Our disability inclusion journey: Conversations with Rick Blair and Peter Shull

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Logo listing Schneider Electric as a DEI Top Scoring Company

As we wrap up the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we at Schneider Electric take a moment to reflect on our actions and commitment to creating an inclusive and caring company culture. Earlier this year, Schneider Electric US was honored as one of the “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” by Disability:IN. We achieved an improved score of 90 on the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a +10 point increase from last year, which signifies our dedication to implementing innovative disability inclusion practices. We are proud of this recognition, yet we remain aware of the continuous journey ahead.

At Schneider Electric, we recognize that disability inclusion is an ongoing process of learning, understanding, and adapting. To further reflect on our disability inclusion journey, I had the privilege of connecting with Rick Blair, Multi Technologies Distinguished Technical Expert at Schneider Electric who is blind and an active member of the Disabilities, Accessibilities, and Allies Employee Resource Network; as well as with Peter Shull, Veteran and Military Affairs Leader who leads the Veteran and Military Spouse Employee Resource Network and is an active supporter of the Disabilities, Accessibility and Allies ERN.

Rick, could you share your personal journey and experiences as a member of the Disability, Accessibility & Allies ERN at Schneider Electric? How has your involvement in this ERN enhanced your sense of belonging and inclusion within the organization?

Rick: In 1999, I began to lose my eyesight and by 2012 I was almost completely blind, at which point I began to advocate for accessibility within Schneider and the need for an Employee Resource Group (ERG), now called Employee Resource Network (ERN), to address accessibility. The current Disability, accessibility, and Allies group encompasses more than my initial vision, with the inclusion of caretakers, disability inclusion, and accessibility. While my personal focus remains on accessibility, I have been happy to contribute my concerns regarding the current US reasonable accommodation process, which places the financial burden of the accommodation on the individual department rather than a centralized budget, which could result in individual manager bias.

Considering Schneider Electric’s ongoing efforts to support employees with disabilities, could you elaborate on specific initiatives or practices that you believe have had a significant positive impact? Additionally, how do you personally perceive the company’s dedication to promoting disability inclusion?

Rick: Today, many of the initiatives to support accessibility and inclusion are grassroots efforts. However, I see this changing as we move into 2024. In July, Peter Herwig assigned two of his direct reports as sponsors to support accessibility and inclusion initiatives. A steering committee was formed and the first meeting was held in July, where a team was formed to create a plan which was delivered in late October. As a consequence, initiatives, resources, and budget are being allocated to address these concerns.

What aspects of the company’s culture, policies, or support systems stand out to you in terms of fostering an inclusive and accessible environment for people with disabilities?

Rick: I find one of the most powerful aspects of inclusion, not only within Schneider, but with other colleagues as well, is their willingness to treat me as an equal, yet still provide the additional assistance (if needed) to describe graphics, accept guidance when providing inaccessible materials, and guide me when I am in unfamiliar places. My colleagues are stellar at letting me try something by myself before intervening and asking if I need assistance, rather than assuming I am not able and simply doing it for me. As a person with a disability, it is extremely important that I am given the opportunity to accomplish something on my own without assistance.

What would you advise to companies such as Schneider Electric who are on a journey towards creating inclusive, caring and accessible company cultures for people with disabilities?

Rick: Incorporating the disabled community into Schneider is a cultural change. We need to eliminate the stigma that self-identifying as disabled could have a negative impact on an employee. We need to deploy accessible tools to mitigate the need for some reasonable accommodations. We need to promote accessible design practices to support our disabled customers. We need to employ more disabled people to help design accessible products and services. We need to train managers to recognize the potential of the disabled community and eliminate biases. Finally, we need to recognize the innovative potential of disabled employees and leverage their strengths to create the best and most inclusive products, services, and tools.

Peter, could you share your thoughts on the intersection between the Veterans Employee Resource Network (ERN) and the Disabilities, Accessibilities, and Allies ERN? Additionally, from your perspective, how can these ERNs synergize and collaborate effectively to deliver meaningful impact?

