Commemorating International Day of Persons with Disabilities
By Vidhu Pasricha
Early on in my career when I was offered a job, I was told that the company had a policy where employees could choose to work two days from home each month. As someone with an invisible disability, this policy excited me. It provided me with a sense of relief knowing that on days where I was in too much pain and could not bear the thought of commuting and sitting at a desk all day, I could stay at home and take care of my body all while tending to my professional obligations.
Unfortunately, after a few months, I quickly learned that while this policy was well-intentioned and designed to reflect strong diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices, in reality it failed to recognize what steps were needed for such policies to be successful.
It turned out the company was ill-equipped to deal with people working remotely – this was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic when working remotely was not yet commonplace. On days when I worked from home, I often found myself stressed by the need to constantly prove myself and reassure my managers that I could be just as productive at home as I was when I was in the office. Unfortunately, I was also left out of important conversations with clients because it was not common practice to dial-into meetings.
The result of all this was that I risked falling behind not only in my projects but also my career. I was consistently missing out on opportunities.
In 2020, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the world was forced to pivot. For many, I felt as though the pandemic disrupted people’s lives as many juggled multiple responsibilities such as parenting and homeschooling while working from home. However, for me and my colleagues with disabilities who had often been sidelined, we finally felt as though the playing field had been leveled.
All of a sudden, the systems that looked good on paper had to evolve dramatically to ensure that all employees could be productive and efficient, regardless of where they were working.
The result? Statistics began to show that 83% of employers believed that the shift to remote work was successful for their company. When it came to asking employees how they felt, 79% said that working from home had been a success. The flexibility to work from home is just one of the many accommodations that people with disabilities have been requesting for some time.
This year on December 3rd 2021, the United Nations (UN) will commemorate International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) with a theme that is focused on “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”
At Rabin Martin, this theme is deeply ingrained in the culture of the organization. For me, Rabin Martin has been a place where I have witnessed firsthand what happens when you encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work and create a safe space for sharing your experiences and requesting accommodations.
For instance, in July 2021, only one month after I had started at the firm, I needed spinal surgery. In support of my need for several months of rehabilitation, I had an open and honest conversation with Human Resources about what I was experiencing and what accommodations I needed. The firm was able to support my request to take a 2-hour break each day in order to attend various doctors’ appointments, rest and recover. This policy was a success because the firm “walked the talk” of inclusion. Colleagues scheduled meetings around my time away so that I could be a part of important conversations and others asked questions about what it was like to live with an invisible disability. As a result, I finally felt included and empowered. Most importantly, I did better work because I was not always focused on my pain.
With many returning to the office now and in the new year, we must help to ensure that we have D&I policies that not only look good on paper, but truly meet the needs of those within the disability community. It is important that companies self-reflect and begin involving people with lived experiences of having a disability to participate when creating D&I policies. I believe that without creating a space to hear the voices of the population we are aiming to support, we risk exclusion – not inclusion – and perpetuating a cycle where people cannot talk about their disability and ask for the accommodations that they need to achieve their true potential.