At TD, disability inclusion starts with you.
Chairman’s Customer Experience Officer I, Mt Laurel, New Jersey
At age 5, Cesar was hit by a truck resulting in his left leg being amputated. Looking back on that time, Cesar is grateful to have survived and indebted to his mother for constantly building his self-esteem and reminding him to believe in himself. A native of Panama, Cesar came to the U.S. as an immigrant at age 10. Adapting to a new culture, climate, language and meeting new doctors was a big adjustment. Cesar now feels this experience helped strengthen his resilience. “I encourage people to embrace difficult circumstances, dive deep and understand the emotion and be open to the opportunities that will come out of a difficult time. Pressure makes diamonds!”
Following his college graduation from Montclair State University, Cesar was eager to find a good opportunity with a growing organization. With college loan payments looming, Cesar focused on finding an interesting role with long term potential. During interviews with TD, Cesar was impressed that interviewers were welcoming and highlighted building access points to assist him. Upon being hired as a Bilingual Contact Center Specialist, Cesar was offered as much time as needed to grab lunch or go away from his desk. He’s also been given an ergonomic keyboard and worked with an Accommodations Specialist for a desk that moves up and down so he can stand at times as sitting for long periods can get uncomfortable when he’s in the office.
Cesar’s willingness to share his story to help others gives him many opportunities to connect with a variety of people throughout the Bank that he may not have known if he didn’t get involved with (Individuals with Diverse Abilities) IwDA causes. Recently chosen to join a panel with two other employees for a presentation to a large nationwide audience, Cesar eloquently discussed the power of storytelling to promote IwDA agenda at TD. Cesar never turns down an opportunity to use his platform to motivate others in the hopes they will believe, “if he can do it, they can too.” Cesar is happy and proud to be an advocate. “The connections I’ve made through networking have boosted my career and introduced me to great people, which inspires me daily.”
TD Bank’s Chief Communications Officer, Corporate & Public Affairs
John is also the U.S. Executive Lead for Individuals with Diverse Abilities (IwDA), Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. John also serves on the board of Disability:IN, the leading non-profit resource for disability inclusion around the world.
Three decades ago, John and his wife Susan received news that would transform their lives forever. On that gray, muggy morning in Houston, a doctor coolly informed them that their beautiful two-year old son, John Byron (JB), would probably never be able to brush his own teeth, make a PB&J sandwich, sled down a snowy hill or say, “I love you.” JB suffered from what the doctor blankly described as “Pervasive developmental disorder, The Pluhowskis were crushed. It was five months after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been signed into law. John had scarcely thought about this monumental legislation until it suddenly hit home, hard. Since then, every anniversary has inspired him to take stock of his family’s achingly difficult yet rewarding experience and pay it forward by helping those who are struggling through their own journeys.
As their beautiful son JB, now 32 years old, along with millions of Americans are the beneficiaries of the ADA, John thanks the founding fathers and mothers of this landmark legislation and all the groups it has spawned to advance disability justice here and around the world. Today, JB is more independent, capable of managing some of his own health needs. He has become a passionate artist, a fitness nut and a favorite uncle. As a result, the whole family is happier and healthier. No question, it hasn’t been easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is.
Four ways to honor the spirit and practice of the ADA:
1) Stay woke: For those of us that believe individual acts of kindness can lead to a sea change of social good, act small and think big. While JB encountered no shortage of injustices, John has cherished all the quietly spectacular, often spontaneous expressions of goodwill directed toward him, some from businesses that instantly earned his lifelong loyalty.
2) Raise your hand and your voice: No one will be a stronger, more passionate advocate for your cause than you. Fighting for his son’s rights was a responsibility John wholly embraced. No matter how stressful, frustrating or busy, Susan and John eagerly volunteered to serve as liaisons in our public-school systems and help parents tackling similar challenges.
