Albert Kim, Accessibility Consultant, Trainer, and Founder of Accessibility Next Gen, discusses the challenges workers with invisible disabilities face and shares his own lived experience. He gives tips for employers who want to make sure their organizations are inviting and inclusive for people whether or not they wish to disclose their disability.
Warning: This episode briefly mentions domestic violence.
Albert Kim: [00:00:00.75] When employees come to you and try to ask for accommodations. They have gone through so much thoughts already that when you are trying, when you kind of question it or ask for more details, then now the employee feel that, oh, next time I need to have more details, I need to justify my accommodations. And that’s the worst, because when you have, when you keep feeling like you have to justify, it doesn’t feel like it’s being inclusive environment, but it feels you’re kind of being forced to disclose your disability and more information.
Intro: [00:00:43.28] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:08.78] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our Future of Work series, powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities. This podcast is powered by ACE the HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two of the courses that I offer for certification prep and recertification for HR leaders. Before I introduce our guest, I want to hear from you. Text the word podcast to 5125483005 to ask questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Today I’m joined by Albert Kim, Accessibility Consultant, Trainer and Founder of Accessibility Next Gen. Albert worked as a UX accessibility lead at Korn Ferry and as an accessibility subject matter expert at ServiceNow Design System Team to achieve digital accessibility beyond the legal compliance. He’s also an active public speaker advocating for neurodiversity and mental health inclusion in digital accessibility work. Albert, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Albert Kim: [00:02:37.58] Thank you for having me. It’s good to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:41.99] It is. I’m so excited for you to talk to us about this topic. But first, before we chat more, Talk to us a little bit about your background and how it led to the work that you’re doing now.
Albert Kim: [00:02:54.38] I work as a digital accessibility subject matter expert and UX design consultant and trainer. I’m also a public speaker and coach, raising mental health awareness in the community. I founded a community called Accessibility Connection to help people who are trying to learn more about accessibility. I was also a disability Next Gen leader. Currently I’m serving as an invited expert at the W3C World Wide Web Consortium with their Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Task Force Team and Mental Health subgroup. So, the way I got into my work is I, I myself identify as someone with disability. I’m neurodivergent. I also have mental health conditions and it comes from my environmental background. I was born in a family with domestic violence and my parents have never gotten any formal education. Being first generation to live in America, Asian, being an Asian, coming from Asian culture. I’m also a military veteran. So having said that, all those environmental factors kind of contributed, including my genetic factors to my current conditions. And I really, really wanted to advocate for people like me. Something that I realized, as a neurodivergent person, is that some digital products kind of, they are like very crucial for me in my daily life. It helps me a lot. It enables me to live and function well, so in my life and work and career and everything. But what I realize is that a lot of the product owners, or the people who are actually making these digital, think about the impact.
Albert Kim: [00:04:59.06] They don’t really realize the full product potential of how their products can actually help. So, I knew that I wanted to pursue something in tech and wanted to advocate for people like me, users like me. And so, I got into digital accessibility, which was a perfect fit, and I advocate for users who are neurodivergent or people who are, have disabilities in this field. And I consider my job as, as a, as a person who connects the producers of digital products to the consumers or the users, all users, not just abled users, but all users, and trying to help producers of visual products fully realize the product potential. And another thing is that, you know, I use all these really cool digital product and I sometimes I want to share something that I wrote down in my notes, for example, Digital Notes app, but it may be inaccessible for my friends who are blind or who are deaf. So, it’s kind of frustrating to see that, that I really love this product and I write down, I use it daily and I want to share that with my friend. But it’s not possible because it’s not accessible. So, it also helps me working in this field to not only include neurodivergent and people like me, but also people with other disabilities. It helps me to advocate for them as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:52.35] Thank you, Albert, for sharing your story and kind of talking us through the why behind why you, you do what you do. I think that sometimes, as HR leaders, we’re busy with strategy and planning, that we sometimes forget about the human. But behind the activities that, that help run and support the business. I want to switch gears a little bit and ask you about disability disclosure. So, what does disclosing a disability at work look like for people with invisible disabilities?
