Ableist onboarding
January 28, 2020 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I am part of a new pilot project for how new hires are oriented to the division. The expectations are ableist. They will want my feedback and I cannot decide how honest to be.

My division has placed incredible physical demands on me as part of the onboarding procedures. I have registered a disability with HR but do not want to request accommodations yet. As the first person to go through the process, the manager over the division will want my feedback. I don't know how forthright to be.

I don't feel the need to disclose my own disability but clearly, I will not be the only person who has physical challenges that is expected to do this. I'm not sure it has even occurred to them how much physical exertion is being expected, and in fact is required according to how it has been described to me. Most roles in this division are standard desk jobs. I think they should be made aware that the process is implicitly ableist but I don't want to throw myself under the bus or put a target on my back. The company culture overall is very feedback oriented, but again, it's too soon to tell whether there is reactivity or defensiveness along with that messaging.

How do you know if a business or employer means it when they say "we would like your feedback?"
posted by crunchy potato to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Could you provide a little more information about what the physical exertion entailed and (vaguely) what kind of company we're talking about? For some companies, I would provide feedback but frame it as being from a perspective of inclusivity, and say that it occurred to you that someone with physical challenges would be uncomfortable with what was being asked of them and you know the company prides itself on its inclusivity so you wanted to flag that, particularly since the physical activity doesn't appear to be related to the job. But that would work well in some types of companies and not so much in others.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:12 PM on January 28, 2020 [12 favorites]

This seems like a good time for the "shit sandwich" (the bread is compliments). If they actually value the feedback, they get it. If they're just testing to see if you'll be a team player / fit in, they get that, too.

A cheesy template you will want to edit:
"I enjoyed onboarding and am so happy to be part of the team. I was surprised that we (played paintball / broke rocks / hiked) as part of it, though. That really tired me out and I think it could be too difficult for some folks. Maybe you could build team spirit using (skits / a group meal / a quiz game) instead? I really liked the powerpoint about our retirement plans, though, the presenter is so funny. Thanks for checking in!"
posted by momus_window at 2:28 PM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: The physical activity itself is walking, but a great deal more walking than anyone would expect from a desk job.

Company prides itself on diversity and inclusion. It is a very large company with many divisions. Education/healthcare type of mentality and structure.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:32 PM on January 28, 2020

They probably are unaware of the strain they've put on you and just flat out haven't thought it was an issue: I was mortified when early in my career I asked a colleague to switch buildings for an in person meeting and they showed up on crutches: I could have given them the option to call in, and ever since, include that option in all meetings I host.

If you do not wish to make your own constraints known at this point, use the "shit sandwich" approach reference above, but note that the walking between locations would be difficult for anyone with any constraints, be it due to injury (so mention crutches, cane or too many stairs/distance to navigate easily), disability, confusion or even due to weather. You can also just mention that enough time was not given between events to accommodate the need to tend to any personal needs etc.

I would however propose an alternate option, and if your job provides video conferencing ask them to include a "dial in" or video conference option for all meetings and attendees.
posted by larthegreat at 2:45 PM on January 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You may consider framing it as "At an earlier job of mine, they had someone who couldn't walk much and we had to adapt..., have you considered the program from the perspective of someone with mobility concerns?"

I find people are a lot less defensive of this sort of feedback if it's framed as "these other schmucks had to deal with real problem X, let's not make that mistake again" than "I'm concerned about potential problem X"

Similar to larthegreat, I think people are often unaware of what they're doing. I once worked somewhere with a 3+ hour orientation without a scheduled bathroom break. It took just one person to complain before it was fixed, but now I always share that story as I fight event planners to schedule in more breaks.
posted by matrixclown at 3:24 PM on January 28, 2020 [35 favorites]

Sorry to double, but clarifying that this obviously is a real problem, not just a potential or hypothetical problem. Giving a real world example just solidifies the issue better for some folks.
posted by matrixclown at 3:27 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Company prides itself on diversity and inclusion. It is a very large company with many divisions. Education/healthcare type of mentality and structure.

In terms of framing your feedback to be generically applicable to all employees with disabilities, you might want to use some of the language the Department of Labor uses around workplace/employment accommodations pursuant to the ADA:

The ADA requires reasonable accommodations as they relate to three aspects of employment: 1) ensuring equal opportunity in the application process; 2) enabling a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job; and 3) making it possible for an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

It sounds like your employer as you describe it likely has a specific accommodation policy to help them comply with their ADA obligations that you could also cite or reference in passing, not in a "HEY YOU'RE BREAKING THE LAW" sort of way but rather a "I noticed that there are a couple of things we're required to do here to make sure all new employees are able to fully participate."

Just to spitball a bit of gentler/constructive language, maybe opening your feedback with "In line with our culture of diversity and inclusion, the program needs to incorporate a few accessibility features to meet our obligations under the ADA and our own policies. Here are some suggestions for those..."

Figuring out who would need accommodation can be as simple as including an option to indicate it (or a point of contact to discuss it) as part of any signup/confirmation/invitation process.

If the orientation activities are booked via a calendar invitation, say, one of the simple things that the employer can do is to include a simple option along the lines of:

"If you require accommodations to allow you to fully participate in this orientation activity, please contact [X]."

The other piece of feedback for them is that if this is going to be a general onboarding activity, there's a non-zero chance that they'll need to accommodate others over time as part of the program for (e.g., mobility impairments, ASL interpretation, accessible electronic versions of documents for things like handouts, etc.), so it's important that people can confidentially request accommodations to allow them to fully and equally participate.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:22 PM on January 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

In your place, I would be honest. "This was very demanding..." "I had difficulty with..." I would not quote the law to your employers; it's their job to know the law. They want evidence from you, not conclusions or policy proposals. If you feel you must bring up the ADA, or anything else that's beyond feedback on your experience, I would do it orally in the most informal setting available.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:09 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

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