Thirty years ago, this month, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law across the United States, laying a much-needed foundation for people with disabilities to receive the accessibility and accommodations they need to successfully live and work.
While there is always room to improve the ADA as we look toward the next 30 years, one of the real achievements of it – signed into law by President George HW Bush on July 26, 1990 – has been to open doors in corporate America.
I say this from experience. At The Hershey Company, we have seen time and time again that people with disabilities have unique experiences when working through challenges and adversity and have supersized adaptability skills.
That is why when our company needed to address the needs of our employees as COVID-19 began to spread across our nation and the world, we quickly sought input from our Abilities First group.
Abilities First focuses on people with disabilities within our company. This group provided valuable advice as we put together an all-employee guide to help our 16,000 teammates find resources and support information during the pandemic.
We consider everyone and their perspectives and experiences when we make decisions. It is the culture of Hershey; inclusion is part of our DNA. And we know from experience, programs that support people with disabilities add value for everyone at the company.
Providing accommodations is critical. During the pandemic we have made sure that some of the masks we distribute are clear in front so that people who read lips can continue to do so. During regular communications from The Hershey Company CEO, Michele Buck, and our leadership team, we include closed captioning of their remarks.
The Hershey Company is proud to be a member of the Look Closer campaign, in partnership with the National Organization on Disability. The campaign urges hiring managers to “look closer” at the talents of people with disabilities, who add so much to workplaces like ours.
Given all of this, we spend a great deal of time responding to the personal needs of our employees to make sure they have what they need to support their physical, emotional, and economic wellbeing during this time of pandemic.
We provided our employees personal protective equipment and made certain we did not lose sight of our culture of “employees first.” Within two weeks of employees starting to work from home and in our factories wearing protective gear and social distancing, we delivered the employees’ guide and set up ways that we could check in with all of our workers at least two times a week.
We understand people have a lot going on in their lives beyond work. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made many aspects of life and work more complex. Needing flexibility is something we hear, including from our employees with disabilities. Flexibility and the ability to work remotely can be game changers and we leaned into telework right from the start.
For the last three decades, the ADA has provided a roadmap to states, organizations, and companies on how to make sure people with disabilities get the accommodations and accessibility that provide them with a fulfilling life. My hope is that we can continue to further the gains that the ADA has brought to millions of individuals with disabilities over the past 30 years. In doing so, businesses such as The Hershey Company are much better and stronger workplaces.
Alicia Petross is Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Diversity and Inclusion at The Hershey Company.
NOD is proud to count The Hershey Company as a longtime member of the Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of Look Closer, our national awareness campaign. NOD has named Hershey a Leading Disability Employer for four consecutive years since the award debuted in 2016. In 2017, Alicia explained in an interview with NOD why she is personally committed to expanding disability inclusion at The Hershey Company.