Increase of deaf talent builds upon accessibility at Andersen

Dawson Moder’s first job after college was working in Bayport’s window plant, joining his brother, as mulling operators. Dawson had played football as a defensive back and graduated from the prestigious Gallaudet University, the only university in North America specifically dedicated to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

A timely internship with Keystone Interpreting Solutions presented opportunities for Dawson to create training and informational videos about COVID-safety protocols and vaccination availability for Gov. Tim Walz’s office and the State of Minnesota, using American Sign Language (ASL). By the end of the internship, Dawson had an entire portfolio of training videos and a stronger resume. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, Dawson said he needed a well-paying job and found it with Andersen.

What he found at Andersen was a supportive, safe, and welcoming workplace and Dawson was quickly able to feel at home on the production floor. He shared his positive experience working in the manufacturing plant with other people in his network who were looking for jobs and they too joined Andersen.

According to Communication Service for the Deaf, 70 percent of Deaf people are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are involuntarily working part-time or are overqualified for their current position.

Innovating for inclusiveness

As a dedicated team member, Dawson has contributed to an ongoing effort to examine how Andersen can innovate to attract diverse talent, leverage adaptive technology on the shop floor, make our work environments (office and manufacturing), systems, and processes more accessible for Deaf or hard of hearing people, and use this inclusiveness as an enabler for strong talent pipelines.

As an architect of accessibility programs at Andersen, such as the English @ Work program and GED Program, Talent and Organization Development Manager Julie Strommen calls these efforts “privileged work.” Her team is grateful for the opportunity to advocate and solution for the accessibility needs across Andersen’s operations teams in North America, and to transform the systems and processes that will allow a fuller employee experience for everyone who works at Andersen.

“This community is extending themselves for an employer to learn how best to support our growing Deaf workforce, and like many employees, trusting we are taking action. I want to make sure we're really prudent about doing the most impactful things and fulfilling our promises,” Julie said. She goes on to say that hearing individuals in operations are joining in the effort. "You see people with heroic efforts of coming to work and learning some ASL signs, it’s an extension of who we are. Integrity. All together.”

Striving for increased accessibility

Over two decades ago, Andersen hired a Deaf employee on its Information Technology (IT) team. “When I started at Andersen as a 25-year-old with a profound hearing loss, the employees were welcoming, willing to learn about me and asked what they do could to allow me to perform at my best,” said Mike Clark, now enterprise IT operations director.

In recent years, Mike has collaborated with Panos Panay, who is the chief product officer at Microsoft. The relationship has been mutually beneficial as it allows Mike to give feedback on Microsoft products on behalf of the entire Andersen enterprise. It has also allowed for Mike to get early insights into what development work has been going on at Microsoft.

“As someone who is Deaf and relies on lip reading, the subtitle feature in Microsoft Teams has been a lifesaver for me with the COVID-19 crisis requiring collaboration over video conferences and wearing masks in the workplace,” Mike said. “It’s important to advocate for these types of accommodations to ensure everyone at Andersen and in our community is able to contribute to their fullest.”

Hiring talented team members

Ander Bolduc joined the company in 2022 as a hearing individual who is bi-lingual (American Sign Language and English). He came from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where he led Access Programs for the Disability Resource Center for the largest education institution in the state.

As a senior learning & development consultant, he is focused on building an accessible onboarding and development system focused on our growing Deaf workforce in operations, leveraging technology, building ASL skills across the organization, and providing improved access to information through our existing communication channels.

“I look forward to partnering with teams across the enterprise to build an employee experience into something equitable, inclusive and amazing,” Ander said.

A shared success

Continually striving for expanded technologies and tools for all team members, Mike points to our company’s “all together” culture as the purpose for his work.

“What’s really unique about working at Andersen is we all share the same goal: the success of Andersen. Because we know that the success of Andersen means all of us succeed,” Mike said.

When asked what his career goals are, Dawson reflected. “At first, just a paycheck. But the more time I spend here, I see support and collaboration, it’s self-lifting and fits my passion to give back to my community.”

Employee resource network focuses on accessibility

Anyone can be an ally and support initiatives that create a more inclusive workplace — especially through Andersen’s employee resource network, AADAPT. The meaning for AADAPT is Andersen Abled and Disabled Associates Partnering Together. Employees part of this group create awareness, offer education and share resources to ensure Andersen provides accessibility and support our employees. The employee resource network also recognizes the benefit of networking with and serving employees with family members who are disabled. More than 100 team members belong to AADAPT and work to create greater disability awareness at Andersen.

Posted: June 7, 2023