Sick [journalist] theory: real talk about navigating disability in the newsroom
Session facilitator(s): Jasmine Mithani, Hannah Birch
Day & Time: Thursday, 2:30-3:45pm
HANNAH: So my name is Hannah Birch.
JASMINE: And I’m Jasmine Mithani, and I’m she.
HANNAH: I’m she/her also. So we’re here to talk about disability in the newsroom which is we hope you’re here to talk about.
JASMINE: We have a quick schedule. We’re going to go over introductions and then we’re going to spend some time talking about people with disabilities who work in the newsroom, and then we’re going to go over some barriers that people with disabilities experience, and then we’re going to break up into groups, and then we’re going to come back and share. And the title of the talk, Sick Journalist and a theory comes from this essay, Sick Woman Theory and the essay is about protest, and how you can’t protest when you can’t get out of bed but this part in particular really struck me especially the way in the journalism workshop/life balance doesn’t work, and it’s that there’s no way for somebody to be both well enough to work and sick at the same time. It’s usually you are either physically capable or working or not. And it talks about how care in this configuration is only required sometimes. When sickness is temporary, care is normal. There’s a link to it on the etherpad. We have a link to the schedule on the etherpad, and we’ll fill it out later and we have a live transcription available. If you’re hard of hearing, it’s linked on the SRCCON schedule. So that being said, that’s why we have live transcription even though this is a sensitive topic, do make use of saying, “On the record” or “off the record.” Hopefully — yeah, we just want to make sure that it’s accessible for everyone as possible.
HANNAH: We recognize that a lot of people in this group are probably more in the position of being allies versus a person with disabilities themselves so we’re going to take that into account, don’t worry. And, yeah, should we start with introductions around the room? If we could have everybody go around the room, names, pronouns, and what they’re hoping to get out of the session today. That would be great.
AUDIENCE: I’m Michael Owen, he, him, his. I’m thinking about some workplace issues in my workplace and disability has not been one of them up to this point but a lot of workplace culture issues are interrelated and I just felt was pretty adjacent to what I’m thinking about.
DERRICK: I run a company called DataMade, and I’m a small business owner and employer. Full disclosure: I’m Jasmine’s boss.
AUDIENCE: I also work at DataMade. I came here to support Jasmine and I’ve also increasingly found disability studies as a really helpful way to think through lots of other things and so I’m interested in this from multiple angles.
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name is Julia and I work at Hearken which is next to DataMade in Chicago. And what I’m hoping to get out of this is I’m slowly transitioning into a manager role and I know that at some point I will be needing to support people on my team who may have different disabilities and just wanted to hear from different people of what they’ve appreciated and what’s a challenge in terms of workplace stuff.
GREG: I’m Greg Lynch, had he/him, I’m hear to listen, be a better ally.
AUDIENCE: I’m Jessica and I’m a student in the library science programs right now, focusing on libraries and I’m here just because I think this topic intersects so much with issues that we encounter in the community and the public space and would like to learn more about that.
AUDIENCE: I’m Joanna, she/her, and I’m interested in accessibility.
AUDIENCE: I’m Jarla, she/her, I’m deaf in one ear, and as an invisible disability, I’ve always thought about that in the workplace, and communicating to colleagues and it just makes me aware of issues that people may be going through.
AUDIENCE: I’m Katie, she/her. I’ve been a manager for a long time so I think a lot about supporting people both with visible and invisible needs. I think it’s an empathy gap that we have in the journalism industry.
AUDIENCE: Stacy Marie, she, her, them. I’m currently a manager, I also work on very many products that have a very strong accessibility angle or should have a very strong accessibility angle and so I want to patient that I’m representing that for my team but also the audiences that I’m responsible for.
NICOLE: I’m Nicole, she/hers. And, yeah, here to listen, learn, how to be a good ally, and I’m also just really interested in accessible design or universal design as it should be called.
CAROLYN: I’m Carolyn, she/her. I just think it’s an important topic and I also think that it’s an important framework to think about, like, a lot of ways in which we’re thinking about work and the workplace.
AUDIENCE: I’m Jun-Pen. I’m had he/him. My son is pretty physically disabled. He’s got a neurological condition and so it’s something that I’m always thinking about and, you know, it affects me in a different way than a person who has a condition like that so yeah.
