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Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Guy Hanson Of Validity On How Businesses Make Accommodations…

Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Guy Hanson Of Validity On How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Have A Disability

An Interview With Eric Pines

Be generous with praise. It costs nothing, and the benefits of taking a few moments to let someone know they’ve done a great job are immense.

As we all know, over the past several years there has been a great deal of discussion about inclusion and diversity in the workplace. One aspect of inclusion that is not discussed enough, is how businesses can be inclusive of people with disabilities. We know that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. What exactly does this look like in practice? What exactly are reasonable accommodations? Aside from what is legally required, what are some best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about the “How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Are Disabled “.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Guy Hanson, VP of Customer Engagement at Validity.

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive sales and marketing programs. With a knowledge base spanning twenty years, he is globally recognized as an email & data expert and thought leader.

Over the past decade Guy led Return Path’s global consulting team and worked with world-famous clients across 6 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue.

Now Validity’s VP for Customer Engagement (International), he continues to explore his passion for email and data and share it with his clients to maximize their program value. He’s a strong believer in giving back to his community, speaking at flagship events, providing training, and producing fresh and insightful thought leadership.

Outside of work, Guy has had long-term involvement with the DMA, currently sitting on the email council and involved with key pieces of research. He is a regular contributor to the industry press, and a 3-time finalist as data storyteller of the year!

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

I actually began my career in the retail industry, working on mainframe computer installations in Johannesburg, South Africa. Not too long after, I began working for a company called Mailcom, overseeing the production and technical functions of their mailhouse environment and developing the company’s contracted transactional printing capabilities . Eventually I took over their fledgling email bureau.

Since the early days, I developed a passion and a deep technical understanding of email marketing. I spent the better part of a decade at Return Path, leading global teams of email experts and helping brands improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement, and program revenue. I discovered my passion for using customer data to create informed, intelligent programs to reach more customers, and I’ve been working in the industry ever since.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Data is power: I was lucky enough to have a great mentor who taught me to use Lotus 123 when Excel was still a twinkle in Microsoft’s eye! It taught me the art of making sense of large noisy data sets to find the key underlying story, and this has informed my approach from that day forward.
  • Be a storyteller: Leading on from my first point — data needs to be made understandable to all audiences. One of the best things I ever did was joining Toastmasters, which helps its members develop their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. It helped me grow my confidence in dealing with audiences with widely varying interests and skill sets.
  • Be passionate:I make a living sharing expert knowledge and guidance on an incredibly niche topic! I’ve learned that I can’t expect my customers to get excited about it, if they aren’t getting the same vibes from me! I’m always intentional about trying to inject some color and excitement into my presentations.

Can you share a story about one of your greatest work related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

“Struggle” is a strong word, but a challenge I’ve dealt with for well over a decade is that when one works for a US-business but is not based in the US, it becomes much harder to build profile and visibility. Even in a day and age of Zoom meetings, there’s no substitute for being part of a head office with direct access to key people. I’ve learnt to be very intentional about forging relationships that allow me to contribute, demonstrate value . . . and be seen. Cross-functional and cross-regional initiatives are a great way of achieving this, and opportunities to do so should be taken as a rule.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

One of the most exciting projects I’ve been working on is the launch of Validity’s new MailCharts SMS service. MailCharts SMS is a solution that powers data-driven SMS campaign planning for ecommerce and marketing teams. These capabilities will vastly improve competitive intelligence for marketers by providing them with insights into competitors’ strategies, what’s working well, and which industry benchmarks are key to success.

SMS is a natural extension of digital marketing. However, since it’s a fairly new practice, many marketers are not yet formally trained for it. This new solution will empower marketers with the insights and intelligence they need to build integrated SMS marketing campaigns successfully and confidently, reach new audiences, and drive better results.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about inclusion. Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

I spent 10 years leading a global strategic consulting team, and it taught me to be very aware of the peculiarities that come with managing a highly heterogeneous team: different nationalities, different language,; different time zones, different customs and belief systems. With a team where many members speak English as their second language (excellently), one learns to constantly check for whether what has been said is the same as what has been heard, because sometimes even small discrepancies could create big misunderstandings. Learning to slow things down a little, testing for understanding, and occasionally helping to find the right word all became essential building blocks that ultimately became the highest-performing team it has been my privilege to lead.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have an inclusive work culture?

Throughout the pandemic and the shift to hybrid work, we’ve seen a major increase in company policies that give employees the freedom to work how they choose. From a business perspective, this may seem challenging, but when flexible, inclusive policies are implemented effectively, they help your business more than they hurt.

Promoting an inclusive and accessible work culture, along with company policies that reinforce those ideals, empowers employees to do their best work on their own terms and drive better results. Employees will be more passionate and driven in their work for the company if your company shows that it is passionate about accommodating its workers.

At Validity, we realize that employees’ well being comes before their job. That’s why we implemented unlimited PTO and flexible working hours so employees can do their job in a way that works for them. We also invested in new offices full of bright, open spaces that make employees feel excited, empowered, and ready to collaborate when they come into work.

Company policies that promote inclusion and accessibility also help your business access a wider range of talent, expanding beyond just the folks who are able to comply with rigid company schedules. This type of flexibility doesn’t just open you up to the best talent — it boosts retention and morale too.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what this looks like in practice? What exactly are reasonable accommodations? Can you please share a few examples?

