President, Deb Dagit Diversity LLC (Former VP/Chief Diversity Officer at Merck)
How has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacted your employment journey?
The ADA made it easier to get the accommodations I have needed such as nearby parking, a laptop at home and work so I did not have to carry one back and forth, remote work when recovering from fractures or surgery, an ergonomically correct office chair, etc. I now travel with a personal assistant and service dog and there has not been an issue as a consultant with my clients incurring this additional expense when they need me to come on-site.
If the ADA did not exist, what do you think your life would be today?
I am not sure I would have been able to get into the diversity and inclusion field if not for the ADA. I was originally hired as a contract employee in 1991 by Sun Microsystems to help them comply with the ADA. This became my first diversity leader role. I was invited to help create the D&I field by other EEO/AA practitioners who wanted to include a person with a disability as they developed the new practices and policies that form the basis of modern diversity and inclusion.
What was the best career advice you have received?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be a learner vs. learned and don’t get pigeon-holed as only knowing how to do a few things well. Allyship means being courageous in standing up for anyone feeling marginalized or vulnerable. Speak up and be a vocal and visible advocate when people are left out or demeaned. Share information and resources, it always pays dividends and is rewarding to reach out to and mentor colleagues.
What main point do you want all employers to understand about the value of people with disabilities?
We are resilient innovators who know how to get things done, in spite of obstacles. During business as unusual times, employees with disabilities will often bring skills and ideas to help businesses not just survive but thrive.
What is one thing employers can do today to build a pipeline of diverse talent that includes people with disabilities?
Ensure that the talent you already have with disabilities feel included and safe self-identifying and asking for what they need to be successful. Once employees are able to share this part of their identity freely, they will help you to find, develop and grow other talent with disabilities.
Thinking ahead to ADA40, what might the workplace look like for people with disabilities?
We need to view disability as a natural part of the human condition and see barriers not as medical challenges, but as social/societal problems. Stigma is still the greatest challenge to people with disabilities fully contributing in the workplace and offering innovative ideas for the marketplace.
What advice do you have for young professionals with disabilities seeking their first job or advancement within their current company?
Know your value. Demonstrate confidence. Consider questions that arise about your disability as a teachable moment. Leverage your perceived vulnerability as a way to engage those with power and privilege to help you make your work environment better for everyone. Don’t be shy about offering ideas to improve business processes and outcomes.