Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are a top priority at BenchSci. As a part of our DEI journey, we are committed to learning about, celebrating, and amplifying the voices and accomplishments of people with diverse backgrounds and living situations.
October is Mental Health Awareness and Disability Employment Awareness Month. We’re proud to support people living with mental health challenges and disabilities. We also recognize the importance of accommodating everyone’s needs while also ensuring a culture of understanding and acceptance. As BenchSci’s DEI Advisor, I know this isn’t an easy thing to get right, so I asked our team for help. They shared their thoughts on what we and other companies can do to amplify awareness around mental health and disabilities. Here’s what they had to say:
Accommodating the needs of everyone
Accommodations are resources that ensure everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical ability, is able to attain gainful employment and live fulfilling lives. The right accommodations can make all the difference, empowering people to succeed regardless of their life circumstances.
Lenny (Senior Data Engineer) reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to accommodation—people with different situations have different needs. For example, accommodations for the visually impaired are pretty useless to people with hearing loss and vice versa. He suggests that by anticipating what accommodations their teams will need before someone has to ask for them, companies can create a more inclusive environment where differently-abled people can feel like they truly belong.
Additionally, accommodations such as audio recordings, screen-reader-friendly documents, transcriptions, and closed-captions can benefit many team members, not just those with disabilities. Having these resources in place can increase the productivity of a company’s current team while simultaneously helping to set future hires up for success. Lenny also recommends contacting disability advocates to learn more about accommodation practices and to build these considerations into a company’s processes and policies.
Another team member also points out that accommodations for mental health are just as important as those for physical disabilities. He says team leaders need to express empathy and create safe spaces where team members can talk about their challenges. Echoing that sentiment, Kari (Independent Director of Leadership) cautions that mental illness is often invisible, as people may keep quiet for fear of being stigmatized, or they may simply not know to whom they can turn. Team leaders should be available to connect people to the mental health resources they need and to give them space to ask for what they need.
On a final note, Duncan (Manager of Scientific Support) envisions a future where disability and mental health conversations are so normalized and accepted that “it’s cool to ask for accommodations.”
Recognizing and addressing ableism
Ableism is the belief that people with disabilities are inferior to those without them. Someone who is ableist may consciously believe that disabled people are unable to contribute to society and are therefore a burden, but ableism can be subconscious as well.
The number one thing Samantha (Executive Assistant to our CEO) wants her peers to understand is that having a disability, whether physical or mental, doesn’t make someone any less of a person. Thinking someone needs special treatment due to their disability does more harm than good—to celebrate a disabled person simply for “achieving” something completely normal is to essentially label them as abnormal. Similarly, she says, talking to people with disabilities as if they’re helpless or assuming someone needs help without asking first are more forms of ableism.
Samantha also adds that not all disabilities are visible and that just because someone smiles and acts happy doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t struggling. Along the same lines, another team member wants us to realize that our perceptions of other people are very often inaccurate and are never truly representative of the person as a whole—we can empathize with others, but we can never fully comprehend someone else’s experience. We should strive to understand this and be accepting of others—and of ourselves.
Learning how to best support others, and ourselves
Everyone has mental health; most of us usually just don’t think about it unless we or someone close to us is struggling with it. And, though not everyone lives with a disability, we can all learn valuable lessons from people who have struggled with these circumstances—who have built up resilience to hardship and bravely asked for the accommodations they need. Making efforts to understand and accept people with different life experiences is not only beneficial to them; it can help us prepare for whatever life throws at us.
Kari shares that leaders can help shape a culture of belonging by being open about their own mental health. She emphasizes the importance of having spaces in the workplace to talk about mental health, as the work we do both impacts and is impacted by our mental states. We should understand that mental health occurs on a spectrum and that stress can amplify the effects of mental illness.
Kari concluded with a sentiment that really resonates with me. She wants us to know that what we call “mental illness” can actually have hidden superpowers—by providing the right accommodations and support, managers and colleagues can help to unlock every person’s unique strengths.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how companies can promote awareness around mental health and disabilities and provide support to those that are affected. Let us know in the comments below, and subscribe to our blog for more thoughts from our team.