Around 1 in 4 people live with a disability, with varying degrees of severity and functionality. The ADA ensures no customers are excluded based on circumstances outside of their control, and there are simple practices marketers can implement to promote accessibility within our email campaigns and beyond.

When it comes to email marketing, conditions like dyslexia, color blindness, and astigmatisms should be top of mind. Recipients living with these conditions can have trouble digesting written content, so our primary focus must be making emails easier to read. ADA guidelines require at least a 14 point font size or larger with sufficient contrast between the text and background colors.

When content is not in written form, there are also basic accessibility guidelines that marketers should adhere to. For example, any audible content should always come with captions so hearing impaired customers can still follow along.

These are just a couple examples, but all the guidelines serve the same basic function of ensuring your content is digestible for all readers. From a business perspective, these accommodations ensure that no customers are excluded or overlooked and your content is accessible to everyone.

Aside from what is legally required, what are some best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities? If you can, please share a few examples.

The Great Resignation and the future of work have shown us that inclusion and accessibility are no longer a preference but a requirement. Employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees have the resources and accommodations necessary to thrive.

Flexible work policies enable employees to work how they choose. Employees with chronic illnesses, for example, may need to take breaks at unconventional times. Working parents may need to leave to pick up their children. An inclusive and accessible workplace is one that supports employees and works with them through any obstacles they may face.

You can also promote inclusion internally by ensuring all company content is accessible for employees, whether it be through captions, larger fonts, etc.Your customers aren’t the only ones who need to digest your content — it’s essential to make these accommodations for your employees as well.

Can you share a few examples of ideas that were implemented at your workplace to help promote disability inclusion? Can you share with us how the work culture was impacted as a result?

While corporate initiatives are important, I strongly believe that inclusivity starts at an individual level. It’s often hard to understand how a disability affects someone if you don’t have to deal with it yourself, and sometimes the best starting point is to walk a mile in their shows. For example, I have several colleagues who are dyslexic, and I asked them to try and explain what it’s like. From this I asked how I could help, and their answers were both simple and enlightening. I tend to fully justify my paragraphs, but one of my colleagues explained it makes it much harder for him to know where to start reading, because there isn’t the visual cue of one side being smooth and the other side jagged. Taking a few minutes to actually ask people how you can help is always going to be time well spent.

This is our signature question that we ask in many of our interviews. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started My Career”?

  • Don’t be scared of making mistakes — it’s almost always OK, as long as the mistake was well intentioned, and that you learn from the experience.
  • Be aware of how you show up. Always take just a moment to think about whether you are presenting your best self, and whether the self you are presenting is the same as the one those around you are seeing.
  • Always ask for feedback. It’s an easy habit to avoid (in case it’s negative!), but good feedback is a gift, and when it’s provided with the correct intent is the most valuable learning opportunity possible.
  • Be generous with praise. It costs nothing, and the benefits of taking a few moments to let someone know they’ve done a great job are immense.
  • Remember your boss is also a human being — he/she has feelings and faces challenges, just like everyone else. Taking a bit of time to learn about their family, how they are feeling, and if there is anything you can do to help, is always a good thing to do.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“Intoxicated with the exuberance of his own verbosity” (reputedly British Statesman Benjamin Disraeli, referring to prime minister William Gladstone). I like to talk, and it’s easy to spend too much time doing it, so having a pithy quote to remind me of the “one mouth, two ears” guidance is probably no bad thing!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I was raised in Africa, and it’s not so much people as animals that I would want to use my influence to do good for. As a species, we as humans have plundered our planet with impunity, and with little care for tens of thousands of other species who are clinging on to their very existences. I’m an active supporter of the “Save the Rhino” movement — rhinoceroses are currently critically endangered as a result of ruthless poaching based on an unfounded belief that their powdered horn is somehow a miracle cure for male sexual under-performance. When I finally stop working, I will be doing whatever I can to support this cause.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please feel free to follow me on LinkedIn or visit

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative. A formal federal employee himself, Mr. Pines began his federal employment law career as in-house counsel for AFGE Local 1923 which is in Social Security Administration’s headquarters and is the largest federal union local in the world. He presently serves as AFGE 1923’s Chief Counsel as well as in-house counsel for all FEMA bargaining unit employees and numerous Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs unions.

While he and his firm specialize in representing federal employees from all federal agencies and in reference to virtually all federal employee matters, his firm has placed special attention on representing Veteran Affairs doctors and nurses hired under the authority of Title. He and his firm have a particular passion in representing disabled federal employees with their requests for medical and religious reasonable accommodations when those accommodations are warranted under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ADA). He also represents them with their requests for Federal Employee Disability Retirement (OPM) when an accommodation would not be possible.

Mr. Pines has also served as a mediator for numerous federal agencies including serving a year as the Library of Congress’ in-house EEO Mediator. He has also served as an expert witness in federal court for federal employee matters. He has also worked as an EEO technical writer drafting hundreds of Final Agency Decisions for the federal sector.

Mr. Pines’ firm is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia. His first passion is his wife and five children. He plays classical and rock guitar and enjoys playing ice hockey, running, and biking. Please visit his websites at and He can also be reached at

Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Guy Hanson Of Validity On How Businesses Make Accommodations… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.