3) Join the charge: As a father of an adult son who is non-verbal and on the autism spectrum and TD’s U.S. Executive Lead for Individuals with Diverse Abilities (IwDA), John feels incredibly privileged to work for a company that actively promotes diversity and inclusion, encourages colleagues to get involved, and empowers people of all backgrounds and abilities to thrive.
At TD Bank, our “culture of care” reflects our core purpose: to enrich the lives of our colleagues and customers and the communities we serve. Organizations that create opportunities for employees to participate in vital social causes raise awareness, deepen engagement and, most importantly, mobilize enduring change. Uniting for a common goal connects us to our communities and each other.
4) Work your values: The number one way we can drive change is to leverage our collective labor and consumer power by choosing to work for, and patronize, businesses that place purpose over profits. Fortunately, companies that value purpose typically value their employees too. Join in our collective march toward building a better society that enables each and every one of us to access the education, resources and opportunities we justly deserve to improve our lives, our world and our future.
Talent & Learning Advisor, Mt Laurel, NJ
The events of 2020 and the social unrest that followed forced us all to see the realities of racism still prevalent in our society today. Unfortunately, many haven’t acknowledged racism as a mental health issue until now. Negative attitudes or opinions towards people who suffer from mental health conditions is prevalent within the U.S. and can be particularly strong within the Black community, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). As only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it, Laila Birch shares her own perspective on the positive impact and benefits associated with mental health treatment.
What happened to George Floyd was not new. As some of Laila’s family live in Minnesota, it made it very real for her that it could have been her or any of her relatives. She saw her uncles, cousins and friends in George. The harsh reality dawned on Laila that this could happen anywhere, because there are people in this world who still see Black people, particularly, Black men, as a threat and perceive their life as less valuable. Because Black people are taught to be strong, from a very young age parents prepare their children for the fact that the world won’t treat them the same as other people are treated. “You might have heard other folks say they have to run faster, work harder, do more, etc. There’s this underlying feeling that you need to prove yourself, to be better, to be perfect and that’s a lot of stress which can lead to anxiety and depression.”
Laila found it was easier to aim for perfection than acknowledge the stress and admit you have a real problem. “Because we’re taught our whole lives to deal with anxiety, we suck it up and push forward without even thinking about getting help.” Laila realized she needed help to cope with anxiety and depression. Working with a therapist, Laila realized that sometimes we have to unlearn something else to evolve. “At TD we are training our colleagues to acknowledge and address their unconscious bias about others, I had to train myself to think differently about who I was. I had to get help to figure out how to cope with anxiety and to deal with the generational self-talk of perfection that many of us feel on a regular basis. I transitioned from constant anxiety around what I was doing and where I was going to this self-assurance of ‘I am right where I need to be, I am capable, I can do this.” Laila feels If one person finds strength or encouragement from her story and decides to open up or get help than it was worth it, and we are growing together. “You are not alone.”
Delivery Executive, AMCB Change Office and Enablement, Toronto ON
No matter what you look like, what your job is or how you identify, disability is the one identity group that any of us can join at any time in our life.
“About 4 years ago, I started experiencing a range of disabling symptoms, including loss of vision, painful joints and mobility challenges,” she shares. “I was driving on a major highway in Toronto one Saturday morning when I suddenly couldn’t see. I was able to make my way off the road and to the emergency room. Not long after, my joints started to become swollen and painful, and I lost the ability to fully control my body. These symptoms got progressively worse and at times partially limited my daily activities and at other times were fully debilitating. As someone who has always been very active, it was a difficult time both physically and mentally.”
Jocelyn was diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases, which are chronic conditions where the immune system accidentally attacks the body instead of protecting it. They typically are not curable but often can be managed with treatment. It took some time for Jocelyn to adjust to her new normal. “I’d like to say that I had it all figured out from day one, but it took time to fully accept my illness and associated disabilities. It also took time to learn to do my job differently by using assistive technology, formal and informal accommodations and working from home periodically. It wasn’t easy. The workplace and the commute to work aren’t fully accessible for people with disabilities and figuring out how to navigate those barriers was like learning a new language.”
