Increasing Workplace Accessibility and Inclusivity with Erin Perkins

Increasing Workplace Accessibility and Inclusivity with Erin Perkins

Inclusivity and accessibility often get overlooked in the workplace, but not always for a lack of trying. Guidelines and training can be inconsistent, and despite any good intentions, leaders may find themselves wondering what the best practices are for creating accessible workplaces.

Today Erin Perkins, disabled rights activist and accessibility educator, joins me to share how organizations can build a more inclusive foundation within their organizations and how accessibility can really benefit everyone. She answers many common questions leaders may ask in regards to workplace accessibility, and teaches some tactics that organizations can use to better support employees needs—from recruitment to hiring, all the way through the employment journey.

Tune in to our conversation and learn simple ways to become a more accommodating and psychologically safe environment for all of your employees.

Listen on your favourite podcast player

About Erin Perkins:

Erin Perkins is a deafblind entrepreneur, disabled rights activist, and accessibility educator dedicated to making the business world more inclusive. Her fierce advocacy comes from her life experiences as a deaf woman and owner of a small online business, Mabely Q.
Though she founded Mabely Q in 2018 as a graphic designer and online business manager, Erin’s true gift is working with CEOs who want to lead by example. Whether she’s teaching via a keynote speech, private workshop, or one-on-one consulting, Erin freely shares her experiences as a deaf woman with others to help make the world a more inclusive place for others with disabilities.
To learn more, check out Erin’s website or connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Mentioned In This Episode:


Lindsay Recknell 0:08
welcome to Mental Health in minutes where we open the door to conversations about workplace mental health, and help leaders and HR professionals create safe and innovative organizations where our employees and our companies thrive. I am your host, Lindsay Recknell, the psychological health and safety advisor, a workplace mental health consultants, speaker, facilitator and an expert in hope. Each episode of this show has three objectives, to discuss the future of mental health in the workplace. To identify the best, most successful strategies for opening the door to mental health conversations at work, and to share the top ways we can engage our leadership in the workplace mental health conversation, and have them endorse and pay for a positive culture shift within our organization. If you’re listening to this podcast, you know that our people need us more than ever, but most of our organizations have a long way to go until supporting employee wellness is embedded in the culture of our workplaces. This episode is a resource you can use to start and continue workplace mental health conversations, and my guests will share their experiences and what’s worked for them.
Lindsay Recknell 1:07
Today’s guest is Erin Perkins. She’s a deaf blind entrepreneur, Disabled Rights activist, and accessibility educator dedicated to making the business world more inclusive. Her fierce advocacy comes from her life experiences as a deaf woman and owner of a small online business called Maybelline que those she founded Maybelline que in 2018. As a graphic designer and online business manager. Erin’s true gift is working with CEOs who want to lead by example, whether she’s teaching via a keynote speech, a private workshop, or one on one consulting, Erin freely shares her experiences as a deaf woman with others to help make the world a more inclusive place for others with disabilities. This is a great conversation. So let’s dig in. Hello, Erin. Welcome to the show.
Erin Perkins 1:52
Hi, Lindsay, thanks for having me.
Lindsay Recknell 1:55
I am so excited to have you here, we have had some really great discussions. And I’m really looking forward to hearing all of the insights you have, especially as it comes to inclusion in the workplace and making sure that we are giving, giving a psychologically safe space for everyone to feel like they can belong and contribute and are super, super valuable like they are. So maybe we’ll start with, you can share a little bit about who you are, what you do, who you serve, with the listeners.
Unknown Speaker 2:27
Sure. I’m Erin Perkins. And I’m the founder of Mabely Q. And Mabely Q is where the with newly founded on creating, design, graphic design and online business management for my client. But I grew, I recognize that because I have a disability I am deaf and blind. But you can’t tell when you look at me, it’s that accessibility and we go to a small business is something that people don’t necessarily comprehend, or fully grasp what it’s really about. And that and then I’ve been the transition of my business had gone into, which was really educating small business owners on how to be accessible to all people with disabilities, whether physical or mental, or just something that is preventing them. And in and it teaches them that being acceptable really does benefit everybody.
