July 26, 2021, marked the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While many companies are working on being a more inclusive employer, it’s important that inclusivity extends beyond race and how one identifies. A true reflection of the world around us means embracing the diversity of life experiences each of us has, and the unique abilities we all bring.
Unfortunately for some, life’s unexpected moments turn into a lifetime of living with a disability. At Colonial Life and Unum, millions of working Americans depend on us as part of their financial safety net when accidents or an illness impacts their ability to work. A car crash, workplace accident, or unexpected health issue can lead to a long recovery and changes life for an individual and their family. There are also instances when a health issue at birth has placed someone on a more challenging path. In fact, disability is far more common than many of us realize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there are 61 million adults, one in four, who have some type of disability.
At Colonial Life and Unum, an appreciation of differences is deeply embedded into our culture.
I was born with moderate hearing loss, something that occurs in 5 of every 1,000 births. Fortunately, my hearing loss was not severe and like many people do, I learned to cope. In my case, I became excellent at reading lips. Truthfully, I didn’t think of myself as being that different from anyone else. This was my normal life.
However, everything changed the Tuesday before Thanksgiving seven years ago. As I sat on my living room sofa, planning a full day of turkey and football with my family, I began to hear a loud and steady noise in my ears. I did what you might have expected, I tried to ignore it. After a miserable weekend, I went to the audiologist and was diagnosed with tinnitus and significant hearing loss in one ear; and the likelihood that the same would happen to the other ear within a few weeks.
The only thing that would help me were hearing aids to cancel out some of the ringing and improve my overall ability to hear. Once fitted for the hearing aids, they opened a new world for me after I began to wear them.
I am fortunate to be able to acquire hearing aids that made a big difference in my life. The hard truth is that for many people, a device that can in some cases dramatically improve their lives, is often out of reach due to the cost.
My hearing loss gave me a unique perspective about the value of inclusion in a very personal way. I’ve learned it’s our responsibility as business leaders to ensure everyone has the same opportunities to contribute and follow their dreams – regardless of disability, race, or experience. I believe it is a moral obligation, and imperative to effectively represent those we serve from a business perspective.
By creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace environment, we reflect the communities around us and our customers.
Inclusion isn’t just about race or gender. It’s understanding and embracing the differences that make us unique. I encourage all professionals to shed personal biases to help create a workplace where people from every background have the tools to grow and reach their full potential. Once we recognize the potential of everyone, we can make lasting contributions to make us all better inside and outside of the office.