How accesso® Is Embedding Disability Inclusion in Their Organizational DNA
This piece is part of our Inclusive Leadership Series, where we highlight companies’ approaches, successes and learnings around Disability Inclusion. In this edition, we spoke to Maura Schiefelbein, accesso’s® SVP, People.
What’s the biggest misconception about supporting people with disabilities in the workplace?
According to accesso®’s Maura Schiefelbein, it’s some companies’ belief that the task itself is insurmountable and expensive.
“Many people believe that accommodations are complex and costly, and this often leads organizations to hesitate or delay in implementing necessary changes,” she says. “We’ve learned that many accommodations are simple, cost-effective, and can yield significant benefits in terms of employee well-being, productivity, and overall organizational success.”
Indeed, a 2023 report from the Department of Labor found that nearly half of workplace accommodations made for people with disabilities “can be implemented at no cost to employers.” Of those accommodations that do incur a one-time cost, the median expenditure was only $300.
Schiefelbein says supporting people with disabilities in the workplace has been huge for accesso®.
“Prioritizing disability inclusion has sparked a transformative wave across our organization, fostering an environment where employees feel increasingly at ease sharing their disabilities and accessing vital resources they may have been hesitant to seek out before.”
Remarkably, she says, managers and team members have embraced the ethos of continuous learning, proactively integrating supplementary training initiatives within their respective teams.
Schiefelbein’s role as SVP, People revolves around shaping a workplace culture that embodies accesso®’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This includes partnering heavily with their DE&I council members to enhance education, communication and awareness of DE&I, both throughout the company and beyond.
Central to this strategy is the intentional advancement of disability inclusion, which Schiefelbein considers a vital pillar of accesso®’s mission.
“Our approach has been grounded in fostering awareness, empathy, and by implementing proactive measures,” she says.
To begin the journey, accesso® knew they needed to provide their teams with comprehensive training sessions to enlighten their workforce about the unique challenges and perspectives of individuals with disabilities.
“This educational foundation is instrumental in challenging our own biases associated with disabilities,” Schiefelbein says. “And to help us be more empathic peers to one another.”
To embed disability inclusion into their organizational DNA, accesso® has also taken a hands-on approach to reviewing and refining company policies and practices. This ensures that their policies not only meet legal standards, Schiefelbein says, but also creates an environment where all talents are celebrated and given the opportunity to thrive.
“At accesso®, we are dedicated to ensuring that individuals with disabilities not only feel seen and heard but are also provided with the tools and support they need to excel within our organization,” she says.
And what advice does she have for companies looking to improve disability inclusion?
Just start and take things one step at a time, she says. It might seem like an overwhelming mission to take on, but if companies focus on one intentional change at a time, they can make progress that surprises them.
“A great place to start is to focus on fostering a culture of empathy and open communication,” she says. “Creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs, concerns, and experiences related to disabilities is crucial. This foundation of understanding allows the organization to begin their journey to identify and address barriers that they may not have been previously aware of.”
Another valuable area to focus on is the prioritization of workplace flexibility, she says. Recognizing that each individual is navigating a unique array of challenges and affording everyone the latitude to help determine their work environment and schedule can yield profound and positive outcomes. According to Schiefelbein, this commitment to flexibility is instrumental in nurturing a culture where every team member feels empowered and accommodated, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive work environment.
Fostering change at accesso® has caused a ripple effect, says Schiefelbein. As a technology provider, their mindset shift extends beyond their internal walls, as team members explore innovative avenues for promoting inclusivity through their products and services.
The synergy between education and empathy has prompted team members to question conventional norms and explore ways to enhance digital accessibility overall.
“Witnessing this cascade of positive change has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Schiefelbein says. “The ripple effect of education and enhanced disability inclusion has transcended our team, leaving a lasting imprint across our entire organization. Imagine who else this momentum can impact?”