It was recently the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which celebrates workers with disabilities and highlights the importance of inclusive hiring practices. It has also been 30 years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
Consciously Unbiased founder Ashish Kaushal spoke to Zakiya Mabery, CEO of B. Global Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Planning and author of The Complete Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in the age of Covid-19, for an unplugged conversation about how Zakiya has been impacted by intersectionality as a Black woman with multiple disabilities. They also discussed why you have to be your own best advocate and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, what companies can do to better support employees with disabilities, and much more. Listen to the full conversation here and read on for some important highlights.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ASHISH: You’ve called yourself a “triple threat.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
ZAKIYA: “I’m really trying to call out intersectionality, because I’m a Black woman and I have multiple disabilities. I’m just putting it all out there, and I’m not a threat at all. However, I have been discriminated against, but I don’t necessarily know which one of these marginalized issues [is at the root of it]. Is it because I’m a woman, I’m Black or I have a disability? So when we’re looking at intersectionality—the phrase that Kimberle Crenshaw coined—it’s basically the interlocking of systems of privilege and oppression at the micro level where it goes into the social structure. I like to pick that apart, and put it up front in the beginning and say I’m a triple threat.”
ASHISH: How has the pandemic taken a toll on those with disabilities, and how can we overcome those obstacles?
ZAKIYA: “It’s taken a huge toll on individuals with disabilities. And of course those without disabilities, but specifically it’s reached those marginalized individuals the hardest. I would say from the Black and Brown community, it hit them the hardest because, as has been reported, the Black and Brown community have underlying health conditions [at a higher rate], therefore a lot of those individuals have either lost someone to COVID or themselves have contracted Covid. This means they had to take time off from work, and not all of those individuals have short-term disability leave while they’re caring for themselves or their loved one.
The second way they’ve been impacted is about technology. If they’re in a position to work remotely, their job may not have provided them with a laptop, or they might not have the streaming system to be able to work remotely. Are companies offering assisted technology for those who need it to in order to do their jobs? Is closed captioning available?
Thirdly, a lot of people may have lost their job due to Covid. Finally, there is the transportation issue. Not everybody has transportation to get to and from work, and transportation budgets have been getting cut. So it’s impacted people with disabilities at a very high rate.”
ASHISH: How can we make hiring practices more inclusive for those with disabilities?
ZAKIYA: “First off, you need to find a practitioner who knows disability inclusion in and out, and have them on your team. Why? So that they can answer all the questions, work with employees and make your organization better. Just because you work in HR does not mean you know disability inclusion.
Secondly, you can benchmark best practices. You have to have someone knowledgeable there to review your policies and procedures, and see if they have biases. An organization that I would highly recommend that you get connected with is Disability:IN. Check to see if any information is outdated or unnecessary. If a job description says you have to be in the office, is it possible it can be done remotely? Do you actually need to be in New York, or can you do it from Montana? You have to take off your blinders and be innovative.”
ASHISH: Anything else you’d like to add?
ZAKIYA: “Yes, feedback is truly a gift, because then you know what to improve upon. So when an individual gives you feedback on your program or your process, take that to heart. Read it and know that it’s a gift. And this has to include surveys, analyzing the data and then trying to figure out how to use it in order to make the position or organization better.”
American Bar Review: “Implicit Biases & People with Disabilities”
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