EILEEN: I’m Eileen. She/her. I have chronic migraines. I have one right now, and I’ve been dealing with them for so long that only in the last year that I’ve thought, oh, this is a disability. This changes the way that I interact with the world but it’s my normal so it’s sort of like a new thing for me to think about it from a disability point of view.
HANNAH: Totally. That’s really interesting. Thanks for coming.
CAROLYN: I’m Carolyn. I guess, personally I have had PTSD for many years and it’s one of those things that comes and goes depending on what’s going on is how I phrase it, and that becomes very difficult to communicate sometimes. Also, I mean, in the past I’ve worked in accessibility/disability centers. So I have, I guess on the non-mental health side, a lot of experience, as well.
STEVEN: Steven, he/him. I’m also deaf in one ear. I had no idea. And also suffer from various stress disorders and it’s just I’m very interestinged in how DA works with folks because generally it doesn’t.
HANNAH: And journalism as we all know can be a stressful industry to work in sometimes. Jasmine and I are going to talk about our own experiences and we’ve also put together a Google Form that people might have seen around. And that’s actually available on the etherpad right now, and then we can kind of go from there. So it’s funny to be talking about this in front of a group of people because I spent many years deciding I will never talk about it in front of anybody. I have a genetic condition called albinism and it makes it difficult to see sometimes. And it’s like you guys were talking about hearing impairments, it’s something that people don’t immediately know when they meet me. So icon I’ve had entire jobs where I’ve not told my employers about it and just sort of struggled through in certain ways, and just made use of the little life hacks that I have.
I work at ProPublica, and I told my boss in a very awkward way. It was at a work outing, it was at a beer, at a bar, and it was sort of what it took for me to feel comfortable talking about it. I think I had been working at ProPublica at six months at that point. It never occurred to me to bring it up certainly any of the HR conversations afterward. I think I’ve gotten very used to this feeling of not wanting anybody to know, or thinking that it’s a reason not to interview me, or not have a job, or make some judgment about the quality or the type or work that I can do and it’s hilarious because very much of my job depends on working on working with very tiny type. I’m on the design team, and I’m the interface layer with other people on the team between the newsroom and the Internet. And so typos are very important. Anyone who has experience writing code knows how important it is, you’re looking for teeny semicolons and stuff that’s breaking your project. So that can be kind of hard for me but I’ve started talking about it more in the past few years and I think that’s the way that we can start actually making things better for everybody. And I’ll segue to you.
JASMINE: Yeah, I have a whole host of things. I have bipolar II, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, panic disorder, OCD, and until recently I thought I had ADHD but it turns out that I have an undiagnosed sleep disorder and when you don’t is to sleep, you have attention deficit. So I’m in the process of being diagnosed with that now. There are a lot of things — I’ve disclosed many different ways. For one job, I only said something when my medication changed and it caused an issue. So only then did I tell HR who told my boss. At other job, I said something on the first day. It was really important for me to talk about it in person and that didn’t go as well as I hoped it would because I think I blindsided everyone. Since then, I’ve told people when the job has been offered and before I accept it. That’s a difficult position to put employers in because they can’t say, “Well, we can’t accommodate you.” Because that’s illegal but I think it’s useful to set expectations. With sleeping, a lot of times I can go to sleep and not wake up for 15 hours, and it doesn’t — there’s no correlation. It just happens sometimes. Or I’m lethargic, or I can’t get out of bed; that happens a lot. Things that have happened in the past — or things that have helped in the past are asking for flexibility with getting in late and, you know, just making sure that I do complete my work. Or if it is an hourly job that I work on nights and weekends, which then, of course, has repercussions on other parts of my life, and also working remotely.
For the job that I started right now, recently at DataMade, our company is small enough that I sent an email to of our coworkers — all four other people and I just explained that I have a disability. I’ll often come in late. It’s really helpful if people schedule meetings in the afternoon, or if they write things down for me. And I also asked people to call me out if I apologize for having a disability. For instance, if I say, “I’m sorry I was sick”, I should say, I’m sorry I missed that meeting.
A kind of creative solution is we use something similar to Slack, and for my bosses and I have a private channel where I just send updates. Oh, I’ll be late for check-in, or I’ll be late, or sorry, I was sick. And that was good being in constant communication without informing the entire office how I’m feeling every day.
