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by Jessica Rafuse, Microsoft Accessibility Senior Program Manager

NDEAM is a wrap, what’s next?

As National Disability Employment Awareness Month comes to an end, I reflect on the last month and ask, “Now what?!” Making a positive impact on the unemployment and underemployment rates for people with disabilities is a challenge that must extend beyond NDEAM and must be a collaborative effort. So how do we keep the momentum going?

To help answer the question, we gathered experts and influencers from over 75 different organizations from across the Seattle-area to the second annual Microsoft Disability Employment Symposium.

As Bri Sambo from T-Mobile put it, we must “lean on the community we have and collaborate with other companies.” The Symposium generated discussion on common challenges, lessons learned, and innovation in disability employment. We celebrated people with disabilities and committed to our ongoing efforts towards inclusion. Then we said goodbye. As the last guest exited the building, the lights dimmed in the conference room, and I realized, “Now, the real work begins.”

What can your company do to continue the journey to positively impact disability employment? Three things: get Ready, get Set, Hire!


1. Nurture a culture of inclusion

A common theme across the Symposium was the importance of nurturing a culture of inclusion. Celebrating people with disabilities within your organization will ignite a sense of disability pride that results in a more inclusive and productive workplace. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Recognize Talent: People with disabilities are an asset to the workplace. From innovation to troubleshooting to project management skills, each individual with a disability brings with them a unique set of skills that they have honed as a result of their disabilities. Remember that 70% of disabilities are non-apparent, so you like have someone in your workplace today who is already adding value to the team.
  • Create opportunity for connection: To build a culture you first need to build a community. Our Disability Employee Resource Group is a long standing group of employees, who have helped to define disability inclusion at Microsoft. If you are looking for a first step in this journey, start here. Just a few passionate employees with common experiences can support your business in the creation of truly inclusive culture.
Disability Employment Symposium Opening Panel – in order left to right: Jessica Rafuse (Microsoft), Keith Clark (Seattle Lighthouse), Megan Mauney (Amazon), Becky Curran (Disability: IN) and Bri Sambo (T-Mobile)

DisAbility Employment Symposium Opening Panel – in order left to right: Jessica Rafuse (Microsoft), Keith Clark (Seattle Lighthouse), Megan Mauney (Amazon), Becky Curran (Disability: IN) and Bri Sambo (T-Mobile)


2. Invest in accessibility

Another common theme we saw during the event was companies referencing the importance of embedding accessibility into the fabric of their companies as key to recruiting and retaining talent with disabilities. So how do they do it?

  • Be creative, be frugal, and be resourceful. “Investment” does not always mean “budget” allocation. Utilize resources that are available for free on public platforms. For example, watch Introduction to Disability and Inclusion to learn the basics, and educate your colleagues by using Microsoft Accessibility Training Resources particularly our At a Glance series, which provides bite-sized accessibility trainings.
  • Leverage technology to empower people with disabilities. The role of technology is indisputable in empowering all people, including people with disabilities. From accessible career websites to assistive technologies like screen readers (e.g., Narrator and JAWS) for people who are Blind or Low Vision, accessible technology can make your company more attractive to talent with disabilities. As an individual, you also have a role in making your workplace more accessible with a few simple tricks. Try using the Accessibility Checker before sending an email or turn on Translator within PowerPoint during your next meeting. If you want to know more about accessibility features check out our Accessibility Feature Sway and at the Microsoft Accessibility Site.
  • Accessibility in all levels of your company. Senior leaders are immensely influential as accessibility champions. Ignite your leader’s passion for accessibility by sharing personal stories about how your company’s business has positively impacted the lives of people with disabilities. In support of NDEAM, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, celebrated with six accessibility feature demos: Inclusive Presentations, Seeing AI, Xbox Adaptive Controller, Learning Tools, Soundscape, and Eye Control.


3. Hire someone with a disability today!

The timing is now. While nurturing your company culture and integrating accessibility into all that you do, actively seek candidates with disabilities to join in your journey. People with disabilities are just the problem solvers you need to provide feedback on your efforts as you strive for improvement.

  • Transparency in recruiting: candidates appreciate transparency in your company’s inclusion efforts and clear timelines on the accessibility journey. For hiring managers, open communication is key to confront bias and to allow for discussion around your company’s policies for workplace accommodations and benefits.
  • Identifying gaps: partner with your internal talent acquisition team, HR, legal, or other stakeholders to understand the process for working with candidates with disabilities. Ensure that your organization has a process for soliciting and responding to requests for accommodations. Offer trainings to all members of a recruiting ecosystem and co-create resource guides that are specific to your business. Don’t wait for the processes and policies to be perfect, “Hiring talent with disabilities is just common sense, just ask us what we need.”- Nyle DiMarco
  • Resources abound: check out the Disability Equality Index (DEI), which serves as an neutral benchmarking tool to evaluate, measure, and improve your company’s disability inclusion efforts. We are sharing even more of our learnings through our Disability Inclusion Sway and the Microsoft Inclusive Hiring Site.
Jenny Lay-Flurrie and Nyle DiMarco onstage at Disability Employment Symposium

Jenny Lay-Flurrie and Nyle DiMarco onstage at DisAbility Employment Symposium

Thank you again to all the companies, organizations, and disability influencers who participated in our DisAbility Employment Symposium and to those who helped develop these learnings. For those who were not able to join us in-person, Disability:IN can help you to find other businesses in your area that are also committed to disability inclusion. Be curious, be bold, and be collaborative. Hire someone with disabilities and they will guide you along the way.

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