Disclosing is a personal decision, and it’s one Jocelyn has made. “In the past couple of years, I have decided to speak openly about my illness to help create an inclusive work environment and hopefully reduce stigma, to bring awareness to the barriers that still exist for people with disabilities and other identity groups, and because it is part of who I am.”
“Disclosing when I am experiencing low vision gives others the opportunity to ensure their documents are accessible when they send them to me and reminds team members of the option of using verbal vs. written communication when appropriate. My team often switches to using voice texts and Microsoft Teams calls when they know I am experiencing low vision and also use larger fonts.”
Another change Jocelyn implemented with her team was to shift from emails to regular open office hours, where her direct reports could talk to her about any issues. “I asked them, what if you save up all your questions and ask me directly, instead of having to draft an email? It saves everyone time and is often more effective.”
Account Manager, Jamison
As a busy Account Manager for TD’s fast paced, in-house Creative Agency, Studio 361, Christine conceptualizes and brings to life a variety of dynamic print and video projects. Despite her successful work history, she spent years vigilantly guarding a secret that she feared could thwart her career.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder as a young adult, Christine worried that disclosing these invisible disabilities would change the way colleagues and managers viewed her. “I was just super scared to tell anyone,” she said recently. Driving that feeling “was the assumption that if I tell them this I’m not going to get promoted, I’m going to get questioned in my abilities. People will think I can’t handle the things on my plate or if I make a mistake people will judge me much more harshly.”
A decade into her career with TD, the secrecy and fear became too much, and Christine confided in her manager, Karyn DiMattia. “She couldn’t have been more accepting, offering support and asking how she could help,” Christine explained. “It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.” Asking if Christine needed time off for therapy appointments, inquiring about her stress levels and how she was feeling personally and professionally sent a clear message that she could rely on her manager for whatever she needed.
Rather than assuming she couldn’t handle important projects, TD managers have tried to learn what sort of work causes stress so they can help guide her career path and she can “truly flourish,” Christine said.
While managers typically develop an “accommodation plan” for employees with disabilities, Karyn wanted to understand how to help. “The more you understand another human, the better you’re going to get along and interact with them. Christine’s story is one of such beauty and power. Getting rid of fear has allowed Christine to thrive. It’s just been so inspiring.”
Christine agrees that revealing her mental health struggles has been liberating. “It’s made my life so much better in ways I never, never could have guessed,” she said.
Since unburdening herself, Christine is committed to fostering a safe space for TD colleagues with mental illness to connect and support each other and has become passionate about supporting others with mental illness inside and outside TD. Her tireless volunteer work with the Bucks County, PA chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has led to Christine’s nomination to the board of directors in 2021. She was also honored by Careers & the disABLED Magazine as an Employee of the Year award recipient in 2021 for her advocacy efforts.
While recently raising funds for NAMI, they profiled Christine’s story and shared the link with TD colleagues. Christine is committed to fostering a safe space for TD colleagues with mental illness to connect and support each other.
IT Developer II, Toronto, Canada
Born visually impaired in both eyes, Omar found the physical world quite limiting and escaped to the virtual world, which allowed him to develop technology skills and capabilities leading to his career in Technology. For the last two years, busy back-end data Developer Omar Hamden, has worked on a fast-paced Technology team in TD’s world headquarters in Toronto, Canada. The Developer role is Omar’s first full time job.
Omar recalls the interview process with TD as friendly and accommodating. “Because I couldn’t use a white board to illustrate concepts during an interview, I was able to easily demonstrate my knowledge by using a laptop. Interviewers were very helpful but it’s important to remember to advocate for yourself and ask for what you need. No one knows better than you what will help you do your job.” An interview technique that Omar learned is to be present and focused on each question rather than assume you know how to respond to typical questions. “Think on your feet and talk about how your experience fits the interviewer’s question. During interviews, elaborate on your problem-solving skills and how you’ll help a team.”