Peter: Absolutely. The veteran community unfortunately includes a significant number of individuals with disabilities. These disabilities, both physical and mental, can vary in severity. However, disabilities should never be seen as barriers that prevent people from making significant contributions to a team. During my 28 years in the military, more than half of which were spent in times of war, I witnessed many of my fellow service members endure significant trauma, leaving them with physical and mental scars. I personally knew exceptional Americans who, despite their injuries, remained capable and eager to contribute in any way possible. All they needed was an opportunity. I am proud that our company recognizes that disabilities do not disqualify individuals. I am grateful that we have a space and a voice for our Disabilities, Accessibilities, and Allies ERN. I view them as allies who help enable more veterans, who have the ability to contribute, to join the Schneider team.

In relation to ERN-led events, what insights did you gain from the Scotty Smiley’s talk, which was sponsored by the Disabilities, Veterans and Emerging Professionals ERNs in commemoration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities? What value do you feel these kinds of events offer to our employees?

Peter: Major (R) Scotty Smiley delivered an incredibly inspiring talk. He eloquently conveyed the importance of resilience and teamwork, a lesson that resonates with all of us. Scotty’s story was undoubtedly extreme, but it reminded us that we all face setbacks and challenges. Often, we may feel inclined to give up because the obstacles seem insurmountable or we doubt our abilities. Scotty’s message was clear: never give up. Believe in yourself and give it your all. Yes, there will be failures along the way, but with persistence, we will ultimately succeed. Another powerful message he shared was about forgiveness. He emphasized the importance of not carrying hate in our hearts, as it only weighs us down. It amazed me how he spoke about lying in the hospital, making the decision to forgive the person responsible for his injuries – the enemy soldier. This message of forgiveness left a profound impact on me.

These kinds of events, sponsored by our ERNs, offer immense value to our employees. They provide an opportunity for personal growth, imparting valuable lessons that can be applied in both personal and professional contexts. By hearing powerful stories like Scotty’s, we are motivated to overcome our own challenges, develop resilience, and foster a sense of unity within our teams. These events remind us of the strength and determination that lies within each of us, inspiring us to reach for greatness.

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Special thanks to Rick and Peter for their thoughtful and insightful comments on our disability inclusion journey. Their stories and experiences highlight the profound impact of fostering empathy and creating an inclusive and caring environment. Their examples of resilience, inner strength and personal growth serve as powerful role models for us all.

As we reflect on our progress in disability inclusion, a key takeaway for me is the importance of actively listening to our employees. Together, we can remove barriers and create a more inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. Our disability inclusion journey is not just a responsibility, but an opportunity to build a more equitable future.

Further Reading

We invite you to read more stories from our employees:

About the Authors

Rick Blair is a Senior Principal System Architect at Schneider Electric. Rick has been working in the field of industrial automation since graduating from college with bachelor degrees in Computer science and Electrical Engineering and a master’s in Electrical Engineering, first in motion control, and then, after joining the square D company in 1987, working with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and industrial networking. He has published numerous papers and holds several patents. Since losing his eyesight later in life, he has been educating himself on the topic of accessibility and fiercely advocating for it within Schneider Electric.

Peter Shull is the Military and Veterans Affairs Leader at Schneider Electric USA Inc. He has the distinct honor and privilege of championing the invaluable contributions that veterans make to their teams every day. This role, created with the express purpose of nurturing the growth and presence of veterans within our organization, is a testament to Schneider Electric’s unwavering commitment to those who have served our great nation. This opportunity is a perfect match for his 28 years of military service.

About the Interviewer

Mariana Carletta serves as the North America Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader at Schneider Electric. She owns the end-to-end benchmark and deployment of DEI policies and practices, as well as works with businesses, functions, and Human Resources to execute the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy and transformation. Mariana has been with Schneider Electric for over 12 years in cross-functional HR roles focused on corporate social responsibility, well-being, communication, and change management. Mariana holds a Bachelor’s in Humanities and Social Sciences (cum laude) from the University of Monterrey. She is passionate about serving as an agent of positive change for the benefit of our people and planet.

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