Future of Work Podcast, Episode 22.

Reyma McDeid, Executive Director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living (CICIL), discusses how employers can address their business needs and meet those needs by hiring a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities.

This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.​

View All Episodes


Intro: [00:00:00.12] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrill, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.88] I’m reading a lot of buzz on the Internet about accessibility and technology and job creation. I love that more companies are considering accessibility and hiring people with disabilities. That’s what this Workology podcast, the Future of Work series, with PEAT is all about. I wanted to hear more about job creation for people with disabilities from an expert who has helped train, lead and coach H.R. leaders, business leaders and people with disabilities to help them find work where they can make a difference. We’re going to be talking and learning about job creation for people with disabilities. Listen up, H.R. People. This is a great podcast for you. This episode of the Workology podcast is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. In honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this year, we’re investigating what the next 30 years will look like for people with disabilities at work and the potential of emerging technologies to make workplaces more inclusive and accessible. Today, I’m joined by Reyma McDeid. Reyma is the executive director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living. They are a winner of the 2018 Organization of the Year award from the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission. She serves as the treasurer for both the National Council on Independent Living and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. She is the recipient of the 2019 AT&T Humanity of Connection Award, and her 2018 run for office was endorsed by the Working Families Party, the Asian and Latino Coalition, and the Iowa Women for Progressive Change. Reyma, welcome to the Workology podcast.

Reyma McDeid: [00:02:14.87] Thank you. Jessica, I’m honored to be here.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: Can you tell us a little bit more about your background? First, I want to ask you, what did you run for office for?

Reyma McDeid: [00:02:24.71] I actually ran for a state legislative seat here in Iowa. And I didn’t win, but the great thing about my run is that it really spearheaded a conversation in Iowa and across the country about the role of disabled people in the political process. And so, although I didn’t win, I’m really grateful that that very necessary conversation has started and that I’m a part of it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:54.27] Awesome. How interesting. We can have a whole other podcast interview just about running for office and what that looks like.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:01.11] Let’s talk about how you have gotten started or how did you get started in the areas of job creation for people with disabilities.

Reyma McDeid: [00:03:09.32] Sure. So, at Central Iowa Center for Independent Living or CICIL, we’ve become known in Iowa as being a premier provider of supported and integrated employment services specifically for disabled people. But my work has been in the supported employment realm for almost fifteen years now. I got started with Goodwill in the St. Louis area as a job developer while I was in grad school in 2007. And in that role, I actually created and revised what was known as the Summer Work Experience Program in St. Louis, which was a multi-agency initiative that supported transition-age students with disabilities to find and maintain summer employment. And I, as a result of that, really realized that that work was my calling. And so even after I left Goodwill, I continued in the supported employment realm. And that’s where I’m at today. But the interesting part of my interest in supported employment, I guess, is, is the real beginnings of my involvement with supported employment. Because as a disabled person, I participated in a transition program while I myself was in high school 20-plus years ago. And that really was a game changer for me because no one had ever talked with me, asked me questions about my career goals or what I wanted to be when I grew up. And so that program really showed me that I had options after I left high school. And I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it hadn’t been for that program.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:14.51] In our prep call for the podcast, we also talked a lot about job descriptions. Can you maybe talk about how these are helping or hurting people with disabilities find work?

Reyma McDeid: [00:05:24.16] Absolutely. And so, job descriptions theoretically are wonderful.

Reyma McDeid: [00:05:29.72] They help human resource professionals, management professionals to carve out the  area in a department or an organization where needs are not being met and pull them all into a document with the hopes of finding somebody to fulfill those duties. The reality, however, is that job descriptions can create unnecessary barriers to disabled people that are being considered for positions. More often than not, job descriptions contain duties that aren’t necessarily performed by that particular individual, either because the duty isn’t necessary or there simply isn’t time for the person to do those duties. And if those duties entail tasks that a disabled person, for whatever reason, is not able to engage in, whether or not they are able to perform the other duties that are articulated in the job description becomes a moot point, because that person is automatically thrown out of consideration. And so we at CICIL speak with prospective employers a lot about not only developing flexibility around job descriptions to ensure that needs get met, but looking beyond the job description altogether and identifying what unmet needs are truly currently present in the workplace and perhaps connecting a job seeker who has a disability to those very specific tasks, whether or not they are articulated in a job description. And both getting those needs met and providing an employment opportunity to a qualified candidate who just happens to have a disability.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:36.07] So I think one of the challenges for H.R. leaders is, it sounds like the job description is, you know, is what we use in our marketing, in our recruiting efforts. And so people are, H.R. leaders or businesses are really going to need to have a diversity or inclusion strategy, maybe focused on people with disabilities and really work with agencies and individuals to find kind of like a win-win situation beyond just the regular hiring and recruiting process, is what it sounds like to me that you’re saying, too.