HANNAH: We have some examples that people shared through the Google Form. Can you scroll down so those are visible? I think there are a lot of themes in here. You know, worries about people’s perception of certain types of disabilities. You’ll be able to do a job. I think flexibility is, you know, a common theme — suggestions for people have for making it easier to work in news as someone with a disability. If anyone in the group feels comfortable talking about experiences that they’ve had, you’re more than welcome to. And, you know, if you have folks that might be interested in sharing with us with that, we have that Google Form set up to talk about that.
JASMINE: A common thing with newsrooms is the importance of being in office. A lot of times, being able to cover breaking news or, sort of, having a 24-hour news cycle, when in reality a lot of the work can be done from home. Especially if you’re, like, a news nerd and you develop. Even with companies with, like, strong culture of pairing or of, like, meetings a lot of times, it is really easy to call into a meeting, and a lot of companies have — at least in the tech world — there are a lot of guidelines for how best to have a remote-friendly company.
And a lot of people on this survey — which that journalism organizations would be able to adopt those, as well. One thing right is not wanting to disclose because someone has a visual impairment and they work in graphics and they think they could lose their job. These were a few that stood out. Where someone had a chronic back condition and they needed a new chair, and — no progress happened until they went to the ER. But maybe if they had gotten a new chair, they wouldn’t have had pain so severe they had to go to the ER. One thing about disability is that it can be temporary. Somebody could have a broken leg. It could also be different from what a lot of people would think of as disability. For instance, a lot of chronic mental illnesses count as disabilities. And also you can think of accommodations for post-partum depression, things like that.
And another overwhelming thing that we saw is a lot of people ended up quitting.
HANNAH: There’s kind of an interesting situation, too, where, you know, we’ve talked a lot about disabilities that are invisible that people might not notice immediately upon meeting somebody. We also heard from people who were struggling with how to tell an employer that they needed some sort of, you know, physical accommodation maybe for, like, a job interview. You know, if your whole contact with someone is remote and then suddenly they’re coming into your office and, you know, they use a wheelchair or have some other difficulty navigating physical space or communicating with people in a different way, that can be really difficult. And I think, like, an overarching theme that both Jasmine and I have shared, along with the people on this form is that both the responsibility of responsibility of disclosing these problems and solving them falls on the person with the disability. How do I tell people in a way that gets me what I need in a reasonable manner. If it’s something that Jasmine talked about, when do I tell my boss, how do I make sure people understand what I need to get my job done to make sure it’s no the like I’m making a big deal about good, that I can’t do my work. So Jasmine and I have talked about several ways that we might be able to make these conversations more like a structure of an organization and sort of as something that we think about together. And, you know, as people who are hiring people, managing people, the fact that you brought that up, I think that’s wonderful because I think that’s going to make that wonderful for people who do have some of these challenges to talk about them in a way that’s productive.
So the next section —
JASMINE: Do you want to do… so a lot of people are allies and are here to show support. As a precursor to our next exercise, I think it would be great if we sort of brainstormed the emotions that you think people with disabilities feel. For instance, I can say that I feel shame a lot. I always say that I’m worried that people will judge me or think that it’s not a real disability but I can go ahead and write stuff down with a marker and let people know if people have issues seeing black-on-white and I’ll make it big.
HANNAH: High contrast!
JASMINE: I know this is sort of a somber conversation, like, saying these are the things that I’ve gone through. Can you throw out some things that are, like, around disability in the workplace. Like shame?
AUDIENCE: Just being reminded, the severity and frequency of my migraines does not qualify me as a disability. I would say frustration and rage are two big ones. I would need to be in the office or in the meeting and I would show up in sunglasses and I would be mad in so much pain that I couldn’t think properly, but also angry that I had to be there when I’m in so much pain. So both of those.
AUDIENCE: And then there’s the anxiety like when is the next one. Do I need to have this in my head is it going to happen tomorrow?
AUDIENCE: In relation to that fear if I tell someone, what is the response going to be? Is this going affect my relationship or my job? There’s a lot of fear.
NICOLE: I guess exhaustion in addition to managing a disability is also so much around the extra labor of do I tell people, or do I set expectations or, you know, all the extra work that comes with the territory because spaces around accommodating.
