“Changing the world isn’t something that’s a quarterly objective, it’s a journey,” said Craig Mundy, Ingersoll Rand’s Vice President of Human Resources. On Oct. 22, Mundy welcomed other workplace accessibility experts from a variety of industries as they gathered on Ingersoll Rand’s Davidson campus for the Annual Conference for Disability:IN North Carolina. Speakers at the event explored how employers can better bring disabled employees into the fold of today’s work environment, and the unique talents these workers often bring.
According to the group’s website, Disability:IN North Carolina is a NC-based organization that “is committed to collaborating with purpose to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities, to inspire accessible innovation for all, and to foster cultures of inclusion.”
And, as executive director Beth Butler told the crowd, getting that message to the right people can be difficult, which made the corporate setting – as well as the inclusion of Mundy and other influential leaders from the across Charlotte region – a vital detail in delivering her organization’s message.
“The executives have to understand the impact that this work has,” she told the crowd. “And if we don’t get it to the C-suite and at that executive level, it’s tough to get it down to the ground level.”
Aside from Mundy and fellow Ingersoll Rand representatives Greg Young and Evan Turtz, the speaker list included representatives from some of the state’s most influential employers, including Microsoft, UNC-Charlotte, Wells Fargo, AXA Equitable and PWC, among others. The keynote was delivered by Ed Summers, Director of Accessibility at SAS Institute, an analytics software company based in Cary, NC.
Summers, who was diagnosed with a degenerative retinal disease when he was 10, has helped SAS develop software that replaces visual cues with sound to represent data, which eliminates a huge obstacle for the visually impaired. Living with the disability himself, Summers said he drew inspiration from the Preamble to 2008’s United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which stated “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
In other words, disabilities are caused by the obstacles in front of a person, not the person themselves.
“(That idea) changed my thinking, personally and professionally, about disabilities and accessibility,” Summers told the crowd. “A disability is not part of the person, it’s created when they walk into a room, when they walk into a workplace, and thinking about it this way really leads to some interesting opportunities for us in the business world and policy state.”
That idea has also driven Microsoft’s efforts to bolster inclusion in the workplace, said Software Engineering Manager James Boiling. He cited a World Health Organization report that said 1.2 million people across the world are in need of adaptive technology, and an “alarming” amount don’t have access to it.
“So when we approach accessibilities, how do we build technologies that address accessibilities, how do we build technologies that address some of those challenges?”
All-inclusive isn’t just for vacation
Greg Young, a co-chair for the VisAbility ERG and Disability:IN NC board member, said Ingersoll Rand’s willingness to host the statewide event represented a much larger mission.
“It’s about, how do we benchmark and learn? How do we start driving awareness?” explained Young. “How do we start learning, how do we leverage the local resources and really start bringing that awareness and driving this message forward?
“Even just the process of hosting this conference has been such a learning experience for us. It has really helped us extend our reach internally. More people in the organization are starting to understand that, hey, we’re here, this is our mission, this is our message."
That starts, said Mundy, at the top. As a supporter of No Barriers (a nonprofit that provides adaptive support for those with physical, mental or emotional disabilities), the V.P. of Human Resources at Ingersoll Rand said leaders must be open, curious and, most importantly, courageous.
“For leaders of any size organization, having the courage to listen and hear what an organization is saying to you, to do that, even if what you’re hearing doesn’t fit your mental model of the world -- it’s actually very difficult for a lot of us to do in leadership positions,” said Mundy. “We sometimes put up filters when the message we hear doesn’t fit our model.”
IR’s commitment to inclusion took a major step forward in 2018 when it started the VisAbility Employee Resource Group. The mission is “to promote disability awareness, equip managers to create opportunities for every employee, and to support employees with disabilities or those who care for a person with a disability.”
“We’ve been on a journey to be a premier performing company,” explained Ingersoll Rand Senior V.P. and General Counsel Evan Turtz, who also sponsored the VisAbility Employee Resource Group.
“The only way to get there is to be a progressive and inclusive company, and to have a winning culture.”
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