The Case for Change: How to create an accessible work environment

As discussed in article two, the interactive process that determines the best way to provide an accommodation begins when an employee or application discloses the need. Evolving roles, responsibilities, and capabilities are all considered to find a solution that works for the person and the company. Legally, companies are required to do this—but some are choosing to go further. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co’s strategic approach 

JPMorgan Chase is a global financial services company that has made a significant investment in this area  ̶  seeking to capitalize on the knowledge and experience held by persons of all abilities.  

“For employees with disabilities, we have adaptive technologies and all kinds of ergonomic equipment,” says Bryan Gill, JPMorgan Chase’s first Global Head of Neurodiversity, who also leads the Office of Disability Inclusion. “We have specific equipment and resources for our neurodivergent colleagues as well. The most important piece of this process is for managers to lead with empathy, listen to their colleagues and accommodate their needs to the best extent possible.”  

At JPMorgan Chase, once an employee states that something is impacting their ability to do their best work, the firm steps in with a plan to address it. The employee doesn’t need to disclose a specific diagnosis, but they are encouraged to express their needs and preferences to be their best every day.  

As a global financial services firm, JPMorgan Chase has more than 50,000 managers and it’s important for each to connect with each employee’s individual needs and adapt their communication styles accordingly – whether the employee is part of the disabled or neurodivergent communities.  

“Too often people develop a managerial approach which includes a particular style of communication, that only works in one situation. But when you get a new team member who processes information differently, or prefers not to make eye contact, the manager needs to adjust their communication style,” says Gill. “What may have worked in the past, has to be adjusted for each individual employee.”  

JPMorgan Chase has two signature programs for hiring and retaining neurodivergent talent.  

Autism at Work began as a Delaware-based pilot in 2015. Since its inception, the program has grown to encompass more than 90 different roles in nine countries.  

And in 2019 JPMorgan Chase created the Business Solutions Team (BeST)  ̶  which matches the talents of neurodivergent employees (with a focus on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities)  ̶   with roles that include data training for artificial intelligence, real estate for the commercial bank and call center analytics.  

“These are jobs that are integrated into the firm’s core business and add tremendous value,” says Gill. “The addition of neurodivergent employees has brought us diversity of thought, helps us to understand the diverse communities we serve and reinforces our inclusive corporate culture.”  

Diverse group of business people meeting in office lobby with focus on young woman in wheelchair sharing ideas

Bank of America’s record of inclusion  

Bank of America is another financial services firm with a huge footprint impacting the disability community. For more than 25 years Bank of America’s support services group has been made up of teammates with IDD. They do things like ensure that customers’ addresses are the same across accounts, mail correspondence, and track down information of deceased customers. In Dallas, Marc Woods has led that team since February 2012. 

“We are an efficiency add for the bank,” Woods says. “We allow other teams to offload processes that are time-consuming and monotonous but also critical to a well-functioning financial services firm.”  

According to Accenture, treating customer experience and other business services as a value center rather than a cost center achieves 3.5 times more revenue growth. People on the autism spectrum or with other forms of IDD typically do well at repetitive tasks required of business services functions. 

“While me and you may get burnt out on that kind of work, somebody with Down Syndrome, autism, or Aspergers – they really thrive,” says Woods. 

Woods knows this first-hand, having grown up with an older brother who is significantly impacted by autism. That experience is always with him and informs how he leads the group. He’s proud not just of the employment opportunities that Bank of America enables but also of the community it fosters. 

“This is probably one of the few environments where they are surrounded by people who are just like them. Everyone here has a disability. Everyone here needs some type of support to be successful,” says Wood. 

Unsurprisingly, the retention rate in an environment like that is quite high; employees will happily tell you they’ve been in their jobs for 10 or more years.  

“We have homeowners, car owners, retirees who never thought they’d work at a premier financial services company,” said Woods. “We even have people who have married each other after meeting on the job.” 

The total number of support services employees is around 300, spread across Texas, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Maine. Locally, the number fluctuates and has reached as high as 100. 

Creating the right fit 

Despite research into the benefits of diversityparticularly neurodivergencein the workplace, companies don’t always approach it the same way, and many people with disabilities choose to work for themselves instead. According to the National Disability Institute, in 2022, there were more than 1.8 million business owners with disabilities in the U.S. Being their own boss also gives them a chance to leverage their experience for the greater good. One Dallas-Fort Worth example is Tiffani Martin, who started and ran Jancyn & Company, LLC for 10 years. 

The company was certified by Disability:IN and used its deep understanding of accessibility guidelines to help companies become more inclusive through artificial intelligence and digital strategy. Martin also founded VisioTech, an accessibility IT consulting firm. In both, she saw a chance to combine her skills and professional knowledge with her personal experience as a blind person. 

“I was able to be the physical and intellectual embodiment of a solution to a problem that affected not just me but other peers across industries,” said Martin. 

Martin lost her vision at age 28 because of diabetic retinopathy. Today, she’s a strategy & operations project manager for the T.D. Jakes Foundation, where she says the organization takes Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility seriously. 

“The T.D. Jakes Foundation has done an exceptional job in accommodating my needs and understanding what enables me to work to my potential.” 

As someone with entrepreneurial experience, she compares creating a truly inclusive environment to launching a startup. She says it’s a great idea that needs a talented team to bring into reality; strategic thought is needed to make inclusivity more than a public relations tactic, and it must be prioritized to ensure consistency.  

Tips for creating an accessible workplace

Portrait of successful group of multiethnic business people at modern office looking at camera. Portrait of happy creative team of satisfied businesspeople standing as a team. Multiracial group of people smiling.

Disabilities can manifest in multiple ways, and while knowing how to respond when an employee voices a need is critical, organizations that prioritize inclusion are also proactive. That means thinking about disability inclusion from every angle and anticipating needs. 

Completing a comprehensive audit of a company’s disability inclusion policies and procedures takes time. Many resources are available to help with this effort. 

In the North Texas Commission’s DEI toolkit, Meryl K. Evans, speaker and disability inclusion and accessibility strategy consultant, also recommends the following as a general guide: 

  • Have at least two top leaders of your organization be accessibility/disability inclusion champions; 
  • Include people with disabilities at all professional levels; 
  • Bake accessibility and disability inclusion into company culture by: 
    • Asking employees with disabilities for input on policies, ideas, and work environment; 
    • Creating employee-centric policies like remote working and flexibility; 
    • Making it standard practice for employees to share preferences for collaboration and communication; 
    • Demonstrating disability inclusion awareness in all aspects of business:  
      • products and services that are produced for consumers;  
      • accessibility for employees;  
      • company-sponsored employee events that feature accessible products that can be used by employees and customers; and 
  • Conduct company-wide training and awareness campaigns on accessibility and disability awareness. 

Accenture has also done significant research into how companies can better include people with disabilities in the workforce: 

  • Employ: Beyond hiring, employers should implement practices that encourage and promote the progress of persons with disabilities.   
  • Enable: Leaders must provide employees with disabilities with accessible tools and technology and a formal accommodations program. Consider cultivating greater awareness through formal training programs for those without disabilities to learn about the tools and accommodations available for better integration across teams.  
  • Engage: To foster an inclusive culture throughout the organization, companies must generate awareness-building through recruitment efforts, disability education programs and grass-roots-led efforts and events. 
  • Empower: Companies must offer mentoring and coaching initiatives and skilling/reskilling programs. Persons with disabilities should occupy roles at all levels, including top leadership positions. 

To access Accenture’s report: The disability inclusion imperative, click here.