Reyma McDeid: [00:08:14.44] That’s true. And it really, truly is a win-win, because even though the place of employment could have an abundance of job descriptions and people potentially in those positions, there still are needs in 99 percent of workplaces that are not being met, that aren’t even articulated in the job descriptions that exist for a workplace. And so, our approach is to focus more on what are the unmet needs and how can we get those needs met because those needs are not being met, even though there are an abundance of job descriptions. And so, our argument is that we appreciate and understand why places of employment and H.R. leaders have job descriptions. But even in the face of that, there are needs that are not being met. We just want to help employers to get their needs met and also to benefit from having a diverse workplace, workforce, and disabled people bring a level of diversity that enhances a workplace or an organization. And we just want to ensure that that space is made in every sector for disabled job seekers.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:50.81] You know, we’re talking about diversity, inclusion. And I’m glad you’re talking about this, because I feel like sometimes, we’re all about D&I efforts, diversity, inclusion, but we don’t always focus our efforts on people with disabilities, specifically in our D&I efforts. Why do you think that is?

Reyma McDeid: [00:10:11.16] Well, I think that there unfortunately is a lot of stigma associated with having a disability, with identifying as being a disabled person. And the data definitely substantiates that. Depending on the source you’re looking at, the data shows that upwards of 75 percent of people who are disabled and are employed choose to not disclose their disability at their place of employment. And the why behind that, I think, is definitely stigma. And so, as employers, as H.R. leaders are considering amplifying their D&I initiatives at workplaces,Reyma McDeid: [00:10:54.11] it’s not only benefiting prospective employees who have disabilities, it’s also positively impacting the people that are currently employed, who are disabled and don’t, for whatever reason, feel that it’s safe to disclose their disability. And that is always going to positively impact work output, work performance, because when we feel like we are safe to be ourselves in the workplace, the place where we spend several hours a day, it inherently positively impacts our job performance.

Break: [00:11:29.46] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrill. And you are listening to the Workology podcast sponsored by Workology. Today, we’re talking with Reyma McDeid about job creation for people with disabilities. This podcast is part of our Future of Work series in partnership with PEAT. They’re the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology.

Break: [00:11:50.1] The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at PEATworks.org. That’s PEATworks.org.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:18.95] What are some ways that H.R. and business leaders can be more intentional in those diversity recruiting efforts for people with disabilities?

Reyma McDeid: [00:12:27.35] I think acknowledging that if you are an H.R. leader or a recruiter or an employer, acknowledging that you currently, whether or not you know who specifically experiences a disability, you are an employer of disabled employees and investigating that,

Reyma McDeid: [00:12:48.83] unpacking that. What does that mean? You know, how can I make this place of employment better for a workforce that’s more diverse than I may have thought it was previously? And that almost always spirals into longitudinal thinking about, OK, and how can we continue to, what can we do to make this place hospitable to prospective employees who may experience disabilities and go from there?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:25.85] This podcast is really about job creation, specifically focused on people with disabilities. Can you walk us through a little bit more about this process and why it’s important for H.R. leaders to think about job creation for people with disabilities?

Reyma McDeid: [00:13:40.13] So at CICIL, we do a lot of work site assessments. We’ll go into a place of employment and find out what that work site’s needs are, what their unmet needs are. And then after that process has been completed, pair up that place of employment with a job seeker who experiences a disability. And so we do that because it really helps to shift prospective employers’ mindset from thinking, OK, how can I hire more disabled people to how can I ensure that my needs are being met and, at the same time, ensure that this workplace is inclusive of prospective employees who also happen to experience disabilities. And so, it’s about shifting, shifting the thinking from what can be a somewhat abstract question of how can we hire more disabled people to focusing more on what employers should focus on. How can we ensure that our needs are being met? But at the same time, do so in a way that honors the diverse workforce that exists in this country and is also inclusive of job seekers who are disabled.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:09.59] You said something a little bit earlier that I want to go back to, and that is that we want a workplace and we want people who come to work that do their best work and that can be themselves. And if they are surrounded by other employees and peers and colleagues that are able to be themselves and feel comfortable, whether or not it’s interests in outside activities or a person with disabilities or other interests or abilities, we want to be inclusive of all. People just feel more comfortable and confident and productive and whole. And I think that’s what really makes for a wonderful, inclusive workplace.

