Perspectives on the Importance of a Supportive and Inclusive Workplace for People with Disabilities

Perspectives on the Importance of a Supportive and Inclusive Workplace for People with Disabilities

Jul 15, 2020
Jess Coldren and David Mann

For many people who have a disability or a disabling condition caused by an illness or injury, it can be difficult to find an employer who not only strives to create an environment and policies that ensure they are supported, but also fosters a culture in which the differences of its employees are sincerely valued.

At Mathematica, we are committed to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, and we are proud to have earned a top score from the Disability Equality Index® (DEI), a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN, which designated us a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion.” To earn a top score, a company must excel across categories such as culture, leadership, accessibility, employment practices, community engagement, and supplier diversity. Although we are proud of the progress we have made to date, we are committed to doing even more to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities, here at Mathematica and beyond.

An important piece of this work is to reach out to employees about their experiences at Mathematica to find out what makes a difference and what the company can do better. We have learned there is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting people with disabilities because of the broad range of both visible and invisible disabilities that impact people differently. Instead, the flexibility and creativity that come from valuing the talents, experience, and insight of all individuals open the door to innovations that lead to success.

Two Mathematica employees share their perspectives on the impact disability has had on their professional lives and how continued progress toward creating a supportive and inclusive workplace can wide-reaching positive effects.

Jess Coldren, senior document production associate

I have an invisible disability. I suffer with chronic pain from migraines and endometriosis. I struggle with chronic depression. Because I generally pass as abled, I suffer imposter syndrome and constantly downplay how much it can affect my life. But there are days when everything I do feels like the hardest thing I’m going to do that day. These have been the facts of my life since I was 13 years old.

Due to my condition, I have been fighting anxiety over my employment for the last 26 years. Would I miss too many days? Was my work up to par? Can I work through this pain, or will I vomit and have to go home? I never had enough paid time off; I never took vacations; I took so many medications to try to manage my pain that it caused rebound pain and other side effects. It was a horrible cycle that meant I never held a job for more than a few years at a time.

Since coming to Mathematica, I have found stability and supports that have improved my life in ways I never considered. After working from home on a part-time basis to deal with a temporary family situation, I found the change to my quality of life was so profound that I converted to a full-time work-from-home position. I was able to do this because Mathematica had a supportive work-from-home policy that I was able to make the most of by talking with my supervisor and filling out a request form.

Working from home allowed me to make more frequent visits to the doctor and easily access medications that I can use to better control my pain; create a workspace that boosts my productivity and minimizes my discomfort; and I can return to work more quickly after an episode of acute pain. I can even save my paid time off for personal enjoyment, instead of using it all to address my medical needs.

Mathematica is the first company that fully supports me. It gives me the stability to address my health in a way I never had before. I still have pain, but for the first time I feel like I’m in control instead of the other way around. I sincerely hope that this becomes the standard for business, instead of the exception.

David Mann, senior researcher

Since a spinal cord injury confined me to a wheelchair, I have had a growing fascination with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At age 39, he was paralyzed after contracting polio. After his illness, FDR served as governor of New York and then president of the United States. Despite the countless photographs and videos of him, he was never publicly depicted as a wheelchair user. The reasons behind this ruse were complex, but one likely factor was a fear that being depicted as a wheelchair user would have undermined public confidence in his ability to govern.

How far we have come since then! People with disabilities participate in society much more now than we ever did in FDR’s time. Legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has promoted access, independence, and employment for people with disabilities in the United States. Though there is still much to do, policymakers, advocates, and others continue to work for positive change for the disability community.

Mathematica’s top score on the DEI shows that it is part of this positive change. Personally, Mathematica’s performance on the DEI confirms what I have long known—Mathematica is a great place to work for people with disabilities. I deeply appreciate how my Mathematica colleagues treat me. From the moment I started, I have been treated as just another member of the team—capable of making the same quality contributions as my non-disabled peers. This treatment is important to me because I am capable of such contributions and do not want a special status.

The next step for Mathematica is to recruit and hire more people with disabilities. Put another way, I want to have more colleagues who look like me! Like Mathematica’s mission to improve public well-being or the positive experiences of employees like me with disabilities, the DEI score is something that could help convince job market candidates with disabilities that Mathematica is a great place for them to build a career.

My hope is to eventually be surrounded at Mathematica by colleagues both with and without disabilities. This diversity would be present at all levels within the organization, from junior staff to corporate leaders. I look forward to watching Mathematica make progress on this issue, building on FDR’s legacy by showing that people with disabilities can make substantive contributions to society while embracing their disability status.

Mathematica encourages other organizations to learn more about how they can become more inclusive of people with disabilities and to consider benchmarking tools like the Disability Equality Index to develop concrete insight into areas of opportunities and success. Progress can be made through self-reflection, open dialogue, and committed action.

About the Authors

Jess Coldren

Jess Coldren

Senior Production Coordinator
View More by this Author
David Mann

David Mann

Principal Researcher
View More by this Author