Disability advocacy: ‘There is a lot to do, and it’s going to take all of us’
Wells Fargo employees continue their history of advocating for people with disabilities as the Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30.
Improving the understanding of neurodiverse communities was already an important cause for Tyler Leech, a Wells Fargo operations processor. Then, an uncomfortable interaction with police further underscored the need for his efforts. Leech, who is on the autism spectrum, frequently advocates for neurodiverse individuals through the Special Olympics. He is also a board member with the Autism Society of Iowa, a participant in employee recruitment efforts at Wells Fargo, a member of the Wells Fargo Diverse Abilities Team Member Network, and an active member of his church.
On his way to a church group social event two years ago, Leech was pulled over by police, who said they spotted a broken tail light. During the interaction, Leech said police handcuffed him and searched his car and person, while voicing their suspicion that he was under the influence.
Leech, who is not a substance user, said the event left him fearful and frustrated. In the months that followed, Leech talked about the encounter with family and friends, and was eventually encouraged to talk to legislators. He did so during one of his annual visits to the Iowa State Capital for Autism Advocacy Day. Now, Leech is at the center of an effort for state legislation that will allow drivers with autism spectrum disorders to request a designation on their driver’s license.
“What I am hoping comes out of this is that others on the spectrum are not misidentified, and won’t have to go through what I did,” Leech said. “And that officers don’t rush to judgment, and can better recognize the signs of someone with autism.”
Leech has joined the tradition of advocates for people with disabilities, even within Wells Fargo, who have helped bring about change by speaking out on their community’s behalf. Such advocates helped bring about the Americans with Disabilities Act 30 years ago.
“We are all connected to someone with a disability, whether it is a sibling or parent or someone who even has a situational or temporary disability due to aging, illness, or injury.” — Kathy Martinez, head of Wells Fargo Disability and Accessibility Strategy
The anniversary of the ADA on July 26 marks a proud milestone, advocates say, and serves as an inspiration for work that is still underway.
The ADA helps ensure there is equal opportunity and access for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The legislation directly impacts the lives of one in four U.S. adults — 61 million Americans — who have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are all connected to someone with a disability, whether it is a sibling or parent or someone who even has a situational or temporary disability due to aging, illness, or injury,” said Kathy Martinez, who leads Wells Fargo’s Disability and Accessibility Strategy. “The ADA is crucial legislation because it has benefited more people than most people realize,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who is blind, has also done significant advocacy work. Her work includes advancing progress on Section 503 legislation, which strengthens the enforcement of the ADA requirement for employers to recruit, hire, and accommodate qualified individuals with disabilities.
In their contributions to the ongoing progress that started with the ADA, Leech and Martinez are also in good company with former Wells Fargo employee Stacey Milbern.
Milbern, who had muscular dystrophy, was described in her New York Times obituary as a “warrior for disability justice.” Before passing away in May, Milbern was dedicated to disability rights in her work at Wells Fargo as an accommodations consultant, and beyond. During her time at the company, she served as the Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion Advocacy Outcomes chair for the Diverse Ability Team Member Network from 2017 to 2019. Outside of the company, Milbern founded the Disability Justice Culture Club, which recently responded to the compounded needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Milbern also was an impact producer for the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” and was appointed to several roles in government, including being appointed to former President Barack Obama’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in 2014.
Milbern often noted that collective participation, wisdom, and resourcefulness were helpful in the effort to advance disability rights.
“We live and love interdependently,” Milbern said during remarks at an October 2019 vigil and community gathering in Oakland, California. “We know no person is an island. We need one another to live. No one does their own dental work or cuts their own hair. We all need support. … There is a lot to do, and it’s going to take all of us.”
“Don‘t be afraid to share your story. It will help your managers become more aware of what your needs are and how they can better support you. You never know whom you can inspire.“ — Robert Shumate, Wells Fargo branch manager
Work to support people with disabilities continues at Wells Fargo in many forms, but one of the current areas of emphasis includes technological accessibility. In 2018, the Marketing Digital Accessibility & Governance team, along with the Innovators Club, facilitated the inaugural companywide celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, with events surrounding digital access and inclusion for people with differing abilities. Webinars were facilitated by accessibility experts from across the enterprise.
The Marketing Digital Accessibility & Governance team continues to lead annual planning for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and is also one of the teams providing accessibility consultation and digital properties policy governance for websites, mobile apps, documents, and more.
Wells Fargo’s Accessible User Experience team, the Online Accessibility team within Wells Fargo Advisors, and Wealth Management Digital Accessibility are also at work to advance accessibility in the technology space.
Additionally, groups like the Diverse Abilities Team Member Network continue to grow, expand offerings, and add new chapters. Robert Shumate, a Wells Fargo branch manager who has a degenerative ear bone disease that impacts his hearing, started the Orange County, California, chapter a few years ago. Shumate was recently noted for his efforts in DIVERSEability magazine.
“The turning point in my personal success happened when I began asking questions and advocating for myself,” Shumate told the magazine. “Don’t be afraid to share your story. It will help your managers become more aware of what your needs are and how they can better support you. You never know whom you can inspire.”