HANNAH: Definitely, kind of like the emotional aspect. gone are the days of my parents going to my second-grade teacher saying, this is Hannah, she needs to sit close to the board. Now I’m making all those decisions and negotiating all of that, and my coworkers forgetting that I can’t see tiny type. There have been meetings where I just stand up and walk to the front of the room, which I guess is progress, because in the past, I just wouldn’t have done that and not have seen what was on the board. But the constant frustration of having to monitor things and make sure that I can actually get work done.
JASMINE: Anything else?
AUDIENCE: This might apply with mental disability… feeling inadequate.
HANNAH: Yeah, this is a sad list. You know, it’s kind of an interesting thing, too, with disability, something that came up, too, is language is really important to a lot of people. Which I’m sure we know from talking about other sensitive cultural things. I know that, like, using the phrase like saying someone suffers from a disability can be kind of fraught. Some might not be suffering, frankly. It’s, you know, living with a disability. I’m personally always cautious to use like people as the noun. So a disabled person, a person with disabilities. As someone with albinism, I get albino all the time, which I don’t like. I would rather be a person with something rather than this whole other category of thing. So I don’t know if that’s come up for you also. Sort of the terminology aspect of talking about this stuff.
JASMINE: Yeah, it took a long time. I was actually in college. I was interviewing — somebody was interviewing me for their thesis. They said they want to know experiences of college students with mental health issues and at the end of the issues, she told me to go to the Office of Disabilities because that’s what I had, and I had never thought about that before. I just thought that everyone was kind of depressed and had to deal with it and also had to take a lot of medication every day. And there have been a lot of arguments for saying — for not using “with disabilities” or “disabled” and the idea of differently abled. I subscribe to the notion that, you know, saying disability is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me. It’s uncomfortable for people who have never had to think of that, and I think we have to be uncomfortable at first, and yeah.
HANNAH: You know, I think this depends on having a somewhat trusting relationship with the person that you’re having a conversation with. If you feel close enough to ask — particularly if it’s somebody you manage or a coworker that you work with a lot and, you know, this might not be the first conversation that you have with them about, you know, challenges that they might have, but just asking straight up: what terms do you prefer? How do you prefer to refer to using a wheelchair or, you know, being partially sighted, or visually impaired, or whatever it is because I think people have talk a lot about this.
JASMINE: There’s also benefits of using the language of disability because there’s The Americans With Disabilities Act and that’s usually a word to your manager — I worked for a company for a long time. Right after they offered my job, and I told them my disability status and immediately looped me in with HR and talked about accommodations and never talked about what my disability was. But you can raise or lower your desk. Everybody sits near each other. So they’re definitely more focused on physical disability but they just needed to hear that word. And if I just said like sometimes I oversleep or I need accommodations, that might not have done that.
HANNAH: Yeah, that’s a great point.
JASMINE: Yeah, and it is worth noting that the ADA, and things also like the Affordable Care Act really only apply to companies generally with 15 or more employees. So that’s another difficulty that you have to navigate sometimes. But, again, the language of disability helps a lot as a legal term.
JASMINE: Should we…?
JASMINE: Physical and structural. Things that can be challenging for people with disabilities.
HANNAH: We’ve talked a lot about these things but what we want to do is make a list of situations that might be challenging for somebody with a disability, and then we will sort of go through that list, figure out what we want to tackle sort of in small groups, spend a few minutes talking about that, talking about solutions, or maybe not solutions but maybe ways that allies could help, or maybe just theoretical ways that organizations could start looking at things how we can make these things better and come back as a group and share what we talked about. We can start things off with a few ideas that we’ve had, experiences that we have had that we’ve had, things that we saw before. But like we mentioned, someone needs physical accommodations when they’re coming in for a job interview.
JASMINE: Wow, I’m just really bad. It’s the “-TION” that’s killing me.
HANNAH: There was a question also when to disclose a disability. So if you’re looking at when you’re being hired before a job offer is made, after a job offer is made, before you’ve started to work, after you’ve started work.
AUDIENCE: I thought that under ADA you don’t ever have to disclose technically. But I know that there are points that people need to disclose for an accommodation.
HANNAH: That’s a great point to make. I don’t know either. There are people who specialize in…
AUDIENCE: Disability law.
HANNAH: We were talking less about that and more kind of about the social side of it.
JASMINE: One thing with the ADA, though, is that if there’s an HR department, they disclose to HR, and if they need accommodations, they’ll tell your boss. And your boss — you’re protected so they can’t ask you what you have, they can’t ask you to justify it. They just have to give you accommodations. So that’s I guess reason for disclosing and also how you are protected.