Lindsay Recknell 3:41
The whole amazing and, like hugely important, because I I mean, I like to think that employers are trying to do the right thing. Yeah, let’s just assume that all employers are trying to do the right thing. We know that that’s not always the case. But generally speaking, we want to do right by our people. Right. And I would, I would suggest that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. And so I love that an organization like yours is available to teach us the things we don’t know. So what are the common questions you get? What are the common things that we don’t know?
Erin Perkins 4:22
I mean, a lot of people think, you know, in the corporate world, I used to work for a corporation. I worked for a corporation for like 11 plus years. And the thing is, they kind of expect us people with the ability to know exactly what to ask for and require. But the problem in in a company, a big company, they usually already have protocols and move that up because of what they have. And like that has always been like a pain point for me is like, I need this kind of action. And yeah, I would have to jump through too many hoops to get to that after. And that is something that is incredibly frustrating, because it will be like one team that knows how to do it, but not everybody else does. So for therefore, I needed access to the relay service. And to access to relay service, we had to use a computer. With everyone had that third death. However, to asked us to release relay service, I, we had to kind of create a workaround through the firewall they’ve had data with was complicated, I didn’t know what the problem was, I thought I could just set it up and didn’t know. And that ended up being a three month process with the IT department, when it really could have been that simple. It, it was just one of those things where, you know, I, the IT department knew that in order to provide access for desk, employees, and that we need to open up the firewall, but it was so much more complicated than they needed to be.
Lindsay Recknell 6:19
So that’s kind of addressing some systemic or procedural opportunities that organizations have, is that what I’m hearing you say that, you know, like, as part of onboarding, or as part of, you know, onboarding, actually is, is recognition of people’s different abilities, and having some procedures in place to address that. Do you think that that would be a way to solve some of these problems?
Erin Perkins 6:49
Oh, for sure, I think there has to be a dumb part of where human resources work, where different oil inundation to, like, be sure that they just have just like, a foundational baseline of like, okay, this is how you should work with people have different needs, and then be flexible from there. Because unit, you know, every department, I feel like a lot of companies are very siloed, and how the staff and then human retorted in charge of everything. So human resources usually know the most about the business in general, though, but usually they just deal with the hiring process. And then once they start working with the the employer, that way, the employee is kind of like, Oh, here you go. Like, it really should be part of the onboarding process. So I need an accommodation your effective, like, what are some of the things we can do? How can we work together to ensure that your first couple of weeks go well, rather than you sitting around twiddling your thumb? And basically being like, well, I don’t know. And then people are like, Well, why isn’t this person doing any work? And kind of make other waves? Look, I don’t know. Yeah. Yeah.
Lindsay Recknell 8:19
So what, for HR leaders that are listening to this? Where would you suggest that they start because I feel like trying to make accommodations for all the different scenarios feels unrealistic? But absolutely. Like, I think you mentioned flexibility. And I feel like that’s a good mindset kind of to go into this with, where would you suggest that HR people start
Erin Perkins 8:47
is definitely unrealistic to be able to think of every possible scenario. I mean, all businesses try to create something where maybe you cover all possible scenarios of this, if this happened, this is what we do. This happens, what we do. So of course, that is unrealistic. But the thing in I think, a shot and everybody in the company needs to understand that. You’d be surprised how many people have a disability, and how many people don’t share it in fear of retribution, in fear of feeling like, Oh, they’re not going to be willing to accommodate me, because they’ll just stay still focused on the disability. It’s more don’t creating kind of like an overall contest like guideline of like, these are some new thing that you will want to think about addressing and maybe even my adapter for everybody. So it’s not necessarily just focused on people with disability. It is focused on really creating a better thing for everybody i the whole. So I think I love that I’m like, yeah, yeah,
Lindsay Recknell 10:10
I love that. And I so close captioning comes to mind, you know, if you’re having a all company town hall, having a interpreter or you know, someone who’s doing sign language and the closed captioning at the bottom of the screen, you know, using the, even at the presentation decks, there’s got to be some useful fonts or colors or things like that, that would, you know, those are easy, low cost things that organizations can put into place to support anyone who may or may not have put up their hand to say, I need this kind of accommodation. If we could just do those things already. It’s already inclusive.