Albert Kim: [00:07:31.86] So, from the very beginning of joining the work, I worry about, “Oh, should I disclose my disability? Is that going to impact the interview process? Is that going to put me on a disadvantage in this interview process?” So that’s the kind of worries that I always have when I apply for different companies. And then, after joining the work, I worry about will teammates accept me as, as their team member and will I be included? Will I fit in? Possibly. And the worry about this is, I guess, not only just the disabled employee, but also any employee can have this kind of feeling, but it’s more intensified because of the stigma that is around in society towards people with disabilities. And also, when you join the company, for me, I do need an accommodation, right, to be able to perform and, and access the workplace. But sometimes it’s very challenging for me to ask for accommodations, especially as a person with invisible disability, because my disability is not, it’s not visible. So, maybe the manager or HR or other co-workers may not, “Oh, like you look fine to me.” “Like why do you need an accommodation?” Or something like that, you know? And trust me that this actually happened in the past. For me, I think as an employee with invisible disability, I’m always kind of subconsciously worried and thinking about how will other employees perceive me and conscious about how people will think.
Albert Kim: [00:09:41.10] Are they going to think that I’m very needy or will my accommodations be handled in the proper way or things like that? Or people will not take me seriously anymore and thinking that I’m slacking off because my disability is not visible outside and maybe they think that I’m just taking advantage or something or making things up. So, these are the real kind of concerns that go through, especially employees with mental health conditions, right? I myself have ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD, all diagnosed. And I’ve been getting therapies and medication for decades. Right. And I have a team of doctors that support me in the, supported me in that process. But still, there’s a huge lack of understanding towards mental health conditions, mental health disability, in society. People still don’t really understand what mental health is. Sometimes something that I also worry about is will I be forced to disclose my disability. And oftentimes I may not feel comfortable yet disclosing my disability to my coworkers or other teammates, but especially in the beginning when first joining the team. But I’m kind of forced to do that in a way because I need an accommodation. You know, that, that whole realistic, whole reality of challenges kind of adds on to more tall, as more tall to my mental health conditions.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:41.40] Is there anything you wish employers or HR professionals knew about? Maybe how they can create a more supportive and inclusive environment for their employees? Especially when we’re thinking about those invisible but also visible disabilities. We want to help employees feel more comfortable disclosing.
Albert Kim: [00:12:03.45] Yeah, I think one of the things they can do is I think being upfront about accommodations that are available or just being upfront that accommodations are available and letting, letting employees know and asking, always asking, do you need any accommodations? Do you need accommodations? Please let me know. We would be more than happy to accommodate and setting such tone of voice and being up front about accommodations first before your employees bring it up. Kind of helps create an inclusive environment where you feel, employees feel more inclined to disclose and more comfortable to disclose and ask for accommodations. And another thing is that when employees ask for accommodations, try not to ask for more, like too much more details, because oftentimes when I’m asking for accommodation, I already feel a lot of, I’ve already gone through a lot of inner, inner thinking process and conversations. “Oh, will this accommodations be accepted?” When employees come to you and try to ask for accommodations, they have gone through so much thoughts already that when you are trying, when you kind of question it or ask for more details, then now the employee feel that, oh, next time I need to have more details, I need to justify my accommodations. Right. And that’s the worst.
Albert Kim: [00:13:50.16] Because when you have, when you keep feeling like you have to justify, it doesn’t feel like it’s being inclusive environment, but it feels you are kind of being forced to disclose your disability and more information, right? So, making sure to train managers to, on how to accommodate employees with disabilities and the kind of conversation narrative that you need to have, is very important. And another way to kind of protect the privacy of employees with disability is having like a central place where employees can ask for accommodations or disclose disability once and then, rather than having to disclose it to every single employee that you meet or co-workers you meet whenever you need accommodations, rather than doing that, you just, because you’ve disclosed it once to the central place, whether that is HR, you just have that accommodations without having to disclose your disability all the time, and HR or that central place can be, can be the reference source, right? “Yeah, this employee has already verified or had a doctor’s note or has approved accommodations” so rather than, and just giving that assurance, so that employees don’t have to disclose it constantly and sometimes just disclosing disability self, especially for people with mental health conditions, including PTSD, it can also be traumatizing.