HANNAH: That’s a great point. What other situations can you guys think of
AUDIENCE: The horror of open-plan offices.
AUDIENCE: True story.
HANNAH: And I think something put that we can add to that, too, is open-plan offices that aren’t actually that open. It might be difficult to navigate by someone, in, say, a wheelchair.
NICOLE: Scheduling? Like, when you were talking about scheduling meetings for a certain time, or you need to schedule a certain time to see a therapist, or a doctor’s appointment, having that flexibility.
CAROLYN: And with that, an issue that’s come up in our office is we have flexible work in one policy and we’re flexible about doctor’s appointments. But sometimes someone won’t take good notes in meetings. We’ll have video call meetings. People will forget to set up the video call if someone’s working from home or something like that. So it’s like in theory we’re pretty good but we don’t always think it all the way through, I guess.
AUDIENCE: Also mentioning work from home, a policy for working from home, or being more flexible about working from home.
AUDIENCE: I’ve found that a lot of the difficulties in working from home in some jobs also apply to people who are trying to listen in on a meeting or need notes because it’s like my team will call a quick meeting, just a huddle and even if someone has a phone and they called in, you’re not going to be able to hear, the audio quality of that. So I think making sure that you have the tools, the conference meeting rooms and stuff.
HANNAH: Totally. So kind of the tech aspect of operations.
AUDIENCE: I’ve definitely found one of the — I try to bundle remotes and accessibility setup because they help the same groups of people. If you properly — if you require things to only have a dial-in, or Zoom or you required to have a note taker, and they’re predictable, even if they come in. It also normalizes it because every meeting is a meeting that is accessible and remote friendly without it being a specific accommodation for someone and I’ve definitely found when I’m managing people who need accommodations, the less they feel that this is something that we need to do for them and the more that we feel that this is something that we do that makes it easier for everyone.
HANNAH: That’s a great point.
AUDIENCE: Tools are really important. I’ve had some transient vision issues and just doing close work on a CMS that’s not built responsively so you can’t easily change the zoom on it. Things like that where there’s proprietary software that’s not designed to accommodate different abilities.
HANNAH: Yeah, definitely. I’m all about that cmd +.
AUDIENCE: Could we go back to your point about job interviews — one of the things that my company does now is in the job descriptions we will say that we will make accommodations and also when we are reaching out to schedule an interview, we ask every single candidate: are there any accommodations that you need? So we had someone who came in for a marketing position who needed an ASL interpreter and we knew the ASL interpreter, and we’ve found that just by building these things into the process, it attracts all the candidates that we need, but it also makes it easier for everyone in the office because no one feels weird, I don’t know what to do if — there’s already a system in place. And then we also train people like, hey, this person is coming in. This is going to be an ASL interpreter, and this is where you sit, and this is the direction that you need to look in to make sure, and all that stuff.
JASMINE: It’s interesting. A new outlet that I used to work for had that on their application and our manager actually pulled it off because it was a liability issue the way that HR saw it was that if we asked for whether somebody needed accommodations, they can claim that we discriminated against them. And also we previously asked for pronouns and stuff, and that caused a lot of strife.
AUDIENCE: It definitely depends on the risk tolerance of your legal department.
HANNAH: I’m going to write that down.
JASMINE: One thing that’s interesting that I hadn’t heard yet is health care. I’ve had to turn down jobs because they didn’t offer me benefits or were like, “You’re young and don’t need to go to the doctor, right?” I had, like, four doctor’s appointments last week.
AUDIENCE: I think also beyond the benefit of health care — I think also having whoever the benefit’s managers are understanding the health care that — the health care that came with the job that my husband had, they changed providers. And I was like oh, that’s good, that’s 19 hours of calls for me to get pre-approved for the things that I need to get pre-approved for. So it’s not just the health care itself but it’s the benefits department understanding knowing what the employees are going to need. Not just that health insurance important but also not switching it on a whim because you save $12 and sort of making sure that the benefits of the plan work as it comes up.
HANNAH: That’s a great one.
