Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Shifting the narrative on disability


U.S. Bank is committed to increasing inclusivity and creating a workplace where everyone can thrive

Shifting the narrative on disability
One in every four adult Americans has a disability. While some disabilities are visible, others, such as learning disabilities, autoimmune disorders, or conditions that interfere with an individual's daily life, are not.

This hit home for Brian Francisco when his aunt revealed that she had kept her Parkinson's disease diagnosis, a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements, hidden for many years. Despite their close relationship, she was concerned about how her diagnosis would affect the family. Since then, he's heard similar concerns about disclosing a disability expressed in other people's conversations.

“When I started working in the accessibility inclusion space a few years ago, the number of people who were afraid to disclose their disability was eye-opening,” said Francisco, a senior corporate trainer who is a member of the company’s Disability business resource group (BRG) as the accessibility director.

“At the same time, it was heartbreaking for me to hear why they were afraid. That’s why I’m grateful that for our Disability BRG and support circles, which create safe spaces for employees to network and share resources.”

U.S. Bank is committed to increasing inclusivity and creating a workplace where everyone can thrive, and its efforts have been recognized, including receiving the highest score on the 2022 Disability Equality Index®. Members of the Disability BRG draught the business case for creating a disability and accessibility consultant position to help ensure U.S. Bank has the infrastructure to support access and inclusion for employees who face disability-related barriers in the workplace. The role was approved by the BRG's managing committee sponsors, and the company hired Emily Norenberg, who previously held a similar position at the University of Minnesota, in 2021.

“Creating this new position really says a lot about the influence of the Disability BRG, and demonstrates the company’s willingness to listen to people with lived experiences who say, ‘hey, we need this,’ and then take action on it,” said Norenberg.

Since joining U.S. Bank, Norenberg has worked with Francisco and the Disability BRG to develop a new web-based Disability Awareness and Workplace Accessibility training that reinforces the value employees with disabilities bring to the company and provides practical ideas and resources for meaningfully supporting them. Managers must take the course, which is optional for all other employees. The training also includes a link to a recently created "Disability Accessibility Playbook," which provides guidance to managers who receive a disability disclosure from an employee.

With more than 70,000 employees, the need for disability accessibility accommodations at U.S. Bank is huge.

“Many of these accommodations often provide a better experience for all employees and customers,” said Kelly Risser, global chair of the Disability BRG and accessibility banking director.

“When our products aren’t accessible, or our systems aren’t accessible, we are, whether intentionally or not, preventing people from being able to independently use our services. No one wants to ask for an accommodation,” said Risser. “It creates a much stronger sense of belonging for our employees and customers to have accessibility built in.”

In 2018, U.S. Bank established a dedicated function within User Experience that allows teams to fully consider accessibility as part of the design process, and was named one of 22 leading companies "getting it right - with a focus on how to progress by establishing a solid accessibility practise" by Forrester Research.

While the groundwork has been laid, Norenberg's work continues in collaboration with the Disability BRG and larger initiatives such as the new training course.

“A lot of the ways people think about disabilities are rooted in oppression. We’re trying to shift the narrative to think of disability as part of the human experience,” said Norenberg while adding, “When we think about the sense of belonging that we hope to foster, how can we do that for our employees with disabilities? Because at the end of the day, one thing we all want is for people to feel empowered to do the work they were hired to do.”