Like everyone, Omar was nervous, excited and very proud to start his first full time job. His first challenge was learning to navigate how to find different office locations for meetings in TD’s multi- building complex. He quickly realized he needed to ask for help and was given mobility apps that guided him in the right direction. Omar encourages anyone facing challenges in a new job to ask for help, “people can’t help you if they don’t know you have a problem.”
Omar wants people to understand that accessibility affects more people than they might realize. “I’m not the only one who benefits if a webpage has accessibility and screen reader functionality. At some point in life, everyone might acquire a disability and need accommodations.” Omar feels it only takes a little creativity to find solutions to accessibility obstacles. When he receives a screen shot it’s difficult for him to interpret without additional written context or instructions. He advises everyone to communicate what’s required and include text to explain instructions. To share what he’s learned in advocating for himself and how to use assistive technology, Omar is an active member of a group of 11 colleagues to discuss assistive technology. The team collaborates on Microsoft Teams and enjoys gathering a variety of perspectives to enhance how assistive technology is used.
Looking at things a bit differently is a way of life for Case, who was one of the first three colleagues hired last year by TD in the United States through Specialisterne – an organization that helps companies hire individuals on the autism spectrum. While the program only recently started to be used by the Bank in the U.S., it is now in its fifth successful year of use by TD in Canada.
Case plays an integral role on the Data & Analytics team helping to create a dashboard that allows users to click onto a city and instantly access important information about major companies profiled in the area. This dashboard is intended to be used by Bank Colleagues who are prospecting for new business. What makes this dashboard particularly helpful is how easy it is for end users.
“The development was sort of like a baton race, one person hands it off to someone else,” Case said. “People probably think this must be really complicated. I thought it was at first, but after working with it for a few months it’s felt more and more doable. I also learned so much working with a group. Everyone at TD that I have interacted with has an expansive skill set. They have been helpful with teaching and expanding my knowledge with what they know.”
Case, a recent graduate of Rowan College in New Jersey, says that his first role at TD Bank is only the initial step in his professional career. His goal for the next five years is to become a programmer focused on backend technology.
“I always enjoyed math more than anything else,” he explained. “I always had a spatial mind. So yeah, technology was a good fit for me. I like the logical way of thinking and putting it into making computers run better.”
Case joined the Data & Analytics team at TD Bank last year after a unique interviewing process that took place over a three-week period where the candidates were given projects to work on in both individual and group settings.
Together with Specialisterne, the TD Human Resources team worked closely with the Data & Analytics team to help create a foundation for a successful interviewing process.
“The three-week assessment period that was used during this pilot was new for me, as well as for the hiring managers,” said Jennifer Haines, TD Senior Recruiter who worked with Specialisterne and Bank managers in launching the program. “It allowed both the candidates and the managers to get to know each other and their work styles, as well as showcase their skills. The results were undeniably successful as you can see from Case’s story.”
It was an eye-opening experience as well for Taylor Baruffi, TD Senior Advisor Business Insights, and Case’s direct manager. Taylor admits he wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the program was initially being planned. “It was so valuable to see the candidates’ thought processes, how they wrote the code, how they would visualize,” he said. “It’s what you don’t get in a traditional interview, a full feel for how people do things and how their brain and mind processes information. In the data and analytics world, that is pretty important.”
Taylor knew that Case had the technical skills for the job and was pleasantly surprised by how much Case contributed to his team in terms of building a sense of community, particularly during the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic and working in a virtual setting. “Case has been a great addition to the team,” Taylor said.
Operations Officer II, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Richard was born Deaf and his first language is (ASL) American Sign Language. Richard attended the prestigious Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, the only university in the world where students live and learn in American Sign Language. Upon graduating from college, Richard was nervous to return to Toronto to find a job in the hearing world. While Richard was proud to land his first job, communicating was difficult. He was able to get an ASL Interpreter and phone to accommodate his needs.