JASMINE: That reminds me about negotiating, as well. There are a lot of things that you can negotiate for on a job offer that aren’t necessarily pay. So, for instance, more time off or working remotely one day a week. Another thing that I’ve heard of is people asking their employer to just pay them what they would be paying the premium so they can get their own insurance that will cover them if the employer health insurance doesn’t. But…
AUDIENCE: That seems like if you have very low expectations about their ability to handle health care big work themselves. That’s you taking on a lot if you have to do all the buying and playing yourself. Seems like not an ideal thing to be negotiating for.
JASMINE: I think, yeah, I think it depends on the kind of insurance or one thing to —
AUDIENCE: You want to stay with your current insurance, for example?
JASMINE: Or if your doctor isn’t in network, that can basically ruin your health care plan. Hannah, was there anything else that we haven’t thought of that hasn’t gone up yet? Thank you so much for writing that.
HANNAH: Oh, absolutely. We talked about job growth. I worry about this as someone who works in a visual field with a visual impairment. You know, people will see that not only is it a reason that I would be bad at my job, but bad at my job in a way that would never improve. So how to sort of fight that bias, maybe.
JASMINE: There’s a quote from someone I think at the LA Times that made rounds on Twitter a few weeks ago. That’s, like, when you’re interning there, you should be there at least ten hours a day. It was like, volunteer for overnight shifts, holiday shifts. Like, write everything possible. Like, live at the office, and then we’ll hire you. And, like, that’s the expectation and if you don’t meet that, you won’t get hired. That was another thing that we read about on a survey is in journalism, if you’re asked to pull more than eight-hour days. And work-life balance isn’t something that a lot of people in journalism are used to but if your body can’t physically do that, people that are expecting you are, aren’t going to give you that promotion we are or take you off stories. People didn’t want to appear delicate for things that required a lot of investigation or travel.
HANNAH: I think the quote that stood out to me from the questionnaire is the business-rewards exhaustion.
CAROLYN: Also just one other thing that I was thinking about was, like, my work is very flexible from work from home policy but it still feels like when you’re doing it, you need to have an excuse. So, for example, if I ever want to work from home, I have to post on my office Slack channel and say, you should make up a reason. Even if it’s just like I really felt mentally, like, felt really shitty this morning, like, didn’t have the energy to go into the office. So, I don’t know, normalizing that. Not having a reason.
AUDIENCE: Maybe like no fault, no foul. That language might be helpful.
JASMINE: I think one other thing that you mentioned, too, is what if nobody else has a work-from-home policy and you’re the only employee who gets that. I’m sure that would cause a lot of tension with your coworkers who don’t have that, what they see as a luxury.
NICOLE: I’m really fortunate that I feel like my boss and my PM sets really good standards in terms of boundaries of if it hits a certain time, if you’ve been here for X amount, you should go home. It’s fine. The work will be here tomorrow. And we also have, like, a really explicit, like, sick days include mental health days can which I really, really appreciate and that I’ve definitely taken advantage of a lot. So I think kind of setting those expectations ahead of time so you don’t have to ask for it, per se, but you know that it’s there makes a huge difference also.
AUDIENCE: That’s definitely part of the onboarding on my team. All of the teams that I’ve run have a significant mental health component. Especially since I have migraines. I can say, I’m not here, I’m out sick. And it gives sort of permission to anybody else if their manager has this thing that they’re dealing with. And I think from a hiring manager’s perspective, I think it’s really important to — again, depending on the risk tolerance of your legal department to demonstrate awareness without requiring specifics. So I don’t need to ask you what the thing is, or why you’re working for whom, but I need to find ways that if you need those things, they will be available.
HANNAH: That’s great. Can you say that phrase one more time. Demonstrating requirements without…
AUDIENCE: Needing specifics.
HANNAH: Great. Thank you.
JASMINE: I had a boss or a manager who, both of her kids had disabilities. But that gave us, like, a common ground. And she told me that I always apologize saying, I’m sorry I couldn’t do this. And she says, don’t apologize. If you ever need me to tell you that, don’t apologize. Unfortunately I didn’t get to work with her every day. So it was more like my coworkers who were suffering when we had a meeting, or we had to go to print at a certain time and I wasn’t there. I think we have enough to break out into small groups.
HANNAH: Just making sure that everything is all captured on the etherpad.