Albert Kim: [00:15:43.23] You cannot judge, you cannot really generalize a whole disability, like specific disability, like 500 different employees, right. For example, for OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD can show in many different ways. Oftentimes, media portrays it as super clean or super organized or wash your hands a lot, or stuff like that. But OCD has many different forms. And for me, my OCD is about completion. When I try to, for example, to work or carry on a task, it’s hard for me to move on to next task until I feel completely done with my current task. It’s actually very serious and debilitating sometimes. So, I take medications and things like that. So, knowing that, especially in mental health conditions, it’s not just one size fits all or “oh you have OCD, so you must be super clean or organized, it’s very hard to generalize that. And every case is very different, especially in invisible disability. So, you need to be very flexible with your accommodations so that it actually accommodates the employees rather than trying to wear clothes that doesn’t really fit you. Yeah. I just wanted to mention that being flexible and making sure that the workplace is inclusive in terms of accommodating those needs.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:17.75] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology podcast powered by ACE the HR Exam and Upskill HR. This podcast is part of our Future of Work series with PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. Today we are talking with Albert Kim, accessibility consultant, trainer and founder of Accessibility Next Gen. Before we get back to the podcast, I want to hear from you. Text the word podcast to 5125483005. You can ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number. Yes, I read the text and I want to hear from you.
Break: [00:17:58.76] 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: [00:18:28.02] How can employers set employees with mental health disabilities up for success in the workplace once they have been hired?
Albert Kim: [00:18:35.37] This is a really good question, because oftentimes we focus on hiring more people with disabilities but don’t really talk enough about after they are hired. And how do we set them up for success? And I think one of the ways, action step that I could recommend is encouraging building employee resource group, building communities within the workplace for people who are neurodivergent or people who have mental health conditions or disabilities, diversity inclusion. This employee resource group will be very, very helpful in the long run in building the culture and making sure that their voice is being heard and they are included in the process of making company policies related to DEI, Right. Because you now have a specific group or resource that you can refer to or you can go seek for feedback from. And another thing is that new candidates go through interview process. They might ask you if, “oh, is there an employee resource group for employees with, neurodivergent employees?” And I often ask that. And what really made me feel very comfortable, even from the interview process, was when some HR professionals kind of connected me, helped me connect with someone from their employer resource group and try to set a meeting to just talk about different things of working as a neurodivergent employee at their company and just hearing from them, from the actual employee who’s working at the company and is neurodivergent just like me. It helps me feel like I don’t think I’ll feel alone when I’m joining this company, right? Like, this is really powerful, so I highly recommend building an employee resource group and supporting that. So, and it’ll go a long way, so that you can source some insights from the group in building onboarding process, building inclusive interview process and things like that. Also, mandating diversity and inclusion training for employees when they are onboarding, mandating training on diversity and inclusion, and how to work with teammates who are neurodivergent or who have disabilities and basic education on that.
Albert Kim: [00:21:21.78] And mandating in the company policy to do that is, is very, very important because oftentimes if you don’t mandate that or have that company policy, it’s like “good to have”. And oftentimes, if it’s good to have, you’d rather not do it and focus on your actual work rather than, and a lot of times this diversity, inclusion and accessibility is seen as kind of like an extra thing. So, it’ll never happen, right? They will never get training. So, mandating that in the policy and including in company core value, DEI, and leadership mentioning and reminding such value in all hands meeting can be very powerful. Setting the culture and also trying to celebrate different awareness months. Right. Mental Health Awareness month or having a newsletter, like Diversity and Inclusion Newsletter, is a really good example. And you can ask these different employee resource groups, Hey, you know, this month is Mental Health Awareness month and we want to have, feature some articles on the company newsletter for experience of, or raising awareness about mental health. Does anyone want to volunteer? Right. So, this is, is the way you can create an inclusive workplace and also set them up for success. And one more, if I were to add just one more, then I’d say peer to peer support and mentorship support, right? Whether in the employer resource group, neurodivergent senior gets connected to newbie in the company and then kind of mentor, become a mentor. And that’s very, very helpful. Oftentimes people, with disabilities, mental health disabilities, lack guidance and support. So having that kind of mentor is, is a huge relief.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:36.79]Can you talk a bit about your own experience and tools that are helping you succeed in the workplace for us?
Albert Kim: [00:23:42.91] Thank you for asking that. So, what was very crucial for me was when I’m onboarding and when I just joined new company or team, oftentimes some companies throw like a bunch of resources at you, and then oh these are all the apps, mobile applications and softwares we use and feel free to navigate through and just explore. And that’s very challenging for neurodivergent employees, right? Because oftentimes company resources have like loads and loads and loads of documents and it’s very complex and complicated and, and being introduced to a new environment as a new employee trying to navigate this uncertainty, right, uncertain world with so much information is already challenging, but you are adding more problem to that, right? So, rather than just throwing resources at the employees, try to build an indexed, well-structured guidance. Step by step. A, you should do this first. You need to download this and make sure the settings are set to this and, you know, making sure that that guidance is also accessible. Pictures can be very helpful, having alt text, right, for images and things like that, and having that step by step guidance. And if you want to go further than that, having a Zoom call, setting up a Zoom call meeting of all the new employees and then walking through those steps together, it’s very helpful.
