Carla Harris: If disabled workers experienced the same employment rate as those without a disability, nearly 14 million more disabled people would have been employed in 2021, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.
But the reality is that disabled people are two times more likely to be unemployed than people without a disability, which directly impacts their capacity to support themselves, let alone build wealth. Twenty-six percent of all disabled Americans live below the poverty line, according to American Community Survey data. And the gap widens further for disabled people of color.
Charlotte Dales: There’s a lot of job boards out there that have popped up for people with disabilities. And they’re aggregating all this talent into one place, but that’s under the assumption that people with disabilities aren’t already applying to your jobs. The problem is they are, and they’re not getting hired.
Carla Harris: This is Charlotte Dales. I talk with her about how she founded a tech company to connect disabled job seekers to inclusive employers. But first, we’ll hear from D’Arcee Charington Neal, a disability scholar and consultant drawing from his lived experiences to advise companies.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: The people who decide who the best person for the job is have unconscious bias. And then one day you look up and realize that all of your best people are white able bodied men in a department that is supposed to represent the workforce. That is not the workforce.
Carla Harris: Welcome to Access and Opportunity, I’m your host Carla Harris. And we’re telling the stories of individuals working to drive change within their communities. We provide context about systemic inequities and share tangible examples of how ideas around access and opportunity are being made real every day.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: In no way do I believe that race is unimportant, but before you are Black, you have a body. Before you are queer or before you’re gendered, every single person on planet Earth has a body.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: My name is D’Arcee Charington Neal. My pronouns are he/they, and I am a 36 year old Black man with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy.
Carla Harris: D’Arcee is a PhD candidate in digital rhetoric and disability studies at The Ohio State University. There, he’s coined the theory Afrophantasm. It’s a complex concept, but in part it helps illustrate how others perceive the ways in which he moves through the world as a disabled, Black person.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: I describe it as being a living ghost in society. Basically, people can see you, but they don’t really see you and my research is at the nexus of that: what it feels like from an experiential standpoint and how people can take that feeling and use it as a way to empower themselves to have better lives. Just because you’re Black and disabled does not mean that you don’t deserve to have everything in life that you want.
Carla Harris: In tandem with his career as a writer and academic, D’Arcee consults with corporations and nonprofits to help make their workplaces more inclusive for disabled candidates and employees.
It wasn’t work that D’Arcee initially sought out.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: I sometimes think that the best experiences are the ones that you’re unprepared for because it makes you the most authentic. In my case, I had just started a new job working for the Secretary of the Interior in 2015. Literally two weeks in a friend and I were going downtown…
Carla Harris: D’Arcee ordered a car from a popular rideshare app. This wasn’t out of the ordinary because it was the easiest way for them to get around in Washington, D.C. As a frequent customer, D’Arcee would regularly drop hundreds each month on the service which was essential to his day-to-day.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: So, the driver came. We said we wanted to go downtown. My wheelchair wouldn’t fit in this trunk. I was gonna put it in the back seat. And I did that and my friend was getting ready to sit in the front because she also had a disability. And the driver just got frustrated with us and told us, “Take the bus.”
And so he left us. Ordinarily I would’ve just did what he said. But that night I was just really frustrated. I use it three to five times a week. You can’t do this to people.
And so part of it was born out of frustration. The other part of it was that I had come from being the manager of strategic business relationships for a major disability nonprofit, which meant that I had access to hundreds of thousands of people.
Carla Harris: D’Arcee wrote up a letter outlining the mistreatment he’d experienced that day, as well as rides prior, and signed his full name and previous title. He didn’t expect to hear back, but by leveraging his influence he received a reply that evening.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: They were like, “We forwarded this to corporate and they should be calling you next week.” And they did. They asked me, “Would you like to come to our headquarters in San Francisco to talk about disability policy?” And I was like, “Sure.”
Carla Harris: This cross country trip marked the beginning of D’Arcee’s disability consulting work, but what came next catapulted it.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: When they sent me home on that flight, it flew into D.C. in the middle of the night and they forgot I was on the plane. So I had to crawl off the airplane. And that became international news. And I just think it’s hilarious that it happened off of a flight that was already built to talk about disability policy and then like, one thing led to another, which led to another.