JASMINE: What we’re going to do is we’re going to have everyone break out into small groups and then we’re going to come up with scenarios and come up with solutions. From this, we’re hoping to share the etherpad documents and if we have common scenarios and help both managers who might have to encounter somebody and they’ve never worked with a disability anymore, or if someone has a disability and needs a roadmap to start a conversation. So we do have stuff here. We could if we voted, split up into many groups. I don’t think we have that many people. I think we have, like, 16.
HANNAH: Maybe three-ish groups? Does that sound good? Maybe pick three areas to focus on? We can do four. Sound cool? So the way that we’re going to do this is you’re going to close your eyes and we’re going to read out one of these categories. Raise your hand if you want to work on that. Put your hand down. Vote category-by-category, tally up votes, and sort of on the ones that got the most votes.
JASMINE: We’re trying to do the dot method without everyone having to come up to the front. We’re going back to grade school. Heads down, everybody!
AUDIENCE: So we can vote for multiple things?
HANNAH: Vote for things. And we’ll see which ones sound the most interesting to most people.
JASMINE: No peeking. This is a very high-stakes voting situation, everyone. So let’s do the job interviewing/hiring process. Yup, cool. You can put your hands down. Okay. All right. So when to close that you have a disability or need physical accommodations, basically.
JASMINE: And who do they disclose to.
HANNAH: Hands nice and high! Perfect, thank you.
JASMINE: We’re guesstimating a little bit. Who knew counting was so hard?
HANNAH: We’re going to say, open fleur…? I’m sorry, open floor — open-space office rooms in general. So meeting-room tech, stuff like that. Great. Scheduling and working from home? Health care? Health care, knowledge, benefits, things like that? Job growth? Personal development as a person with disabilities. Cool. All right. Class, we can open our eyes.
HANNAH: Working from home is a popular one. When you need physical accommodations for something, and office setup.
JASMINE: Office accommodations, yeah. That’s three.
HANNAH: Job growth. And do you want to do job growth or job interview accommodations?
AUDIENCE: The votes are 9:8.
JASMINE: I feel like job growth could have a little more discussion.
HANNAH: So folks who are interested in talking about working from home…? Let’s have you over in, like, this area. This area — I’m going to gesture more specifically. Let’s see office setup, meeting tech over here.
JASMINE: Back corner.
HANNAH: When to disclose that you have a disability and accommodations, we’ll do over here. And middle we can do job growth.
[ Group Work ]
AUDIENCE: Does job growth include path to connections and stuff like that?
HANNAH: Yeah, definitely.
JASMINE: We’ll go for about ten, 15 minutes, thank you.
[ Group Work ]
HANNAH: We’re going to reconvene and talk about the stuff that we talked about.
AUDIENCE: Are you going to do the clap thing?
JASMINE: We did the deer sign where it was like, be quiet. And then everybody is quiet except for the one person and then everyone has the deer sign and is staring at them. So I heard some really great conversations happening and I hate to interrupt but we have about ten minutes left but we’ll rush through what you talked about, and I’ll jot down notes on the etherpad as we do that, some things I recorded as we go. Who wants to start?
AUDIENCE: Do we have to do sequential?
HANNAH: Everybody all at once.
AUDIENCE: So we were the work from home, and we expected there to be a decent amount of overlap with the office setup. One of the key things before you get to functionality is what are the things that are allowed. What are the things that I need to normalize to work from home to pretend that I’m not getting a package, or that I’m literally not seeing anyone here, where folks mentioned, hey, I’m out of the office, or sharing it on a document, private versus public, and letting people know where you’ll be and why you’ll be doing it without needing to explain it. The other thing which we talked about is when you do have fully remote employees, the things that you do to adapt for your fully remote employees also work for people who work from home, remotely, or not remotely. Is VPN something that you can set up on your personal machine, are you functionally able to do all of the tasks that you are able to do for whom you are doing it in the office. Do you have headsets. One of his colleagues has a ringlight for calls. Are you using a decent calling solution, or a shitty free solution which cuts out after 25 minutes, which no one does… and are these things available, can you expense them? Can you write them off on your tax returns? How are your managers communicating what these benefits are for people who want to take them.
JASMINE: Thanks for sharing.
HANNAH: That’s great. Cool.
JASMINE: Do we want to work from the office setup group?