Albert Kim: [00:25:30.70] It saves a lot of time, especially for neurodivergent employees, because it’s very hard for them to know what information is important and what is not. Because I don’t know this. It’s, everything is new to me. Everything seems important to me. I feel like I’m missing, if I don’t read this, if I don’t click this, then I’m missing out. I’m going to be missing out super important information and that’s going to screw up my job or something like that. All these worries and anxieties. Having a bonding time, teammate bonding time, before starting a task when new employee joins is very important so that new employee feels more comfortable, rather than asking them to just set up one on one with different teammates and on their own, because that can be very anxiety provoking too, right? It’s a new, new team and I have to message different people and someone that I’ve never met and I need to try to talk to them. And it can be nerve wracking sometimes. So, trying to have like a formal meetings set up to include the new team and have them integrate into the team, helping them, that would be really important. And lastly, I want to mention clearly mandating and communicating that all meetings have to be recorded and should have captions on and transcript available so that, especially neurodivergent employees or employees with mental health conditions, can have, not unexpected episodes, right of, of mental health condition or they might miss meetings or something like that.
Albert Kim: [00:27:21.55] But if you miss meeting and oh, like there’s nothing, there’s no recording, there’s no transcript, there’s no caption that I have to go through all these different people to ask around oh what, what did they talk about and things like that to catch up. And that’s very challenging. Right. And not, and also kind of makes it very challenging for me to build my credibility as an employee as well, adds more additional challenges to that. So making sure that all meetings are recorded captions and transcript available after the meeting so that if employees who miss, due to their episode of disability, they can watch that recording. Or, for me, as a neurodivergent employee, I oftentimes, even after attending the meeting, I need to watch the recording because I may not be able to process all the information in one setting and I might miss out a lot of information. And just having that, back of, having the thoughts in back of my mind thinking that, Oh, the recordings will be available after this, relieves huge anxiety from me. So that’s another really important tool that help me succeed at work.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:46.03] Thank you for sharing about this, Albert, because I think that these are easy things, like the closed captioning and the recording and the transcriptions. They just take a little intention and effort but can really help employees be able to show up for the organization and for themselves in a way that makes them feel good.
Albert Kim: [00:29:10.29] Yes. Yes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:11.76] I appreciate you sharing all your wisdom here. So many great nuggets of information. I’m going to include links to a number of resources as well as, if somebody is listening here and they’re like, I want to know more about what Albert does. We’ll connect them to you directly through LinkedIn. Do you have any last parting thoughts or maybe something you want to reinforce before we end this podcast interview?
Albert Kim: [00:29:40.44] Right. So, I think, last note I just want to mention is that making sure when you’re building these policies and practices, making sure that you include actual people with disabilities in that process, not just a provider, actual people who are going through that struggle and challenges because they know the best. So, making sure that you listen to them, that’s very important. So, I just wanted to mention that. And if anyone needs or wants to hear my insight or my thoughts, I’m more than happy to help as well. I’m available on LinkedIn and email as well. So, anyone can just reach out and I’m more than happy to.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:28.75] Well, thank you again, Albert. I appreciate your time and expertise and just your willingness to share your story and what’s working for you in this area.
Albert Kim: [00:30:39.25] Thank you for having me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:41.33] One thing I can say for certain is that the workplace has changed dramatically over the last two years, and more people than ever have experienced or been diagnosed with mental health disabilities. Things like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD and more have come to light or were created by the global pandemic. It is so important for employers to be aware of invisible disabilities, what they are, how they work, what they look like, what they don’t look like, and especially how we can support employees in a variety of ways to help them be successful. I so appreciate Albert’s insights, his expertise, his honesty. This was an essential Workology podcast for you to listen to, and I want to thank our podcast series partner in this, PEAT, for our Future of Work series. I can’t do it without you. I also want to hear from you. You can text the word podcast to 5125483005. Ask me questions, leave comments, make suggestions for future podcast guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast. It is sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR exam. These are HR certification and recertification courses that we offer here at Workology. I hope that you have a fantastic day. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. And, until next time, you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology podcast episodes.