Disability as an Asset in the Workplace

The role of people with disabilities in the workforce is evolving, see how we are embracing and leading this trend.

“We have to switch our thinking,” said James Mahoney, chief quality officer for Mortgage Banking Technology. Mahoney heads a pilot program launched in 2015 introducing employees on the autism spectrum into the workplace. He sees employees with autism as an unexploited talent pool. According to the program, after three to six months working in the Mortgage Banking Technology division, autistic workers were doing the work of people who took three years to ramp up—and were even 50 percent more productive.

This interesting find was shared by Mahoney with our employees during “Disability as an Asset in the Workplace,” our signature event for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The event was a panel discussion moderated by Jim Sinocchi, head of the Office of Disability Inclusion that provided tips on how to foster a universally inclusive work environment. The panel also featured Michael LaForgia, a digital manager with Consumer & Community Banking; and Laurie Sayles Artis, president and CEO of Civility Management Solutions.

Image of disability as an asset panelists

Panelists at our signature company event for National Disability Employment Awareness Month “Disability as an Asset in the Workplace”.

During the discussion, Sinocchi talked about the evolving role of people with disabilities in the workforce, noting that 20 years ago companies tended to hire people at lower pay rates because hiring them at all was seen as an act of charity. “This is a new era,” said Sinocchi. “People with disabilities are coming into firms with the right qualifications and competing for jobs that able-bodied people are doing. And they are not here to replace able-bodied people, by no means — they want to be part of a workforce because they have the skills.”

“This is a new era. People with disabilities are coming into firms with the right qualifications and competing for jobs that able-bodied people are doing. And they are not here to replace able-bodied people, by no means — they want to be part of a workforce because they have the skills.”

Jim Sinocchi, head of the Office of Disability Inclusion, JPMorgan Chase

Artis, a military veteran herself, talked about the benefits veterans with disabilities can bring to a company. The number one disability for veterans is tinnitus, a constant ringing in a person’s ears; post-traumatic stress disorder affects a high number of veterans as well. But army training develops both team working skills and abilities beyond combat—these enables an employee get the job done well in any work settings. “Everyone thinks about the war, but many people in the military have desk jobs,” said Artis. “There’s accounting, finance, attorneys and bookkeepers — there’s people doing a lot of different things.”

LaForgia, a double-amputee and meningitis survivor, shared with us how making himself active in meningitis councils, lectures and mentoring has been beneficial, not just for himself but to other survivors as well. “I think by sharing it helps me, believe it or not, because each time I share my story I always say it makes what I went through a little easier,” said LaForgia.

Sinocchi encouraged managers be proactive by simply asking employees with disabilities what their needs are. “In your role as a manager, part of your welcoming narrative should be asking the employee what they need,” he said. “If they’re able-bodied, they might just say ‘pencils,’ but the point is to ask the question, because the employees are waiting for your lead.” Sinocchi said what he hears most from both able-bodied and employees with disabilities is the desire for their manager to start an open dialogue about their needs in the workplace.

Image of disability as an asset panelists

Gordon Smith, CEO of Consumer & Community Banking opened up the discussion and underscored the importance of visibility for persons with disability in leadership roles.

 “I think it’s always so important to see role models at each level in a company so people can come in and say ‘there’s someone who is like me and so there have to be opportunities for me,’” said CEO of Consumer & Community Banking Gordon Smith, who is also the Operating Committee sponsor of the Access Ability BRG, our company’s disability and caregiver business resource group.

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