How to Avoid Just ‘Checking the Box’ on Disability Inclusivity in the Workplace

Here are the best practices for hiring, recruiting, and creating an inclusive workplace for people with physical and mental challenges

Collage of six images representing diversity in the workplace.
Al Mannarino

In last month’s Disability Inclusion Summit, part of Adweek’s ongoing DEI event series, eight leaders in the marketing and advertising industry brought their unique experiences and perspectives forward to discuss the biggest opportunities for advancement for the disability community. 

We teamed back up with our amazing panelists to cover some outstanding but crucial questions from the audience. Ranging from questions in hiring and recruiting best practices to creating a more inclusive workplace, read on to see what these experts had to say about how to best address the gaps within the disability community in the advertising world. 

A big thank you to our panelists who contributed: 

Becky Kekula, director, Disability Equality Index

KR Liu, head of brand accessibility, Google’s Brand Studio  

Josh Loebner, director of strategy, Designsensory   

Christina Mallon, global head of inclusive design and accessibility, Wunderman Thompson

Storm Smith, producer, BBDO LA  

Bryan Stromer, product marketing manager, Microsoft  


Adweek: Why do you think there is a gap between intent and action in terms of recruiting disabled talent? Any solutions to bridge the gap? 

Storm Smith: It’s all about harmful biases and assumptions that create gaps. [There are ] many factors at work. People may not put enough effort to recruit talent. There’s a fear [that keeps recruiters from] proactively learning about the communities that remain untapped. There’s a lack of knowledge in some recruiters’ thinking when it comes to hiring people with [certain physical or mental challenges]. They don’t believe [potential candidates in this group] have the job qualifications, lack of training, and more. Status quo, biases, and assumptions need to be challenged. 

There are many good numbers of disability-related organizations and events, including Disability:INRuderman Family FoundationNBDA [National Black Deaf Association]Gallaudet University, and more. More articles are written by people with disabilities more than ever where you can read their articles and blogs, reach out to them, and recruit.

Recently, Bryan Stromer and I co-founded and created the new disability community at ADCOLOR. This space will provide the opportunity to attract more talent with disabilities all on levels and from different industries to speak, present, attend, meet and exchange resources. This is among the many ways you can recruit talent.  

KR Liu: I think it’s all about better understanding how to support disabled people from the recruiting process, all the way through to the onboarding process. It’s why it’s important to have disabled people as the recruiters and as part of your HR team. 

What are some resources to find talent with disabilities? 

Becky KekulaAAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities)Disability:INDiversabilityGettingHiredLimeConnect, and the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP)

SmithFord FoundationNational Technical Institute for the Deaf at RITDisability Visibility Project, and attend any disability-related events that promote on LinkedIn that you can find talents there. 

Bryan Stromer: I would recommend that companies start ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) for employees with disabilities. You may already have talent with disabilities and not realize it. Having an ERG gives your talent with disabilities the opportunity to come together and support each other.  

Liu: My new favorite resource was built by the community, Black Disabled Creatives. We need more disability representation in the creative space, and this was a super helpful resource.  

Christina Mallon: Inclusively is a disability job platform created by a neurologist with a disability. 

Josh Loebner: I would suggest connecting with disability organizations such as Lights! Camera! Access! among others. Reach out to area colleges and engage with their student disability services departments. Reach out to any of us to help guide your search.  

What are some ways the track data on disability inclusion in our workforce? 

@heidefaith Heide is the senior director of brand community at Adweek and Editor of the Inside the Brand series, including the CMO Moves and Gen ZEOs podcasts, Innovators, Challengers, and Women Trailblazers. She also leads Adweek's Innovators Council.
Luz Corona is the community content manager at Adweek, curating trends, tips and advice from top brand leaders to help marketers grow.