'Raising the bar' on accessibility and inclusion at Amazon
“Every person with a disability should expect to be treated as equivalent to everyone else—to know that Amazon supports them in being successful at what they do,” says Brendan Gramer, a Senior UX Designer on the Payments team at Amazon.
As Global President of Amazon’s People with Disabilities (PwD) affinity group – a group that serves as the representative voice for Amazon employees with disabilities – Gramer is one of the many people who ensure Amazon is recognised for championing disability issues.
The UK chapter of PwD was launched in 2018 and aims to help make Amazon a more diverse and inclusive workplace, while also reflecting the diversity of our customers. The group is open to employees with disabilities and allies. Since launching, the group has supported employees through raising awareness, supported career development, participated in community outreach and worked on improving accessibility for Amazon employees and customers.
In the UK, Disability History Month is being celebrated from 18 November to 20 December and this year’s theme is ‘Access: How far have we come? How far have we to go?’
To mark the event, here’s a round-up of how PwD leaders from around the world are championing accessibility and inclusion.
Brendan Gramer, Amazon’s Global PwD affinity group
“Amazon’s PwD affinity group is here to support, recognise, and represent the voices of employees with disabilities every step of the way,” Brendan explains. When he took on the role of Global President of PwD last December, based in the US, there were four chapters. Now, the group has grown to include 39 chapters and continues to expand around the world—recently creating chapters in South Africa, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and soon, Spain, Italy, and Egypt.
Their goal is to have at least 50 chapters in development by the end of the year and exceed 100 by the end of 2021.“People are becoming more aware of the need to be inclusive, and of the unique value we bring to Amazon through our diverse perspectives,” he says. “We want Amazon to be the most inclusive and accessible employer on the planet, and that means working to normalise disability so that people with disabilities have every opportunity to be accepted and as successful as their peers.”
The affinity group has had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of employees at Amazon, and Brendan says the group’s goals for continued global expansion reach beyond company walls“ Oftentimes, disability rights laws only get updated because of the disability community’s advocacy. Amazon is a global company, so it presents an opportunity to influence the world,” he adds.
There are more than 2,600 PwD group members in chapters around the world. As the group continues to grow, Gramer hopes its members will make more connections, find support, and spark global change.
“It is amazing what people can do when they connect with each other for support.”
Mrunmaiy Abroal, Amazon’s PwD India affinity group
“In India, you won’t see a lot of people with disabilities up and about in a mall or on the road because most things are not accessible,” says Mrunmaiy Abroal, a PR Manager on the Devices team in India. “If others don't see people with disabilities, they will never realise the need for accessibility.”
That’s why she started a chapter of Amazon’s PwD affinity group in India.
“I got to know the global PwD affinity group and how they advocate and build sensitivity within the organisation for other people with disabilities,” she says. “I thought that was something that really needed to be brought to India.” Abroal formed PwD India earlier this year. The group already has 230 members and five board members. “It's very encouraging to see that a lot of people are supportive and want to help their colleagues move forward,” she adds.
Abroal has started connecting group members through email newsletters and has plans to expand the group’s impact virtually.
“I want to start a new series, similar to ‘Humans of New York’, to profile more people with disabilities and give them visibility internally with employees and externally on our India blog.”
Outside of Amazon, Abroal promotes visibility for people with disabilities through her personal blog, “Wheelchair Wanderer,” where she shares stories from her travels and life experiences as a person with a spinal cord injury. She also works with the Spinal Foundation to spread awareness for reimagining life after a spinal cord injury.
“I wish to inspire people with disabilities to not put their plans on hold while the world around us takes its time to become more inclusive and accessible.”
Noboru Obata and Tomomi Umezawa, Amazon’s PwD Japan affinity group
Noboru Obata is a Senior Account Manager on the Consumer Business Development team in Japan. He co-chairs his country’s chapter of the PwD affinity group alongside his colleague Tomomi Umezawa, a Data Management Associate on the HR team in Japan.
The two launched PwD Japan in September 2019. More than 200 Amazon employees attended the event to celebrate its launch. According to Umezawa and Obata, PwD Japan now has more than 300 members.“We noticed a demand for a PwD chapter in Japan. There were a lot of people who wanted to support it,” says Obata. “This support for the chapter came from peers and senior leaders.
”The group started out holding learning sessions and lectures on disabilities for employees in Japan. Prior to the pandemic, they also had a casual, monthly luncheon for group members. In light of physical distancing guidelines, they’ve swapped the in-person lunches for virtual coffee hours.
“Our current goal is to provide a safe place for employees with disabilities during these tough times,” adds Obata.Next up, Umezawa, Obata, and their fellow PwD Japan leaders plan to launch a community tool as well as a book club to continue to connect Amazon employees with disabilities and allies in Japan.
“We’ve been happy to hear from people who find the affinity group to be a safe place to discuss disabilities,” says Obata. “Our affinity group is still quite young, and we have a lot of opportunity for growth.
”Disability History Month is a time to highlight conversations about accessibility, inclusion, and opportunities for people with disabilities in the workplace in the UK and find inspiration from our allies in other countries by celebrating their progress. However, the work must be ongoing to spark positive change. Through continued awareness in our communities and workplaces, we can raise the bar on accessibility and inclusion.
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