Carla Harris: While D’Arcee’s airplane experience went viral, it is indicative of countless untold stories of disabled people who were not provided the accommodations they are rightfully due.
In the wake of the news breaking, large corporations reached out to D’Arcee to help make their workplaces more welcoming to disabled employees. D’Arcee heeded the call, wielding his expertise. Ableism, or discrimination against people with disabilities, is a reality that disabled people understand intimately. But many hiring managers can’t grasp the power of its force.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: Ableism is so difficult because people don’t think they’re doing it.
The people who decide who the best person for the job is have unconscious bias. And then one day you look up and realize that all of your best people are white able bodied men in a the department that is supposed to represent the workforce is primarily white able bodied men. That is not the workforce.
That’s why my work isn’t just about disability in general. It’s why I focus on Black people. Because I think people know that it’s difficult to be Black in the United States and it’s much more difficult to be Black and disabled.
Carla Harris: For Black disabled people, racism intersects with ableism to further widen disparities. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among Black disabled people was 15.1% in 2021, compared to 9.3% among white disabled people.
D’Arcee stresses that the very first step to breaking down racism and ableism in the workplace is often the hardest for companies to do: recognizing that there is a problem.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: Folks think they can just put the phrase out, “minorities are encouraged to apply,” bold it and they’re like, “I’m done.” Where are you promoting this job?
Do you go to the Black employment websites? Are you talking to disability employment initiatives? Do you do work with independent living centers who keep job lists for people with disabilities when they go looking for work? There are resources and places that you can strategically put your jobs where it can be seen. You have to be intentional.
Carla Harris: But it’s not enough to just get a candidate in the door for an interview.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: It requires work on both sides. Yes. The diverse candidates have to be prepared to be honest and upfront about what it is that they need. But at the same time, the employer has to create pathways that suggest that we are ready to have diverse candidates in our workforce. We are an inclusive place.
I want to know who the disabled folks are that are your CEOs. Do you have people who are managers? I need them in all facets of organizations because pulling people in to be your interns or your entry level, that to me, it’s another form of tokenism. There’s no way that people can feel enriched because it’s not a glass ceiling. It’s a floor. [Laughs] It’s literally a floor.
Carla Harris: Increasingly, today’s workforce demands more from their employers. And the pandemic laid bare the need for workplace accommodations as more employees request workplaces that fit their realities as multidimensional individuals and caretakers.
According to the 2022 Deloitte Global Gen Z and Millennial Survey, nearly two in five respondents have rejected a job because it did not align with their values. But if they’re satisfied with an employer’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture, they’re more likely to want to stay with their employer for more than five years.
D’Arcee Charington Neal: You’re never gonna be able to satisfy everyone. But I still believe that fundamentally people are good and that everybody should have the right to create the life that they want.
And so it just means that there’s some things that have to be put into place. At the end of the day, it serves a much bigger goal, which is a better workforce and a more empowered workforce.
Carla Harris: If this all sounds like a lot of work, that’s because creating equitable and inclusive work environments require commitment. But thanks to consultants like D’Arcee Charington Neal, employers don’t have to do it alone. And there are innovative solutions being developed to make hiring more equitable at scale.
Which brings us to our next guest, Charlotte Dales. Charlotte is the co-founder and CEO of Inclusively, a tech company addressing the disability employment gap at the source. It not only connects disabled candidates with employers seeking to diversify their workforce, it also allows the candidates to opt into sharing the accommodations they need to make their interview more successful.
Charlotte herself is not disabled. It was through a family member with Down syndrome that she first connected to the community. Today, one out of four Inclusively employees identify as having a disability and help inform the company’s mission. In our conversation, Charlotte explains that accommodations are becoming the norm rather than the exception for the modern workplace.
Carla Harris: Charlotte Dales, thank you so much for being here with me today. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Are you ready?
Charlotte Dales: I am ready. Thank you for having me.
