When you hear “people with disabilities,” what comes to mind?
The responses I often hear only focus on disabilities that are immediately visible. Of course, people with disabilities (PwD) represent so much more, and when we are willing to learn about, listen to and engage with this community, we can go further as a society by tapping the talents and perspectives that people with disabilities have to offer.
As for me, I continue to learn about this community and like many others, how I think about this group today has been vastly transformed by my professional journey.
The words “people with disabilities” now bring to mind those colleagues around the world who are every bit as eager as the next person to apply their talent and contribute to the team. This reminds me of our brilliant design engineers, who are on the autistic spectrum in Milan, Italy, and the young husband and wife, who are hearing impaired and found love at our Zhuhai, China facility. I continue to be excited for what’s ahead for the 50 new teammates with physical disabilities just onboarded in November at our Guadalajara, Mexico site. So, if you ask me today, what comes to mind when I hear “people with disabilities?” I’ll answer with this: excitement for what’s next at Flex as we advance our commitment to this group as members of our Flex Family and in the communities where we operate.
Think globally, act locally
Since stepping into my role, I have come to appreciate the incredible foundation Flex has built over the years to recruit, hire and empower people with disabilities.
There are so many layers that underpin our global commitment to this community. Like many organizations, we strive to build an inclusive and diverse workforce and this agenda is reinforced by Flex’s alignment to the targets of the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework. Chief among these is access to employment opportunities for everyone, including those with disabilities. As of November 2020, we proudly employ more than 8,000 PwD globally and look to grow this number over the coming years. Most of these teammates are building great products on the manufacturing line at our facilities, while some are knowledge workers.
From the resources we’ve invested to enable our teammates with disabilities to the passionate team members who volunteer their time to advocate for this group, ours is a journey of purpose. And ultimately, it’s the decisions and actions at each site that speak to Flex’s intentionality to champion and truly include our colleagues and friends with disabilities.
Many of our colleagues have diverse needs to be addressed to provide a safe and productive working environment. We continuously enhance our facilities to make them more inclusive and accessible. We ensure the essential equipment is in place, such as flashing lights and other visual signals for team members, who are hearing impaired, when alarms sound on production lines. We provide specially equipped buses to transport those with mobility needs, and we’ve removed barriers at our onsite dormitories to enable more seamless access. We also partner with the leaders and advocates in our communities to host job fairs and engage in targeted outreach to connect with talent who may be overlooked.
Watch this short video to sample a small slice of our PwD story.
A journey evolving towards maturity
Throughout the years, we have drawn attention and recognition for our efforts in the PwD community. More recently, we won numerous awards for empowering employees with disabilities to do their best work. For example, we received the Inclusive Enterprise award for creating a more barrier-free work environment and providing employees with specific assistant tools for assembly work at our Zhuhai, China facility. And, in October, our sites drew local media coverage for contributing to their communities, dovetailing with Flex’s global PwD Awareness Weeks efforts.
In just over a week from now, at the invitation of the International Labour Organization Global Business and Disability Network – China Chapter, I will join a conference panel on ‘Responding to the need of people with diversity,’ a validation of Flex’s maturity as a PwD employer in the country with the greatest PwD population. For historical background, we initiated a formal program in 2010 at our Zhuhai campus and others across China, marking our first conscious steps to expand employment opportunities for people of all abilities; some of this program’s inaugural employees remain on staff today.
While our progress as a PwD employer has been commendable, we have an opportunity to do much more. Our future plans will see us plant a stake in the ground to substantiate our efforts. To that end, we will intensify our focus to continue hiring PwD as well as improve the skills and confidence-building training for this group.
For our non-PwD employees, our inclusiveness mandate includes raising their awareness about disabilities. Beyond communication and discrimination training, we aim to enhance our educational resources to help them better understand etiquette and other coworking best practices.
This initiative got a boost when, in October, we extended the duration of our People with Disabilities Awareness Week from one week to two to pack in more programming and participation. We hosted a global webinar with involvement from multiple executive sponsors, and for fresh perspectives, we called in outside experts like Debra Ruh, CEO of Ruh Global IMPACT and Jessica Rafuse, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Policy for Accessibility at Microsoft.
I wish I could open up our Intranet to show you all the remarkable stories we have collected from sites around the world over the two weeks we campaigned for PwD awareness. That we have so many engaged employees joining the conversation and participating in the events says a great deal about people’s appetites to better understand and work with their colleagues with disabilities. This of course serves as a call-to-action for those of us in I&D to build more tools and infrastructure to engage them further.
A world of possibilities
I began this post by asking what “people with disabilities” conjures up for you. As it did for me, your answer will likely evolve as you get to know this community.
Already, I have learned so much from this group as they’ve opened my eyes to what’s possible. I have seen first-hand how people’s physical or cognitive limitations are irrelevant when they are given opportunities. I have also become acutely aware of how prevalent and common disabilities are among us. About 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. That’s a lot of people – about a billion in fact – who are remarkable resources for us to learn from and partner with. I also tip my hat to all those engaged employees – whether participating at grassroots events or putting in the extra time and effort to learn about PwD.
With this kind of enthusiasm, I feel optimistic that we can make significant strides in advancing the interests of the PwD community. To me, the voices of those living with disabilities have not been heard as loudly. It’s time we amplify them.
So, on this International Day of People with Disabilities, I call for us to expand our efforts to improve this community’s access to opportunities and resources. Meanwhile, we join our friends and partners around the world in celebrating this incredible group for their contributions to our workplaces and communities.