Erin Perkins 10:58
Yeah, I think like them. And the other thing, and also, having flexible with your desk setup, is that, you know, like, I for the longest time would ask for that, then definitely not Oh, it’s not in our budget. But like, you know, I was having a lot of like back pain, and sitting down all the time was kind of, like, really painful for me, sometimes standing up will be easier that I will just die for sure when my laptop and works at a higher faith because it was just not comfortable. And there are some people that need that they need that flexibility of your workstation, or, like, you know, having, like, you know, a closer distance to the bathroom, because that’s what they need, or even having flexible hours. In golf, too. I mean, pandemic has obviously highlighted that, you know, not everybody has to work any often. And sometimes some people work way better when they’re working remotely. So there has to be this mindset shift. Not that, like we all have to work note, in fact, we don’t live in a nine to five world, no one lived in a nine to five world a tap, I feel the corporate, but we also need to also respect other people’s time as well.
Lindsay Recknell 12:32
And you’re absolutely right, the pandemic has not only highlighted the need for these things, but also, you know, necessitated that we do them in a hurry, which has shown that it can be done, because so often, you know, we would think, well, we should do these things, but there’s hesitation, there’s, you know, people get their, you know, their risk, the lawyers get involved all of these things, but the pandemic has forced us to do them. And then we figured out that these risks that were in our brains never really materialized, like the work from home, like the remote workforce and flexible workforce and things like that. Yeah. One of the things you mentioned there is, you know, maybe maybe an employee doesn’t feel safe to share their disability with their leader or with their organization, which is fair, right? You don’t want to be you don’t want to be called out you don’t want to be retribution against you. What What advice do you have for employers who are trying to create that safe space? I think for
Erin Perkins 13:48
employers who want to create that they it is important that you you be honest and they you know what we might not necessarily know what to do, but we want to hire quality employee and bring on people on our team that you know, a committed to the company, and we will adjust and make a combination as needed. Without question, because that was that and one of my biggest pain point and when I get question, I often would question whether or not I need an interpreter because yes, I do fantastic one on one. But as soon as you start adding more people to the room, and people are having conversation, it becomes a lot more difficult for me to comprehend and catch all the comments states and so yes, I do need and took them but I’ve always been questioned and it made me doubt myself. We that’s the biggest thing and do not question I was leaves off to die You know, down, and it and a feeling uncomfortable. And then you’re just ending up not being an employer that we do not want to vote for. Because the fact is, we know our ability better than anybody else.
Lindsay Recknell 15:21
So true. So how, how can how can an employer make you feel appreciated and valued? What is the best response that a leader could have?
Erin Perkins 15:36
I don’t necessarily want to be spotlighted by the employee, because then that makes me feel like you’re kind of like you didn’t me either token, and being like, oh, look what you did for this employee, like now. But I think it’s important that you know, it is by having a space to network and connect with other employees that might have like different disability, they don’t all have to be the same, but having a face to where we can all connect with one another. It’s always really good. And like, honestly, it’s doing this check in doing a check and be like, is there anything that we can do to improve your work? Life? there anything that we need to adjust? Because sometimes we’ll just kind of like tolerate what we’ve been given. So I think doing a check in and honestly doing a check in with everybody, more than once a year should be done. Because, yeah, I think that’s like, the best thing I can suggest.
Lindsay Recknell 16:57
is as far as like, let’s say, let’s talk about recruitment for a minute. So when you are looking for a job or and you’re, you know, reading online job postings and things like that, are there ways that employers can demonstrate their desire to include people of all abilities in their recruiting strategies?
Erin Perkins 17:21
Well, one don’t answer for we haven’t disability. I then is the main reason why I’m not working for another corporation. And because it seems to have become a standard to ask people whether or not they have a disability. And you know, you had three answered yes, no, or choose not to respond to it. I mean, I feel like if I say, yeah, that’s gonna be like a red flag for them. Just because that’s how I’ve always felt. If I say no, then I mean, I’ve lied on my application. If I choose to decline that mean, it could go either way. So I end up not wanting to respond, I don’t have a problem with disclosing it and being like, hey, like, when I get called for an interview, like, just, you know, I do want to highlight that I am deaf, I can speak for myself. But I would like to have an interpreter or some mean, to ensure that communication is 100%. Clear. Then, from there, you can re decide what to do. I hate that. Our disability might have to be disclosed before you even met me. I mean, I want you to shoot me based on my resume. But yeah, that’s even even tuning based on when men can be somewhat of a challenge to.