Carla Harris: Okay, so let’s jump right in to first understanding how big the disability wealth gap is. According to a 2018 report from Prosperity Now the median net worth among households with adult members with a disability is over $33,000 less than the national median. What role does unemployment play in this wealth gap?
Charlotte Dales: So unemployment plays a huge role in this wealth gap and also the ability to go after certain jobs. There seems to be a ceiling for people with disabilities as well. One of the things that’s often overlooked is almost double the amount of people who have disabilities are unemployed versus those that don’t have disabilities.
But in addition, it’s harder for them to progress at the companies they are at. And so both of these things contribute to that number you’ve cited and the wealth gap in general.
Carla Harris: Can you help us shed some light on this persistent gap? Because the data says that the unemployment gap closed only slightly in 2021 versus, let’s say, 2009. Let’s peel the onion there a little bit to talk about some of those underlying reasons.
Charlotte Dales: We can start with 30 years ago the ADA was signed. So the ADA is the American Disabilities Act, and this was one of the first regulations put in place for employment for people with disabilities. It covers all the disabilities: down syndrome and autism, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic illnesses…everything is included in there.
And it really puts pressure on the employers to provide reasonable accommodations for candidates with disabilities to help them be more successful in their positions. These can be physical accommodations, like a ramp, or they can be assistive technologies like a screen reader, or it can be adjustments to the working environment, like having a flexible work schedule, being remote or having one-on-one meetings instead of panels. And I think that while the ADA put a lot of regulations and practices into place, it’s not actually changing the behaviors of companies and their hiring practices. And so a lot of it dials back to a couple of root problems.
There’s hundreds of thousands of organizations out there: nonprofits, government agencies, training programs, university programs that are training people with disabilities to have the skills for tons of different jobs, especially jobs that are in high volume and high demand right now.
And they’re still not getting conversion or access to the opportunities. For us, we believe that this boils down to a few different things. One, candidates have been historically told not to disclose their disability ahead of getting a job if this is possible, because they’re afraid that this might affect the opportunities that could exist.
However, that means that they’re not set up for success in the interview. So if you’re not set up to come and be your best self at the interview, it’s going to be so much harder for you to land the job.
Secondly, applicant tracking systems and the algorithms that companies’ platforms use to assess talent as it’s coming in, especially large companies that have thousands of applicants, are using things like a gap in your resume or other things that might be slightly atypical to shove people out of the process and curate other people to the top.
Which means people with disabilities are more adversely affected by these algorithms than other members of the population. And then if they’re not filtered out they’re put through an interview process that’s the exact same for every single person. And if they do ask for an accommodation, they’re typically put through a legal and compliance process that takes a few weeks to sort out for something incredibly simple like, “I want closed captioning on the interview.” And so I think a lot of existing processes that have just been unintentionally built over time, are filtering out these candidates, as well as something that affects all diversity segments, which is pattern matching.
We’ve been trained to hire people that look like us and that look like the other people that are here and so you really have to be conscious to start assessing people for their skills.
Carla Harris: You know, you bring up so many good playbook points for employers to be thinking about, especially thinking about the frontline people who are conducting some of these interviews. Because you made the comment, Charlotte, that people are trained to hire people that look like them. We often talk about this with respect to ethnic and gender diversity. And a lot of these new algorithms that are being created around recruiting are being created to root out some of the bias.
So for example, there are companies that will serve up resumes to employers that take out any kind of reference to gender or to ethnicity so that the person can be evaluated based on their capabilities or based on their previous experience. But you also bring up the point, if I am not trained and I don’t know how to think about making the right kind of accommodations that are fair to create equity against my bias with respect to somebody who might be disabled, then how will I know how to account for that and look with the right lens if I don’t know.
Charlotte Dales: Yeah, you bring up a great point, which is that there’s a lot of job boards out there that have popped up for people of color, for people with disabilities, and they’re aggregating all this talent into one place, but that’s under the assumption that people with disabilities aren’t already applying to your jobs.
