Team members with disabilities thrive at Commerce Bank.
When Blake Hall interviewed with Commerce Bank in 2008, he briefly wondered if he should take precautions to hide his insulin pump under his suitcoat. “You don’t know if you’ll be discriminated against,” Hall says. “The employer may worry that their insurance premiums will go up or that you’ll have an incident in the office if your blood sugar gets too low. You hope having a disability doesn’t become a barrier or an obstacle.”
Hall decided not to hide his insulin pump that day, and he’s glad he didn’t. “Commerce has always been fully welcoming, not just for me, but for everybody,” he says. “I’ve never been treated differently here because of my disability.”
Hall, now an accounting manager based in Kansas City, says his 12 years at Commerce have been entirely positive. “Commerce treats everyone in an equitable manner,” he says. “Having a disability is simply not an obstacle here. And it’s not just me. I’ve seen others with disabilities who are happy and enjoy working here.”
Hall’s positive experience is one of the reasons he elected to participate in a virtual discussion panel that Commerce’s Inclusion and Diversity Council conducted during National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. The panel, called “Proud of My DisAbility,” offered Hall and other team members the opportunity to talk about their experience of working at the bank with a disability.
The panel is part of a series called “Commerce Courageous Conversations,” which was introduced in early 2020 to give team members the opportunity to talk openly about diversity, equity and inclusion topics that they may otherwise be uncomfortable discussing in the workplace. As it happens, the “Proud of My DisAbility” panel took place during the 30th anniversary year of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Another participant in the panel was Elizabeth Taylor, a retail branch manager in St. Louis who joined the bank at the beginning of 2019 and has had a very positive experience. Like Hall, Taylor also has diabetes, requiring her to constantly watch what she eats and monitor her blood sugar. She also has anxiety issues that she has had to cope with since late last year.
“I returned from some time off and had an anxiety attack on my first day back at work,” Taylor explains. “It came out of nowhere. My boss recommended I call our Employee Assistance Program, and that was such a huge help. I was able to talk to someone right then and there who helped me understand why I might be feeling the way I was.”
The Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, also connected her with a therapist who helped her learn how to cope with her anxiety and recognize the things that trigger it. “The EAP is a great program, and I’m very grateful it was there when I needed it,” Taylor says.
She also appreciates that the bank is highlighting National Disability Employment Awareness Month. “People may not be aware of what it’s like to live or work with someone who has disabilities,” she says. “They also may not realize how many of their colleagues have disabilities. You can’t tell I’m disabled just by looking at me. People with disabilities are the key to making society more accessible to everyone.”
Hall agrees. “This month brings out the fact that there are others who have different life circumstances that they deal with on a daily basis, even though they do their job every day, and do it well. I think it helps others to be compassionate and empathetic. I’m proud that Commerce has created a platform to bring this to life.”
Craig Cook, a servicing group manager in Kansas City who was the third team member on the “Proud of My DisAbility” panel, adds that the event can be just as helpful for people without disabilities as it will be for people with them. “It’s all about having the openness to listen,” he says. “By listening and showing that you want to engage with your colleagues, it shows the support you give.”
Hall also notes that while he appreciates it when others understand how his disabilities impact him, he isn’t asking to be singled out. “When I was a kid, I never wanted attention brought to my diabetes,” he says. “I didn’t want special treatment. I didn’t want to be different.”
Cook, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 16 years ago, agrees. “Working with me is no different than working with someone without a disability,” he says. “My disability is invisible, for example. Unless you knew otherwise, you wouldn’t have any idea that I’ve been living with an autoimmune disease for many years. You may not see someone’s disability, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have daily issues to deal with.”
Taylor says she wants everyone to know that having a disability and having a great career can be done. “I’ve always told myself not to limit myself or let fear hold me back,” she says. “I love challenge and change, and I’m adaptable. I feel like I’m in an ideal environment here. Commerce has an amazing culture. I consider my teammates to be like a second family to me, and I love coming to work every day.”