, which I know relates to kind of the amplification, I think, very much that, Teresa, which is that recognition that there are folks in groups that are doing this and doing it already in their disability organizations. There is an opportunity to join and partner and center and amplify the voices because you do have connections and networks that folks may not have access to, and that is sharing that privilege. There is work about advocating and working with building with employers and employment and that transition point. I think that was something that Taryn mentioned specifically. The key points around paid family leave and sick leave and child care, because at the end of the day, there is no way to even get to the idea of work and being successful at work when there is something that makes that impossible.

And we talk about so many people who are impacted by this, and it's something that has been done in many ways so easily in other countries that we should find better ways to value our employees and their families. So I know that was a bit, and then the idea of housing access and public transportation because infrastructure connects all of these things. And if you don't look at that and say, "We don't do that," then you are actually making your own mission more difficult. And I know that the home and community-based services, you'll hear that drumbeat from the community because it is all about having the power to lead your own life, and if you cannot live in your community and with folks, then there is no way to step forward on any other way.

So I think those were some very powerful things to talk about. And the education, the simple things. I love, Teresa, representation, it is a great question. Do we have any people with disabilities in our organization? You know? How does that work? Is it representative? Does it show up in our images? It's kind of that part of self-reflection that has to be a part of any and every organization. I think that's a big part of it.

I love the idea, the self-reflection, how you communicated, because it's all about making a place welcoming, and for it to be welcoming, you have to take those actions yourself first. And I love that last bit, which I actually will re-emphasize again, which is the amplification. I hope everybody leaves here ready to go out and save the world. this is about the future of work, the future of workers, and we're going to seek that for everybody, but also to recognize that while you may always want to swoop in on the white knight, there are also folks who are doing the work and they know these communities intimately, and that lifting up those voices and centering them is something that is probably better to do and probably much more effective in the long run.

It's the idea of centering those voices. I think I hit everybody's bullet points, Teresa, Taryn, if there's anything I left out that you would like to re-emphasize? WILLIAMS: No, not at this time. AL-MOHAMED: I took notes. I thought I got everything, so thank you, guys, so much.

I really appreciate everything that you said. There is so much and so much more I want to ask, but unfortunately that is all the time we have for my questions. And so this is where we're going to open up the space for everyone else's questions, and for any meaningful exchange to occur, every online and offline presentation needs a dialogue.

For those of you out there, please remember to put your questions specifically in the Q&A box. Right now we'll be joined by Sarita Gupta, who is the director of the Future of Workers strand here at the Ford Foundation, who will be helping to field your questions and then actually make some closing remarks. So, this is your time, and we can't wait to hear what you have to say. VOICE OVER: The slide on your screen reads, "Q&A, submit your questions via the Q&A feature at the bottom of your Zoom window.

Moderator, Sarita Gupta, director, Future of Workers. Please welcome Sarita Gupta. SARITA GUPTA: Good afternoon. I am Sarita Gupta, and as mentioned, I'm the director of the Future of Workers program here at the foundation. I am a South Asian woman with long black hair, with a fair amount of gray silver streaks.

I'm wearing glasses, and a dark gray V-neck dress. I'm coming to you from my home office space, which has high ceilings and light blue walls in the background. First of all, thank you, Day, for moderating that terrific conversation And for that incredibly impressive summary. And a huge thanks to our panelists Taryn and Teresa.

Okay, so let's get into some of the questions that you have asked in the Q&A chat. And so to begin, I'm going to pose this question, I think maybe to Teresa first, or, Day, if you want to add in here. The question is, "Can you speak to the business case for inclusion of people with disabilities? How do we turn accountability into a perspective of opportunity? DANSO-DANQUAH: This is Teresa speaking. I think that's a great question that we often talk about in the broader diversity conversation of the business case for diversity and inclusion. And I think it is something that, at the same time, always kind of irks me at the same time, just because there is just this idea that it is not a common thing to be including people with disabilities or people who are from diverse communities.