The problem is they are, and they’re not getting hired. You can redact everything from the resume and maybe that solves the first problem, but ultimately you meet the person, and those two humans need to have a meaningful interaction. And so that’s really what our company Inclusively goes after, which is this root problem of how do you train people because right now the way the world is designed is one size fits all, and it’s excluding people with disabilities. Whereas these accommodations eventually could just be mainstream for everyone. We’re actually giving them not just the accommodation, but what it is, why someone might ask for it. The why I think is a huge part in how you combat the systemic biases around it by them actually understanding the person before they meet them.
Carla Harris: Well, you land us right where we need to be. Your tech startup Inclusively has a unique origin story. So can you share how getting a facial in Florida inspired you to launch Inclusively?
Charlotte Dales: I started a company back in 2013 when I was living in London, which we sold to Amex at the end of 2017. And at that same time, my cousin became the first licensed facialist in the state of Florida with Down Syndrome. So she gives facials at a local salon. And after getting my first facial from her, I knew this would be my next company.
Obviously it was incredibly exciting to see what she was able to achieve. However, what I noticed when I was getting the facial was that her employer only had to make some very slight adjustments to her working environment that were free and very easy to execute on. And obviously that had an incredible impact on her career.
And so what I wanted to do was figure out how can we use technology to make it really easy for employers to accommodate candidates’ unique requests at scale? And so that’s what Inclusively does and how I was inspired to start the company.
Carla Harris: Wow. So Charlotte, tell us exactly how Inclusively works.
Charlotte Dales: So what we do is we get the candidates to self disclose everything ahead of time on their profile. We help them identify what accommodations to ask for on the interview and on the job based on information they give us and then when they end up applying to one of our employer’s jobs, that information gets ported directly into your applicant tracking system so it’s already integrated with all of your existing systems. So when that resume gets picked up by anybody at the company, there’s a link on it that says, “This candidate requires accommodations, click here.” And they’re able to view all the accommodations that person’s asked for. They’re able to see why someone might ask for it, what it means, how to provide it. And they’re also able to apply for jobs without accommodations as well, so you don’t have to disclose your accommodations if you decide you don’t want to put those onto your profile in order to use the platform.
Carla Harris: Can you describe the market size potential for Inclusively? Something I’m sure you’ve talked about a lot with prospective investors.
Charlotte Dales: Yeah, I mean one in four to five people, arguably, will have a disability at some point during their working career. They actually believe that number is much higher and will continue to grow. And as the world we’re living in is making people more comfortable to self-disclose, that will open people’s eyes to how many people are actually at their company already with a disability that haven’t disclosed.
Charlotte Dales: So it’s an incredibly large market size. What I really realized early on is that when you say the word disability, no matter how many stats, numbers, people, I talk about, the word disability immediately makes people think of a specific type and a very small market size. And so, early on we discussed how do we get past this? It’s like the same bias that exists in the workforce, it existed with investors as I was pitching the company. Which is, how could this really scale? How could this community really work a lot more? Because they only think, someone with Down Syndrome can fold towels at a salon–not that they could actually be the facialist.
The market opportunity is massive but in addition to that we have a lot of great advisors of the company, people from the disability space, and every single one of them always ingrained in me that this is not about people with disabilities. This is about universal design. And when you make something that works for people with disabilities, you’re making something that works better for everyone.
Carla Harris: Understood. And you have a little bit of a cultural tailwind behind you in that the COVID-19 crisis created two important shifts. One was the amplification of voice and choice and the second was the shift in the employer employee contract. But that amplification of voice and choice plays right into your theme of giving people more confidence around articulating the accommodations that they need.
Charlotte Dales: A hundred percent.
Carla Harris: There’s some new research from Accenture that reveals that companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities, have outperformed their peers achieving on average 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher economic profit margins over the four years that they analyzed. And so it reminds me of the argument, in the early days of DEI practice, where we would say “Diversity is just good business. It impacts your bottom line.” What are the reasons that employing disabled persons is good for business?
Charlotte Dales: So I love that you bring this question up because, when I started this company, people always kept asking me why I’m not doing a nonprofit.
Carla Harris: Ahh. [Laughs]
Charlotte Dales: And I kept thinking, because I’m not sure a nonprofit’s gonna solve the problem. Unless you make something sustainable with a business model around it, then you can scale it and then you’re really solving the problem.
