Seeing Inclusivity as a Business Partnership

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Mike Ellis explains why prioritizing the needs of consumers and employees with disabilities is a business imperative for Sprint.


Wondering what it takes to be inclusive of employees with disabilities? Look no further than Sprint.


This month, Sprint Corp. was awarded the top score in the American Association of People with Disabilities’ and U.S. Business Leadership Network’s Disability Equality Index. The score is a reflection of the communication company’s commitment to serving the disabled community, both as consumers and as employees.

“As customers with disabilities recognize companies that provide accessible products and services, it creates greater market share for businesses because the disabled community is tightly knit, with very effective ‘grapevines,’ which can share positive experiences, rapidly, effectively and across the globe in ways that even the best corporate marketing machines or elaborate budgets can’t match,” said Mike Ellis, national director of Sprint Relay, which provides services for hearing-impaired customers. “By partnering with the disability community, it creates a win-win situation for both the business and the consumer, and positions both for tremendous sustainability in an increasingly accessible world.”

Below are edited excerpts from Ellis’s interview with Diversity Executive.

Sprint was awarded the top score in the AAPD and USBLN’s Disability Equality Index. How has Sprint established itself as one of the top places for people with disabilities to work?

Sprint was awarded the top score [100 out of 100] as a result of our long-standing commitment toward ensuring that people with disabilities are included within the workplace, customer base, supply chain practices and the telecommunications industry as a whole. Sprint has developed a unique work culture of diversity and inclusion for employees with disabilities through its employee resource group, the REAL DEAL — Resourceful, Empowering, Awareness, Limitless for Disabled Employees Accessing Life. REAL DEAL recognizes and celebrates the contributions of people with disabilities, and taps the collective resources, knowledge and experience of Sprint employees who have a disability, or know someone who has a disability. Engaging executive support for the REAL DEAL ERG has been a positive and effective way of establishing support across the entire enterprise.

Mike Ellis, Sprint Corp.

Currently, Sprint is the largest and most advanced Telecommunications Relay Services [TRS] provider with 25 years of experience in providing accessible communication services to those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, or have a mobility, cognitive or speech disability. For Sprint’s continued efforts to develop innovative communication solutions to better serve the special-needs community, the company was recognized with the Quality Services for the Autism Community [QSAC] 2014 Change Maker Award as well the Disability Matters Marketplace Award by Springboard Consulting in 2013.

Why is it important to support employees with disabilities?

Sprint has consistently aimed to create an internal and external environment of equality and inclusion for all employees, customers and supply networks. Sprint believes that each employee has their own strengths and challenges and only in coming together do all employees thrive and contribute toward the growth of the organization. Only by providing unlimited support to ones’ employees can an organization thrive. We believe that our employees with disabilities have a unique understanding of the needs of our customers with disabilities and can offer constructive advice on developing new accessible technology and provide innovative solutions for enhancing the quality of life of people with disabilities.

As a result of our incredible team of employees, Sprint Relay has done a remarkable job in the TRS industry and the wireless communication market, resulting in increased communication and information access for Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.

What policies should other companies establish to be more inclusive of people with disabilities?

There are a few best practices that companies can follow in order to be sure that their employee policies are inclusive of people with disabilities. The general areas businesses should focus on are building strong recruitment policies, training programs and opportunities for advancement for people with disabilities. It’s also crucial to not just look at your policies but to also assess the current culture of inclusion and try to foster a positive attitude toward inclusion of people with disabilities. This is especially important at the management level.

Additionally, a key ingredient for any corporation to be inclusive of people with disabilities is to engage advocacy organizations from a variety of different segments of the disability spectrum. Invite these organizations to be stakeholders. Ask for their feedback regarding the products and services being provided. Ask them to become partners in your progress from design, through deployment and ultimately through customer service so that the disability groups have a sense of pride and ownership in the business process and final results.

Why was it important for Sprint to make this commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities?

Sprint has a long-standing commitment to developing innovative communication solutions to better serve the special-needs community. It was important to us at Sprint to break communication barriers and provide accessible technology to everyone, so people with disabilities have an equal chance to compete businesswise and use technology in ways that positively impact their personal lives as well. We know that we can only provide these innovative solutions to those who need it if we follow the same inclusive policies within our own organization. Therefore, we make every effort at Sprint to have a diverse employee base that contributes to research and development and provides solutions to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. As such, we see our employees as change-makers at Sprint.