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A tale of two retailers — a disability inclusion story

Lowes went all in to include deaf employees. Sprouts Market did the opposite. Here is how that has worked out for both companies.

Sprouts Farmer’s Market

Three d/Deaf applicants applied for jobs at Sprouts and were selected for interviews. The applicants requested American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for their interviews. Sprouts managers not only failed to make any arrangements for ASL interpreters, but they also ghosted the applicants. The EEOC just fined Sprouts $280,000 for these actions.

Lowes

Nathan Christ heard about a position as a service associate at his local Lowe’s, and he applied and got the job. According to HR, he was the best candidate for the job because of his work ethic, character values, and experience.

Nathan’s primary job is answering customers’ questions. He does this work despite being deaf. There are many others who are d/Deaf who work the Lowe’s floors and are corporate staff. Lowes has special vests, pins, badges for its deaf associates and associates who know sign language but are hearing to help deaf customers. They say things like “Please face me to communicate” and “Deaf please tap my shoulder for assistance.” Blaine, another deaf Lowe’s associate, says he primarily communicates with customers via texting.

Not surprisingly, Lowes has a multi-year winning streak of being named a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion by Disability:IN, with a 100% score on the 2021 Disability Equality Index (DEI).

Comparison

It is painful, especially as the mother of a deaf daughter who has experienced much discrimination in her young adult life, to see yet another #EEOC settlement involving deaf applicants who were excluded at the interview stage. The number of times this has been litigated is too many to count. When complaints are made to the EEOC about d/Deaf applicants’ interviews being canceled, the employer never, ever wins.

You can’t blame lack of information. Discrimination against people with hearing loss is so prevalent that the EEOC has a special section of its website on the rights of candidates and employees with hearing loss. Sprouts Farmers Market is learning the lesson that excluding deaf candidates is not a good idea, but that lesson cost them $280,000.

Organizations typically don’t select out a single disability for discrimination. No one says, “I’m going to be inclusive of candidates with hearing loss, but you people in wheelchairs are out of luck.” The chances are that a company with known instances of discrimination against one type of disability has many more instances of discrimination that have not been reported that aren’t restricted to the type of disability that was reported.

When you interview someone that you know is disabled — ask them exactly ONE question. How are you going to do the essential components of this job? Don’t ask illegal questions, and most importantly, DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Just because YOU haven’t imagined how YOU could do the job with a disability you don’t have and don’t understand doesn’t mean that others who aren’t imagining the situation haven’t gotten it completely locked down.

At the end of the day, disability discrimination hurts the organization, not just the individual being discriminated against. Organizational impact includes:

  1. Loss of customers. I will be switching my loyalty from Home Depot to Lowes, even though it’s farther away. Furthermore, I will never darken the door of a Sprouts again.
  2. Loss of staff. In the “great resignation” era where customer service at retail operations is tanking due to lack of staff, you are shooting yourself in the foot if you turn down perfectly good applicants just because they have a disability.
  3. Loss of money. The EEOC fines are not trivial.
  4. Loss of profits and ROI. Companies that do better at disability inclusion to better financially overall.
  5. Loss of potential applicants. Millennials, the largest segment of today’s workforce, value organizations that are inclusive. This is true if they don’t identify as being part of an underrepresented community.

Don’t be Sprouts. Be like Lowes.

Published inAccessibilityDeafDisabilitiesUX