Lindsay Recknell 18:57
Yeah, which goes for any kind of diversity, whether it’s neuro diversity or gender diversity, any kind of diversity, you know, that is a problem in the industry, that recruiters and organizations are trying to solve is how to remove bias from resumes. Yeah. conscious or unconscious bias.
Erin Perkins 19:20
Yeah, I mean, just like I really liked what you said about sometimes you look at someone’s name, and you might have like an unconscious bias of like, oh, they put in like my husband got his name and Latin name. So I always feel like sometime he might have bias put toward him just based on his name, even though his brother middle grade, but are they gonna hire him? I don’t know. It’s because of his name. It’s always questionable though. Yeah.
Lindsay Recknell 19:55
I really liked what you said about something that feels obvious. I eat doughnuts. ask, you know, don’t discriminate right up front, give people the opportunity to shine and show how amazing they are. Before you get into the kinds of accommodations that a person would like, is there, you know, if you think back on your job that your job search or organizations that you’ve worked for? Can you think of a situation or an organization or a job posting? You read that you went? Yeah, those guys nailed it. They’ve got exactly, I feel already valued as a human, before I’m even in the door. That I know I’m putting you on the spot to think about that. But I just wondered, Is there any really good example that have come to mind,
Erin Perkins 20:46
some of things like, you know, I look for when I want to attend a conference or stomach, it will usually, and I like this domain that I wanted to attend. They literally had a space where they stand. And don’t matter what ability or disability you have, we will provide accommodation for you no matter what. And why they said here to pay for you to request accommodation. And that just made me feel like, oh, I don’t even have to think about I can just literally click Buy the ticket. I don’t have to go around email, somebody asked me like, Oh, are you gonna have accommodation for me? It was already there. It would already be like, once you buy the ticket, then you can reach out and be like, do you don’t need accommodation underneath? Like, that was like one of the best feeling I’ve ever had?
Lindsay Recknell 21:50
Oh, I can imagine how good that would have felt and how, what a simple thing for the conference organizer to have done to put it right there. Before you buy, you know, like, that’s exactly what I’m looking to hear some examples of, because, you know, this, this show is to provide tactics for organizations and conference organizers and leaders to best support everyone. And that is a really, really great example of something that we can do. And I think it would work on the recruiting process as well, you know, on, you know, on the application process, you could do something very similar, similar in that scenario, as well, that doesn’t call somebody out. But that, you know, says, we’re here to support you in any way that you want to be supported.
Erin Perkins 22:45
Yes, exactly. Like, I think, like, the application process definitely needs to change quite significantly. And like even death, just for like, trying to get into the company. But what about employee doubt, only working out the company that made me a study now to feel like, you know, what, especially and I noticed a lot of adults in my life right now have all been diagnosed, and with a DD or ADHD, because new they discovered the child had, and they started being like, Oh, I might have it to this kind of making time. And so now like, it’s like, okay, there are some changes, I need to make it my business, like working for you, right. But yet, you might not feel comfortable doing though it’s like, because like, I know, like, people with ADHD might have a tough time focusing. And they might not necessarily want to be on medicine. So maybe there needs to be some adjustment, maybe like having a supervisor just do like a quick check in and say, these are things you need to do today. And then they might get motivated that way. But others might choose to go on medication, you know, it’s just by being open enough your space to be like coming, talk to me anytime, at about anything that you want. And I think that’s really important. Has your life contained in a second?
Lindsay Recknell 24:24
That’s really, really key. Really great insight there because you’re right, it’s not just about new employees walking in the door. It’s the existing ones that have life situations that change their health changes. I mean, as we grow, right, like, you know, you’re right, it absolutely can happen in a second and having creating the space creating a safe space for employees to talk about those life health changes as they’re happening is really key. I think that’s a Yeah, that’s a really, really great insight. If there was one takeaway that you could Make sure that leaders knew from this conversation, what would that be? The biggest
Erin Perkins 25:05
takeaway is like be open to listening and understanding what people with disabilities need are, and be willing to work with them in order to cut big out the best solution. Because the reality is usually the solution that is come up, created between the two view is dominated by that actually benefit everybody out.
Lindsay Recknell 25:39
And I think that is kind of the theme of this whole episode is that it doesn’t need to be accommodation for a specific person, just doing some of the right things, anyway, is going to support everyone.
