Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Tina Tyko Of Bona Fide Conglomerate On How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Have A Disability
An Interview With Eric Pines
Your communication needs to be tailored to the recipient. What works for one will never work for another.
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 Tina Tyko, Project Manager for Bona Fide Conglomerate, a non-profit organization that primarily employs people with disabilities in the AbilityOne Program.
Her 25 years of experience working in the human services field includes extensive training and on-the-job interaction with people working with physical and mental disabilities. Tina is passionate about helping people with disabilities and getting the word out to encourage others to do the same.
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 worked for a nonprofit in Sonoma County as an employment specialist and job developer for individuals with developmental disabilities. I had successfully placed several people to be employed by Bona Fide at the John F Shea Federal Building doing Janitorial work. An opportunity presented itself that allowed me to step into the role of the project manager for Bona Fide; this allowed me to continue to work with the developmentally disabled as well as expand my knowledge base into managing a complex project.
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?
Patience, the ability to give the employees their space to figure out the job on their own, yet knowing when to step in when necessary, and communication skills to adapt real world scenarios of the developmentally disabled into examples that others can understand. This can be especially difficult when you are working with government agencies.
One of my employees has short term memory loss due to a TBI (traumatic brain injury). He required all these traits; it took over a year just to get him to remember he even had a job. We had to make accommodations for him by having GSA (General Services Administration) approve signage to be placed around the facility to help remind him of where he was and how to get to the next location. It seems like a simple task for you and I, but someone with a TBI can get easily confused just walking down a hallway.
Can you share a story about one of your greatest work related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?
At the beginning of COVID, the common practice in the industry was to have janitorial perform any deep cleaning in areas that could have been exposed. I had to work with GSA, as well as my own company, to educate them about my work force and their limitations; it would take months to properly retrain them with all the required protocols. The solution was to hire a third-party vendor to complete this task, which required some very direct and straight forward conversations with those involved in the approval process.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have been working with local Regional Centers and the Department of Rehab to develop a hybrid version of the traditional group setting; one that benefits the employee and the employer yet allows for the proper funding from outside agencies. The traditional approach for most companies that use the services of a nonprofit for job placement is to use a group setting solution; this is where a group of 3 to 4 employees work with a few job coaches, almost a 1:1 ratio, to perform the necessary tasks at several different work sites. In the hybrid scenario, one job coach will be available on site for three employees to step in to offer assistance, if needed; this is more of a reactive coaching scenario, rather than a hands on proactive approach. This allows the employee a little more independence, yet there is the assurance for both the employee and employer that assistance is nearby.
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?
While working as a job developer, I placed a candidate in a job at a high-end fitness center. At first, they were apprehensive to hire someone with a developmental disability due to the presumed reaction of their clientele. I worked with the candidate on his communication skills, his presentation, and his need to blend into the background instead of being the center of attention; this took several months of training and instruction for both the candidate and the fitness center management. In the end, they not only hired the initial candidate, but they also hired several more individuals. They came to realize that the developmentally disabled can be an asset to their organization; that their unique work ethic and enthusiasm can be a model of true diversity and inclusion within society.
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?
With the fitness center, once their customers saw that they were giving back to the community by hiring individuals with developmental disabilities, they started promoting the business to friends and family; their survey results improved, and customer base grew. The customers were given a unique opportunity to interact with individuals that they normally would not; isn’t this what inclusion is all about? These customers were enlightened to the world of the developmentally disabled, and how they can be a part of society instead of shunned and set aside.
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?
A candidate that I placed at a clothing store needed help when it came to sorting cloths and stocking merchandise. We came up with a very simple, and unobtrusive, solution to color code the hangers to indicate the different sizes. This just goes to show you that accommodations can be very discrete and go unnoticed, but they are a world of difference to those that need it.
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.
There was a local restaurant that gave one of my consumers an opportunity to work for them. The owner made it very clear that he was an integral part of the Team. The owner set the example by always stopping what he was doing to greet him when he arrived, welcoming him into the new day. The rest of the staff followed suit, and it soon became a daily ritual that even the regular customers would join in on the greeting.
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?
When my Team Member with the short-term memory loss first started, there was one agency within the building that was vehemently opposed to the placement of reminder signs in their space. We worked with them to come up with a solution that would benefit all. We gradually reduced the size of the signs, and they even suggested putting them in a picture frame to lessen the visual impact.
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”?
- You must have patience, and then even more patience.
- Your desire to work in the nonprofit world helping others must be stronger than you desire for material things.
- Your communication needs to be tailored to the recipient. What works for one will never work for another.
- You must learn to have difficult conversations with compassion.
- Always have a sense of humor.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
“When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come” Chinese Proverb
If you give someone the space and freedom to learn their job at their own pace, they will work harder, with more passion, than any able-bodied person; the enthusiasm is infectious. This is exactly why my contract is so successful, my attrition is low, and the agencies in the building give us high remarks.
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. 🙂
If every employer could see how important it is for developmentally disabled adults to work, to be a part of a Team. They do this more for the feeling of accomplishment, to be a contributor to society. Because of this they are proud to work, they are happy and grateful to work, and their sense of accomplishment flows over to the employer as well.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
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 www.pinesfederal.com and www.toughinjurylawyers.com. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Tina Tyko Of Bona Fide Conglomerate On How Businesses Make… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.