Richard was also not out at work as a member of the LGBTQ2+ community. After years of enjoying the updates from TD’s participation in Pride events, Richard began to feel more comfortable in celebrating diversity including his own uniqueness. Excited to attend his first Pride event in person, Richard did not use an interpreter. While he loved being part of the celebration, he missed the opportunity to engage with others. The desire for a fuller experience reminded Richard that he could request to have an interpreter at the next Pride event resulting in the opportunity to speak freely and enjoy every minute of the festivities.
During the early days of his career, Richard felt alone in being Deaf. Richard became open to sharing his story through speaking openly about his life. He made many wonderful connections which helped him feel more connected to the 90,000+ global employees at TD. “In addition to meeting new people and learning about opportunities, my willingness to speak about being Deaf has also helped the bank better understand advocacy and accommodations.” When offering advice to job seekers, Richard feels TD will support anyone willing to get out of their silo. “I learned to get out of my comfort zone and meet new Deaf people. I tell my story and advocate for my community. My actions show I’m not aloe and people have more similarities than differences.
VP, Customer Experience, Innovation, Insights, Toronto, Canada
Prior to joining TD seven years ago, Jenn never considered disclosing that Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) has been part of her life for nearly four decades or the effects and challenges that come with it. Living with the chronic degenerative autoimmune disease can cause some pretty extreme ups and downs. During flare ups, Jenn endures swollen, painful joints in her hands and wrists that can affect her dexterity and ability to do day-to-day tasks. After joining TD, Jenn began participating in many of the committees, events and forums for Individuals with Diverse Abilities (IwDA) and was encouraged by how open colleagues and leaders were about their challenges and experiences. “It can be incredibly difficult to be vulnerable at work but hearing about the lived experiences of others and sharing your own experiences creates a strong community of support with those who can relate and empathize. It’s an entirely different work environment when you feel comfortable enough to share your challenges and needs, and when a company truly supports you, you can thrive and succeed in ways you would not have thought possible.”
While Jenn doesn’t consider herself disadvantaged at work because of RA, advocating for specific accommodations and prioritizing self-care, has made a big difference in managing her condition. Jenn recently began using the dictation software, Dragon, which alleviates the need to type when her hands are swollen and painful. When first exploring dictation software, Jenn wasn’t impressed with the standard built in tools, but she connected with TD’s Accommodations team who helped her identify Dragon as a better option for her needs.
It’s also often the small things that can make the biggest impact. When in the office, Jenn’s broader department spanned three floors and colleagues frequently utilized the stairs to move between floors for meetings. All colleagues would carry laptops, coffees, cables and more as they moved from meeting to meeting. One seemingly small irritant was that all the doors on one floor had round doorknobs while the other 2 floors had lever handles. For someone with hand dexterity issues, round knobs are incredibly challenging to grip and turn. Jenn approached the operations team on a few occasions to have the doorknobs changed but no action was taken for nearly a year. However, once Jenn communicated the reason for the ask and the impact that round knobs had on her personal work experience, the lever handles were promptly installed. “I realized that I needed to help others understand the reason behind the ask and to articulate the impact that these small experiences have on colleagues with specific challenges or needs. We can’t expect those who do not share our experiences to understand our needs. Leaders and colleagues at TD sincerely want to help. Now all colleagues can open doors using their elbows when their hands are full – it’s universal design in action.”
“I never understood or appreciated what it meant to work in an environment that was truly inclusive, open, and supportive of those with diverse abilities. I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to bring my whole self to work until I joined TD and for that I am sincerely grateful. It’s incredibly helpful to have an empathic community beyond your family who will support your needs and help you thrive. I’m thankful for the honest and open conversations that we have across our leadership and within my team.” By continuing to share her story, Jenn helps to reinforce that there’s no judgement or stigma in talking about our challenges and needs, only encouragement and support.