And so I know there is great research out there. In fact, Accenture put a great report out that worked with Disability:IN to really create the business case for disability and inclusion, so definitely recommend checking out their report. And I just think that at the same time what it really comes down to is that when you're including people with disabilities, you're including people who fall into the other buckets of diversity, per se, that companies are also caring about. Oftentime it's that turn of mind or mindset of that really gets them to understand that if they are originally only focussing on race and gender, they are missing out on a huge population that also has a disability as well when they're not specifically targeting that, and that by focusing on disability, you can also focus on race and gender. It doesn't have it be in these silos. It's really having them see that there is this intersection and intersectionality and that often it was the struggle for just race and gender back in the day.

I think we have gotten past that a little bit in the workplace. I'm just understanding that you need to focus on the intersection of those two. But we're now trying to get them to recognizing intersection of disability as well. So definitely recommend the great report that Accenture produced a couple years ago, but also just really how do we get past asking that question of why we should include to really just doing the work of actually including. AL-MOHAMED: I love that.

I love that Teresa started with that. I think that's the key element is like let's go back a step and realize what's behind the actual question of business case. It's a question of saying, what is the value of hiring this person, and that means assumption, there is less value in hiring a person with disability and they have to prove that they're worth something. If you think about it, wow, what a terrible place to start from, but that is where we are, and the whole idea of social contract and society is based on the idea of that give and take and it's something we need to stop and go back and go what's is the assumptions behind the question and to go there's something wrong with that assumption. Because it is automatically valuing less and I think there's an issue there. I think one of the best examples somebody gave to me, and it was several years ago, was you have a problem, right, and you want to solve this problem for your company and you have six people around the table, if they're all the same people, grew up in the same neighborhood, have the same background, went to the same schools, had the same environment, more than likely, they're going to come up with the same or very similar answers.

And the more you have people from different environments, different backgrounds, different experiences, different disabilities, different identities, you're going to get a plethora of solutions to your problem. If we want to talk about value, we're talking about you want to be able to get the most out of -- and most success for your company, you want to have the -- then having that diversity of thought is to your benefit. If we want to talk about value, let's talk about the value, just having different people brings. But beyond, when you start breaking it down beyond that, you start adding -- it's like adding scoring points and different people get more points than others.

You start to go, "Is that the way I want to run my business? Is that the way I want to see a society run, because That starts to become and look very problematic." GUPTA: Thank you, Day. That's very helpful. This is Sarita.

Taryn, did you want to add in on that question at all? Or I'll take us to the next question, but I wanted to give you an opportunity if you wanted to weigh in. WILLIAMS: I think we can go to the next question. They both covered it pretty extensively.

GUPTA: Fantastic. So, this is Sarita. I'm going to ask the next question, and, Taryn, maybe you want to kick us off on this answer here, to answer this one. "How do we change the stigma around self-disclosure of disabilities in so many of our workplaces?" WILLIAMS: This is something I actually -- this is Taryn speaking. This is something that I think about quite a bit.

And I'll talk about it both from an individual standpoint and also from the perspective of an employer. From the perspective of an employer, I think we started to see in the last several years the start of a change in culture, from employers, where, frankly, they're really working hard to encourage what we sometimes call voluntary disclosure. They're really wanting to support their employees in disclosing their disability, and it is not simply that they just want to know, although we know that's a part of it, it goes back to what we're talking about earlier and sort of what gets measured gets done. But it is also that they are putting into place what we know from research and what we know from the employers that have done this well, the types of supports that would ensure that a person feels comfortable and safe doing voluntary disclosure. And that can be having policies such as centralized accommodations fund, one that sort of decouples conversations and decisions about accommodations from an individual, managers, sort of discretion and/or their budget. We've also seen employers take steps to really support affinity groups for people with disabilities, to ensure that there is a place within the organization where a person feels as if they can bring their full selves.

I think those steps of businesses are taking both the supporting voluntary or self-I.D. in ensuring that they have affinity groups that are thriving by taking steps to support centralized accommodation funds. All of those things are creating the type of atmosphere where folks may feel comfortable disclosing. That's sort of on the part of the employer.

I'm sure that Teresa could weigh in here as well. I would also say from an individual perspective and looking at the Q&A and sort of thinking about my own progression that self-disclosure is a very individual decision. And certainly I would always want someone to be educated and informed about what disclosure means in a working environment. But as someone who has a disability and who as I moved into leadership roles, I've become at the same time more comfortable disclosing.

