Like any sort of venture these days, good disability advocacy requires careful research.
Not everything is what it seems. Some media outlets are less reputable than others, and even accounts from the most reputable ones can be biased, incomplete, or outright wrong. Statistics can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, causing even professionals to draw conclusions from them that aren’t supported.
And There are Always Two Sides to Every Story
For example, the Toronto Star recently ran a profile of Amazon’s People with Disabilities (PwD) global president Brendan Gramer, also a senior design manager of user experience for payment at the company. The Star talks about how Gramer’s lived experience as a deaf person has let him advise Amazon on how to make the working experience of its disabled employees (both onsite and remote) more disability-friendly, and on how to improve the accessibility of products like Alexa.
Gramer acknowledges that there still seems to be a regrettable reluctances among disabled Amazon employees to self-identify to management when they join the staff, but estimates that despite this, approximately 30% of Amazon employees are disabled . He emphasizes the importance of building a culture of inclusion, listening to each disabled employee to discover their individual accommodation needs, and realizing that not all disabilities are visible. He tells the Star interviewer that he believes the fact because Amazon has a group for people with disabilities, management listens to them, saying that he can’t think of a situation where he didn’t feel that people with disabilities weren’t respected or heard by Amazon.
He obviously didn’t hear from these people, then:
Reuters: Amazon Discriminates Against Pregnant and Disabled Workers, New York Alleges
The New York State Division of Human Rights accused Amazon of the following in May 2022:
- Discriminating against disabled and pregnant people at their work sites
- Requiring disabled employees to take unpaid leaves of absence instead of providing reasonable accommodations.
- Giving onsite managers the authority to ignore in-house accommodation consultants’ recommendations for modified job schedules or responsibilities for disabled workers.
There have also been previous investigations into alleged systemic failure to accommodate the needs of pregnant workers in Amazon warehouses; conditions related to pregnancy are considered disability in New York state. We should also bear in mind growing concern in general over Amazon’s treatment of its workers.
Of course, we don’t know how these cases were resolved, and don’t have information on the details of them to really even speculate on the outcome. Perhaps Gramer didn’t even hear about these specific incidents, or heard about them but wasn’t directly involved with addressing them – it could be possible.
What’s important to remember is the importance of doing good research. A big company could appear to be doing a great job with disability advocacy, with a disabled person involved in that process, and still be hurting disabled people in significant ways.
Don’t base opinions solely on positive press, especially when it comes to big companies.
The Goodwill Industries Scandal of 2013 is another illustration of this.
Paying Disabled Employees Practically Nothing
In 2013, a watchdog report released to the American media brought awareness to a scandal going on within Goodwill Industries in the United States, where disabled employees were being paid extremely low wages. Goodwill justified it legally with special permission granted from a 1938 statute in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which gave them permission to pay their disabled employees below minimum wage. At the time they were not the organization using it to pay disabled people a low wage, arguing that doing so gave them the funds to hire disabled people and give them the chance to experience having a job.
Jim Goodwin, the CEO of Goodwill International at the time, is blind. His take-home pay at Goodwill in 2013 was over $400,000 a year, when some disabled employees were getting less than a quarter per hour.
When Brian Williams broke this story on NBC’s online news platform in 2013, a – short-lived – outrage in America had people protesting in front of Goodwill locations for a brief time.
Some people allege that the company hasn’t changed its practices, but the point here isn’t really to point fingers – some large companies are very good to their disabled employees, many aren’t, and it’s good to get to know about as many of both as you can. Just remember to research as thoroughly as possible – get both sides of the story, use good sources, and always keep your mind open and ready to learn!