Reyma McDeid: [00:15:55.27] Absolutely. And in addition to being wonderful and inclusive, productive, because it really takes a lot of time and effort to be somebody else at work, if that’s what you’re thinking you need to do in order to be successful. And that’s just energy that’s being taken away from the task at hand. And so if we can shift that paradigm a bit so that employees feel like they can, to a certain extent, be themselves, that frees up a lot of energy to engage in the work that needs to be done at that particular place of employment.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:37.57] One of the things that you mentioned earlier, which breaks my heart, is that people in the place, their place of work, don’t feel comfortable disclosing or sharing with others that they might have a disability. And this includes employees as well as job candidates. What can employers do to make everyone feel welcome?

Reyma McDeid: [00:17:02.08] Well, that’s a fantastic question, and I think that it begins with asking for feedback from employees in a way that ensures that that feedback can be obtained and  that’s honest and addresses the issue at hand. And the issue at hand is for whatever reason, employees who experience disabilities more often than not choose to not disclose, if not disclosing is even an option for them. And so, we’re talking about individuals who have disabilities that are not visibly apparent.

Reyma McDeid: [00:17:42.91] And so if that employer, that H.R. leader, can devise a way of obtaining feedback from people who are currently employed, that would allow for an opportunity to capture information about why, the why behind not choosing to disclose or choosing to mask the symptoms of a disability or chronic illness, and then inviting those individuals to offer feedback as far as what they would want to see in the place of employment that would help them to feel that environment would be a safe one to disclose, to be one’s authentic self and so on.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:38.5] In one of our previous podcast episodes that was also powered by PEAT, we had Chauncy Fleet and I asked her the same question, like, what can we do? And she mentioned welcoming individuals, people with disabilities and  mentioning them specifically in the job postings and/or including information, photos, video of employees of all different types, sizes, abilities in their marketing and video materials as they’re talking about what it’s like to work here.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:10.5] What are your thoughts on those kinds of suggestions?

Reyma McDeid: [00:19:17.47] And those are fantastic suggestions. Visibility is truly key. To present an opportunity for employees to offer feedback I think is also crucial because, in addition to ensuring that visible cues of inclusivity are present, there’s also a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that on a systemic level feedback is being captured that can be used to ensure that the systems that the place of employment are governed by are also inclusive and also do not present barriers to diversity and inclusion. And in order for that to happen, there really needs to be an opportunity for the stakeholders, employees in particular, to provide feedback about what’s going well as far as our systems are concerned. What can we do? What would you like to see here that would improve our systems and make them more inclusive to disabled employees?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:31.45] I love the feedback piece because it’s simple, but it’s not necessarily. But you have to be intentional with asking and seeking out that information and that feedback and then the goal is that you do something. Once you receive feedback, you make changes.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:52.15] One of the things I think is challenging for job seekers is they don’t normally have a mechanism to provide feedback to recruiters or H.R. leaders when they’re going through the interview process. Is that something that you help with in the work that you do when you go on site to employers, try to give them the perspective from the candidate? Because a lot of times you don’t want to tell H.R, if you’re a job seeker, you know, give them some feedback or some suggestions to improve, because it might, they feel like it might disqualify them from a job opportunity.

Reyma McDeid: [00:21:24.63] Absolutely, absolutely. And so that is very much an important part of the services that we provide at CICIL. We treat prospective and actual employers of our clients like clients themselves. And so, when we engage with prospective employers, we’re engaging with them as if they are a client of ours. And so, we are supporting them to be inclusive as we are supporting our job seeking clients to be included. We take advantage of our kind of liaison role by providing feedback to prospective employers, especially when we encounter prospective employers that are experiencing challenges either with current employees who are disabled or employers who have a track record of struggling to attract job seekers who experience disabilities. We want to make sure that we can do what we can, so they understand what their barriers are and make it known that we are happy to support them in examining and dismantling those barriers.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:39.63] This year is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And so, part of this podcast series, we’re looking at the next 30 years of work. We’re looking forward. And I wanted to ask you to share what emerging workplace trends or technologies do you think will have the biggest impact in the next 30 years on people with disabilities?