I realize there is a lot of power when we are sitting at leadership tables. There is a lot of power when you're giving presentations, when we are disclosing for everyone else. It gives -- it opens the door and sort of gives folks some times, there's likely a better term, but permission to be able disclose and to be able share a little bit about who they are and what they bring into the workplace.

So I often challenge leaders as they're thinking about the decision about whether or not they would want to disclose to consider what it might mean for the individuals who they supervise or the folks who they're leading because that has so much power as well. GUPTA: That's fantastic. This is Sarita. That's fantastic, Taryn.

Thank you for that. And I want to open it up for either Day or Teresa as well, but I'm going to lob another question in there, which is, "Some corporations will do well on hiring, and then discriminate against people with disabilities in service delivery. How do we help them shift from disability inclusion being sort of a la carte to it truly being part of their values?" DANSE-DANQUAH: This is Teresa.

I'll jump in on that. I think kind of building on the two questions together, I think, as Taryn mentioned, it really does starts with leadership, setting that as a priority. But also creating the environment as well. And I think that's something that Disability:IN really helps companies with that we partner with in the Fortune 500 or just companies broadly across the US is that it really comes from a top-down approach. But people don't often leave for the interactions they had with leadership, but the interactions they had with their manager. And so how do we make sure there is adequate training and inclusion happening on that individual level, which is kind of the reasons that people either feel comfortable or not comfortable disclosing their disability in the first place, and I think oftentimes companies do create bold visions and bold ideas, but at the end of the day, like whether it's service delivery, whether it's supply chain, they might get lost in the weeds.

And so how do we make sure that we are keeping them accountable for all parts of their workforce and not just on the corporate roles or the high up leadership roles? And I think to the earlier question on self-disclosure, I think there was great pressure put on companies through Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires Federal contractors and subcontractors to have accountability and count the people with disabilities in their workforce and work towards a utilization goal of seven percent of their workforce being people with disabilities. And it's kind of created that environment of tracking and data collection, but it's also given some creativity to really exploring the reasons why people choose to disclose their disability or not to disclose. I know from my personal experience I may not always disclose my disability when I'm working in a group unless I need an accommodation, and as someone with mental illnesses, there is just also the level of stigma that people face in disclosing their disability regardless. So I have seen it from both my personal experience and also the students with disabilities that I work with where they're navigating going through the hiring process, figuring out when to disclose, figuring out when to ask for accommodations. So I think there is a level of just consistency that every company does it differently, but I think there has been a more focus on having those companies relook at their process to make sure that they are increasing the opportunity for people to disclose their disability at different points and to also feel comfortable not self-disclosing as well.

I think back to Taryn's point, it is that individual choice, but how do we create the environment and the leadership to prioritize that as well? AL-MOHAMED: I love that. And I just have to say, and ways to make it so it is not a big deal, if that makes any sense? And I will disclose a fantastic example right here. So I moderated the initial discussions that were part of this.

I am not moderating the Q&A, and very much thanks to Sarita for stepping up to do that, but it is an accommodation. I'm visually impaired. I cannot follow the Q&As and an online discussion at the same time. And we had a casual conversation with folks, and Sarita said, "Hey, I'm happy to do that. And guess what? Boom, and it's not really any degradation, I would think, in the experience of those of you that are happening, but part of it is just to make it casual.

It's the same as, I would think, having an employee that -- So and so is better at writing. We're going to have them do the last round of edits on X document. And I think part of it is just realizing and making it so it becomes that thing.

And if people aren't disclosing, part of that also says a lot about the environment that you create, to be able to say, "Having an ADD day. Make sure you give me deadlines, or I'm not going to meet them." And that is a big part of the environment is to make it so it becomes not a big deal. I'm going to stop there, and I shall let Sarita get back to her job. Thank you very much. GUPTA: Thank you, Day, and it has been a great partnership.

So thank you. Okay. This is sort of a big one, so let's dive into this question. "What do you advise on both the funder end and grantee side to eliminate the barrier of funding and access, especially given the historic lack of funding for disability organizations?" So I will open it up to any of you that would like to weigh in here.

DANSO-DANQUAH: This is Teresa speaking. I'm happy to start and let others contribute. I think there definitely is a historical lack of funding for disability justice in the past, And I think it is commendable just to be here and working with the Ford Foundation to discuss that.

I think there is great strides that people across the boar

2021-02-05 09:09

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