Erin Perkins 25:56
Yep, for sure. For sure.
Lindsay Recknell 25:59
And creating those safe spaces for people to have conversation to feel like they’re not going to be stigmatized against that there’s no there isn’t going to be any detriment to their upward career progression. And, you know, being left out of projects and things like that. Is, is the thing is the key.
Erin Perkins 26:27
Yep. And really well, people. Study in people, to people with disabilities, honestly, we want to be just as tough for anybody out.
Lindsay Recknell 26:49
Of course, and while you well, you should that you have the capability to be Yeah, I mean, just because you have, you know, in your case, you’re deaf and blind doesn’t mean you’re not awesome graphic designer, know that that’s your, you know, your your profession before you moved into this role. Those you know, your disability has nothing to do with your skill as a graphic designer. And I think so often, we don’t put the person first we you know, we’re traditionally we put the disability first and putting the person first is absolutely the only way to go.
Erin Perkins 27:25
Yep, I totally agree with you.
Lindsay Recknell 27:29
It’s beautiful. I really appreciate you spending your time with us today. Aaron, thank you so much for your expertise and for sharing your story as well. I appreciate that. Your advice and your insights come from a place of lived experience?
Unknown Speaker 27:44
Yes, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed sharing my perspective. And after I just want to remind people this is just one person perspective, by you know, other people with disabilities might have a different perspective as well.
Lindsay Recknell 28:01
Course and I appreciate you saying that I, you know, I definitely trust and respect what you have to say. And I imagine that you are speaking, you know, similarly to others with similar experiences. But it is I mean, we are all very, very unique, and we’re all individual. And that’s something to keep at the front of our mind is that we don’t know what other people’s experiences are. We cannot presume that we know, we prejudge, we just have to ask and come from a place of curiosity and compassion, and have those conversations and build those connections.
Erin Perkins 28:36
For sure, for sure.
Lindsay Recknell 28:38
If people wanted to get in touch with you to work with you to you know, up their, their, their organization to be more inclusive. How can they how can they do that?
Erin Perkins 28:49
Though, they can reach out to me at Aaron at maplelea And you can also follow me on Instagram at maplelea underscore Q.
Lindsay Recknell 29:00
Awesome. We will absolutely put all of those links both those links into the show notes of this episode as well. And make sure that anybody who wants to reach out can absolutely do that. Thank you again for joining me, it has been such a pleasure for conversation.
Erin Perkins 29:15
Awesome. Take care.
Lindsay Recknell 29:19
Thank you for listening to another episode of mental health in minutes. This conversation with Erin felt really powerful because of the underlying message namely that leaders of organizations shouldn’t start from a place of calling out any type of disability or any specific person when there are so many simple low or no cost things we can do that would really benefit most of your employees. From adding closed captioning to video presentations and sharing contrasting colors on our PowerPoint decks and offering seats with easy access to the doors. It doesn’t have to be complicated or manage by exception. We can start to create inclusive workplaces for all in a few short actions.
Lindsay Recknell 29:54
Erin and I both believe in the power of our leaders to create psychologically safe workplaces and we know you do too, or you wouldn’t be less To this, if you love this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review on your favorite podcast player. You can find this everywhere at mental health in minutes, as well as on the web at The thing we do best at mental health in minutes is open the door to conversations about mental health at work, and episodes like this to give us real things we can try to truly make a difference. I know you’re making a difference at your workplace or you really like to be, or you wouldn’t be listening to podcast episodes like these ones.
Lindsay Recknell 30:27
I’d love to help you accelerate your impact at work, help you really move the needle on mental health maturity in your workplace, and get people to a place where they’re feeling less stressed, more fulfilled, and able to integrate work and life in a way that works for them and your organization. Being a people leader is especially hard right now, you might feel like you’re managing both up and down the corporate ladder. And if the thought of figuring out how to best support your people and yourself feels overwhelming and impossibly hard. Let’s talk let me help you by doing the heavy lifting with resources and materials, along with training and facilitation and you can get back to doing what you do best engaging with and supporting your people. I’ve many ways to support you from full service hands on the guidance and support from afar. So let’s chat about what works best for you and your people.
Lindsay Recknell 31:12
As always, I’m here if you need me
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