Reyma McDeid: [00:23:01.72] Well, technology is definitely the friend of job seekers and employees who experience disabilities. And the beauty of the fact that this is, this year’s the 30th anniversary of the A.D.A is that there have been leaps and bounds that have occurred as they pertain to technological advancements in the last 30 years as well that have really been pivotal in removing pretty significant barriers to disabled people engaging in the workplace. And so, it’s really wonderful to watch as technology advances, watch it make its way into places of employment and be used in a proactive way as tools for disabled people to be engaged and included in the workforce. And so, as far as the next 30 years are concerned, I very much look forward to seeing what happens, particularly with computer technology and assistive technology, to further address the barriers that disabled people experience in workplaces. I am on the autism spectrum and so technology that removes barriers to autistic people engaging in workplaces, particularly autistic people who communicate in ways that are not verbal, has been especially illuminating for me.

Reyma McDeid: [00:24:38.05] So on a somewhat regular basis, I go into workplaces and I encounter employees who are on the autism spectrum, who have an iPad in their hand and are using that to communicate with co-workers and supervisors and customers. And 30 years ago, that would not have been in the realm of possibility. That’s really wonderful. And it’s only going to get better.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:04.68] That’s exciting. That’s exciting. I also too can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. And I do think there’s a lot of really great advancements like the iPhone and the iPad that have really changed the way we communicate and connect with one another.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:20.49] What is one piece of advice? So, let’s say you’re talking to me. I come to you and I say, hey, I want to get involved. I want to do this. I want to make my workplace a more attractive environment or workspace where I can bring in and hire and have a very diverse workforce, including people with disabilities. Where should they start? What’s the first step?

Reyma McDeid: [00:25:48.67] I think that addressing the systems that govern the workplace is key. And more often than not, I encounter employers, H.R. leaders, who want to diversify their workplace. And the first step that they think they need to take is to hire somebody that has a visible disability and use them in an immediate campaign that shows a commitment to diversity and inclusion. And although that’s wonderful, at the same time, employers really need to be mindful of the barriers that exist in the day-to-day operations of the place of employment that can create barriers to disabled people becoming employed, but also maintaining employment. And so, I think it’s important for leaders to understand and acknowledge that when the infrastructure was being put into place for their place of employment or organization, it was done so without the input of disabled people. It was also done so without the understanding that disabled people could potentially be stakeholders in this place of employment, could be employees. And so being cognizant of that and also cognizant of how that, in and of itself, can create barriers to disabled people maintaining, having and maintaining, the same footing as non-disabled employees in that place of employment is really crucial. And so, a great first step can be simply looking at personnel, policies, procedures and guidelines, because they could, they can present barriers to disabled people being able to maintain or find employment at that particular business or establishment. And just going from there.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:53.74] Well, I think you’ve given great advice and you don’t have to have a full-blown program to make an impact and get started.

Reyma McDeid: [00:28:04.9] Exactly. Exactly.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:06.93] Reyma, thank you so much for joining us today. Where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you do?

Reyma McDeid: [00:28:13.75] People can go to CICIL’s web page, which is CICIL.org. We also maintain a pretty active social media presence on Facebook and keep that page up to date with regards to the work that we’re doing. We are in Iowa. And so Iowa recently had our presidential caucus and CICIL was front and center for the caucus process in Iowa because we offered an inclusive and accessible caucus to disabled people. And so, we got a lot of really great national media attention as a result of that. And so, in addition to the work that we do with regards to integrated and supported employment, we also do a lot of other things. And keeping up with our social media presence, it can take people up to speed as far as all of that is concerned.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:14.42] Awesome well we’ll link to your Facebook page in the resources section, as well as the CICIL website on the resources section of this podcast episode. So, thank you again for taking the time to chat with us.

Reyma McDeid: [00:29:26.13] Thank you. It was a real pleasure.

Closing: [00:29:28.92] Are you tired of putting your professional development on the backburner? It’s time for you to invest in yourself with UpskillHR by Workology. We’re a membership community focused on personal development for H.R. Gain access to our elite community training, coaching and events. Learn more at UpskillHR.com.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:54.03] I was really fascinated by Reyma and her running for political office and all the different areas and experiences that she has been involved with in her journey to help employers with the areas of job creation. She has so many areas of expertise. Her knowledge is so vast. I hope that you learned just as much as I did about the importance of job creation and how you can create focused efforts that help employ and put to work and leverage this great population of people who are people with disabilities. This Future of Work series is in partnership with PEAT. They are one of my favorites. Thank you to PEAT as well as our podcast sponsor Workology.