Skip to Content
Equality

Employees With Disabilities Deserve Better – Here’s What Companies Can Do

The pandemic showed us that remote work, in many instances, can work. And for people with disabilities this can be an opportunity to level the playing field.

Maria Town of American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD): employees with disabilities
President and CEO of AAPD Maria Town believes companies can, and should, become more accessible to talent with disabilities. [Maria Town/Office of Equality]

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It’s a time to recognize the many contributions people with disabilities have made to the workforce and economy. It’s also a time to acknowledge the ways in which the workforce can support the advancement of this community. For me, honoring this month is especially important. For far too long, I saw my disability as something to “overcome” or minimize in education and the workplace. It wasn’t until I found the disability community that I began to recognize the immense value our collective experiences as employees with disabilities bring to the workforce and how we can shift our work environments to be better for all. 

I’m the global events co-chair of Salesforce’s Abilityforce Equality group, our employee resource group that unites people with visible and invisible disabilities, employees with loved ones who are disabled, and allies. In this role, I support initiatives that center the intersectional nature of disability, that builds trust, and community for people with disabilities and their allies, and advocate for measures that advance access and inclusion at Salesforce. From our work to close the accessibility gap to the championing of the voices of employees with disabilities, including mine, Salesforce is committed to creating a more accessible workplace. Although there is still much work to be done, part of the journey in creating a truly equal workplace is in creating space for important conversations on the inequalities that exist. 

People with disabilities of every type should be able to see themselves in every industry and in every level of that industry, from frontline employee to board member.

Maria Town, President and CEO, American Association of People with disabilities

I had the opportunity to speak with President and CEO of the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) Maria Town. Prior to her role at the AAPD, Town worked in government at both the federal and the city levels. She worked on policy related to youth and disability employment and then moved into a community engagement role in the Obama White House. Following her work with the Obama administration, she worked in the city of Houston leading the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Town and I discussed the important work that AAPD is doing and the ways in which companies can, and should, become more accessible to talent with disabilities.

The power of representation

“I’ve had cerebral palsy my whole life,” said Town. “I did not meet another person who had my disability, a career, and a family of her own until I was 23 years old. That’s why making sure that no one experiences that is a huge motivation for me. People with disabilities of every type should be able to see themselves in every industry and in every level of that industry, from frontline employee to board member.”

Seeing yourself represented in spaces expands your idea of what you can be and accomplish.

We know employment is the key to so many other aspects of life: the ability to maintain stable housing, save towards your future, have a family, or to pursue any other dreams that you may have.

Maria Town, President and CEO, American Association of People with disabilities

Over the past year, Salesforce has established relationships with a wide range of nonprofits, agencies, and resource hubs to help close the employment gap for people with disabilities. One of which is AAPD’s career fair. This event directly connects future and current job seekers with disabilities with participating companies. Town continues, “We know that employment is the key to so many other aspects of life: the ability to maintain stable housing, save towards your future, have a family, or to pursue any other dreams that you may have.”

Remove barriers during the recruitment and application process

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, only 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed (that means a whopping 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed). This is a significantly lower rate of employment than people without disabilities — 66.3% of people in this category were employed. “The number of barriers that people with disabilities face while navigating the mainstream job marketplace is part of why employment levels among this group are so low,” said Town, “I’ll use myself as an example. When I went to work for the city of Houston. Their job application portal required applicants to have a driver’s license. Because of my disability, I don’t drive, which is a fairly common experience in the disability community. I was going to work in an administrative role which did not require driving, but because of that requirement I couldn’t get hired.” Town explained that there are often application questions that many of us take for granted, but that signal to a person with disabilities that they’re not welcome in your company. “For example, saying, ‘must have good speaking abilities’ when you actually mean, communicate,” she said.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that across all levels of education in 2020, people with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than people without disabilities.

Removing barriers and being more intentional with outreach during recruiting also gives employers the opportunity to connect with talent with disabilities earlier in their careers. “For students with nontraditional resumes and GPAs (grade point averages) that reflect the significant barriers they may have faced in school due to systemic ableism and lack of access, companies can prioritize talent development,” said Town. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that across all levels of education in 2020, people with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than people without disabilities. “We saw over and over again that students with disabilities and recent graduates were denied opportunities like internships. So we do everything we can to remove those barriers and I would encourage companies to do the same.”

Making these changes can also help attract and retain talent with disabilities. “Take a careful look at every aspect of your job recruitment process and your application process. Look at the accessibility of those processes and look at the cultural values you communicate to prospective and current employees. This can make a huge difference in a company’s ability to promote itself as a welcoming and inclusive company.”

Changing the way you work — long-term

“Prior to the pandemic when people with disabilities requested remote work it might have taken months to even get a conversation around the accommodation. The pandemic showed us that remote work, in many instances, can work,” said Town. “We have encouraged employers to not just ‘return to normal.’ Because what is ‘normal’? For people with disabilities, and for so many other employees, normal was not enough and it was not working.”

With remote work options. You also give people more flexibility to establish personal and familial safety plans that work better for them.

Maria Town, President and CEO, American Association of People with disabilities

Earlier this year, Salesforce announced its “work-from-anywhere” model, giving employees the opportunity to continue working remotely long-term. “With remote work options. You also give people more flexibility to establish personal and familial safety plans that work better for them.”

Focus on accessibility in every part of the business

“There are a lot of initiatives that focus on greater recruitment of women and people from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds in tech. Those efforts for diversity and inclusion don’t often incorporate content related to tech accessibility,” said Town. “Ensure that skills related to the promotion of access are incorporated into diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Then, you’ll have the ability to really shape the next generation of talent. If we consider access as part of the baseline of products and services, instead of as an add-on, we can increase opportunity access and equity for people with disabilities all over the world.”


Haley is an accommodations program manager in the Office of Accessibility. In that role, she's focused on examining the full employee experience to proactively remove barriers and ensure that employees with disabilities have every opportunity to thrive at Salesforce. Prior to Salesforce, Haley traveled aboard the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Legacy Tour bus to educate communities about the importance of the ADA, set up programs with Mobility International USA (MIUSA) to introduce international high school youth with disabilities to U.S. disability culture, and facilitated inclusive higher education environments for students and staff at the University of Minnesota's Disability Resource Center. Located in Minneapolis, she identifies as orally deaf, wears zebra print hearing aids, and is the proud mom of one human and three dogs (Stella, Theo, and Ted).

More by Haley

Related Stories

Equality for Working Parents Starts With You

Working parents face a lot of career uncertainty when taking off after the birth of a baby. But these Salesforce execs took six-month parental leaves and returned to promotions. We lay out the steps other teams can follow to make this a reality for more working parents.

Astro

Get the latest stories from The 360 Blog, every week.

Get the latest stories from The 360 Blog, every week.

Enter a valid e-mail address
Select your Country
Select a state
Please read and agree to the Master Subscription Agreement

Yes, I would like to receive the Salesforce Weekly Brief as well as marketing communications regarding Salesforce products, services, and events. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Salesforce values your privacy. To learn more, visit our Privacy Statement.