Not that nonprofits and charities don’t, they bring tons of awareness and provide a lot of services to this demographic. But in terms of fundamentally changing peoples’ behavior and making that something that sticks, lasts and grows, it’s got to be business. And so we get in the door and we can get a meeting with pretty much anyone because they love our mission, but we’re closing deals and they’re giving us their money because they see the bottom line business value.
So the Accenture report is definitely something that we refer to a lot. One stat that’s also in there is that companies with a well run disability program seem to have 30% higher retention across their company, not just with people with disabilities, because there’s a mission element to it.
And then, as I said earlier, more and more people are asking for accommodations. In fact the number’s 25% annually year on year growing because people are coming out of schools that accommodated them for the first 15 years of their life and they’re just expecting the same thing from their employers. In order to attract and retain the best talent you’re just going to have to solve this problem.
Carla Harris: No question about it. Now there’s a survey out there on the Job Accommodation Network, where it says, “Approximately 58% of workplace accommodations for persons with disabilities could be made at no cost, and the investment for other situations average about $500.” That would suggest that the returns are almost infinite. So can you tell us how you help employers actually make some of these accommodations or point out to them that it costs them little to nothing? Because if you have almost nothing in the denominator for your investment and you get higher profits, better revenues, that’s pretty handsome returns.
Charlotte Dales: Yeah, that is the reality of accommodations, but the perception is different. And that’s where I think we come into play. Our job is really to show people how easy it can be to hire someone with a disability. And as you said, it’s not disruptive and also doesn’t really cost anything.
So examples like, someone requesting not to have a panel interview. Think about at any big company, if someone asks for something that’s outside of the normal cadence, you typically wouldn’t just say yes. Big companies may have to go ask someone and people are gonna have to have a meeting about it and make a decision when really you could just say, “You know what, we can split the interview up.” Someone who’s neurodiverse or has autism may be an amazing person for you to hire. And they’re just not comfortable talking in front of five different people at the same time.
There’s been a lot of awareness and discussion around diversity and trainings at big companies, but in my opinion an annual training is not gonna change someone’s behavior in the moment. And so what we believe is by making our candidates feel comfortable to request the accommodations that they need to be successful, knowing that every company we’re working with on the other end is paying to access this demographic and learn how to hire them, they’re comfortable disclosing. And on the other end, employers are receiving that data, not just what the accommodations are, but how to provide them, what it means, why someone would ask for that. We do onboarding for key people in talent acquisition but ultimately we’re relying on the fact that we’re getting resumes into the hands of the people that are reviewing candidates for this role.
And they’re going to be able to engage with our platform instantly and train themselves on that candidate. So they actually are learning versus relying on an annual training to theoretically change someone’s behavior in the future.
Carla Harris: So, let’s turn now to some final thoughts. For those who haven’t had the opportunity, what do you wish companies knew about working with the disabled community, and what would you say to somebody who’s just starting their journey who needs to accelerate that journey now to play catch up?
Charlotte Dales: I’d say the biggest reason that we get a “no” in sales is because people say we’re not ready. And I think what everyone needs to know is that you are ready. There’s already people with disabilities applying for your jobs.
And that it literally takes one person to be ready. I think sometimes in big companies you feel like you’re just one person and you can’t actually make change. This is actually something where one person can make change.
Hire someone and then other people will see what you’ve done and to be honest I think everyone has a responsibility to do that across the diversity segment and since Covid people have really reassessed what their priorities are and are wanting to work for companies that have a mission. But if you become a person who is an instigator of change at your company in this way you’re now part of a mission. And so I think what I’d say is just, “Be that one person, don’t think about everybody else.”
Carla Harris: Well said. Charlotte Dales, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Charlotte Dales: Thank you so much. I had a good time.
Carla Harris: Same here.
Carla Harris: Thank you again to D’Arcee Charington Neal and Charlotte Dales for joining me on this episode of Access & Opportunity.
What did you think of today’s episode? Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. And to continue learning about individuals working to drive systemic change within their communities, subscribe to Access and Opportunity on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Thanks for coming along.