NICOLE: Yeah, so we talked a lot about, I guess in different dimensions, first, I guess making options available for the physical space and accommodations, again, so that people don’t feel like they have to — they can ask but it’s also like there are things that you can provide adjustable tables, or chairs, or anyone can kind of use those however they want to. Providing quiet spaces if people need to — if people need that kind of space, and not be around all that fluorescent lighting. We talked, again, about meeting setups in terms of recording meetings, having a notetaker. Everyone in the room agrees to use a microphone, or Zoom has a really good raise-hand feature that might be useful for someone with hearing problems. We talked about onboarding and corporate policies. And how we have trainings for things like sexual harassment and racial insensitive but I think that’s another dimension that everyone should have in the office, which connected to this idea of literacy and general in, like, the broader floorplan of the office because we’re going to book you over here in the conversations that might be triggering, making sure that people use appropriate language and might be sensitive to things that might not be super kosher.
And resource groups, how they can intersect with other groups and how the company can either provide funds to support programming. And we also discussed the idea of Slackbots or other technical solutions to look for certain keywords. Stuff I mentioned in our group, we had, like, a bot that polices the use of the word “guys.” This is why it can be problematic, or here are some alternatives. That can be, like, a technical solution. So taking on that emotional growth. Repeatedly calling things out.
JASMINE: Thanks for sharing. Do you want to… job growth?
AUDIENCE: Sure. A lot of these would make work nice for everyone.
JASMINE: Do you need a minute?
HANNAH: No, I’m good.
AUDIENCE: You’re doing great!
AUDIENCE: Giving everybody a routine time where they can express their aspirations to their managers when they want to. And when possible, describe the path of promotion to people, either when they’re hired or at their review points to know here’s what we look for, and to make sure that we know, here’s the traits that we look for, and here are the kinds of things that we look for. And be very clear and expressed — we don’t promote people based on how many more hours they worked than other people, or how many more bylines they got than somebody else. So don’t waive in that process. And add structure to that process so that people know what that process is when there’s an opening, how is it communicated to people when there’s an opening. And who do you communicate with your employees in establishing that process if you don’t already have a process. And just, again, back to the routine times when you can express your desire for growth and aspiration. Just having a known schedule so you can get feedback for you know you’re doing well. Like your disability is not impacting the way that I perceive your quality of work. Part of it is also not waiting until the last possible moment before deciding to promote somebody because when it feels rushed and promotions happens, that’s when a lot of this stuff gets skipped. Be transparent when hiring somebody into a position that does not have any position. Let somebody know that this is a dead-end position. You’re going to be here for a few years and then you’re going to need to go somewhere else. A lot of people need to know that when you hire them. And then the last one is managers using company budgets or using core management to help them with workshops to support employees who have disabilities.
JASMINE: Disclosure: we’re almost out of time.
AUDIENCE: Disclosure, I mean, there’s a difference between sitting, realizing was she I can’t hear things at the desk I’m sitting at and being in the middle of a panic attack. Like what do you need? People need different things at those points and it’s so dependent on your personal situation. So we want to make sure that managers create a subtle opening for, okay, you’re new to this job,. If there’s anything that you want to share with me or HR, my door’s open, and making that possible. Demonstrating awareness without requiring specifics was good example of that like I said earlier. And when talking to somebody about this, we wanted to say, it’s fine to say, here’s what wouldn’t help me. I wouldn’t picture it, if you did X in response to my actions at this time. Like, kind of making that clear.
HANNAH: And that’s as a person with a disability? Cool. Just making sure that I understand.
AUDIENCE: I’m sorry.
HANNAH: No, you’re fine.
AUDIENCE: Just as a person disclosing, here’s what I need, and here’s what I don’t, and just making those pathways very clear and we talked about the value of having a buddy who kind of knows what to look for. A friend in the newsroom, a person you go to work with, a work spouse. Maybe someone who can clear the deck and say, maybe you look out for me, I look out for you, look out for each other.
AUDIENCE: So you don’t feel comfortable telling everybody.
AUDIENCE: Because we spend a lot of time with our colleagues. So to some extent, it’s important. Not everyone clearly, but someone to help you out. That was it. Is there anything else?
JASMINE: So we have everything on the pad. We encourage you, if there’s something else that we didn’t mention. We’re hoping to share this and probably do a write-up on Source, I feel like. It was great to hear from everyone. Thank you for coming. It means a lot that a lot of people showed up to support and to learn.
HANNAH: We know it’s kind of a tough thing to talk about. So thank you!
[ Applause ]