Meet Visionary Jim Sinocchi, Managing Director, Human Resources, Disability Inclusion, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
What do you say when you meet someone who has a disability? “Hello” or “How about a cup of coffee” would be just fine, according to Jim Sinocchi, head of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co. That’s what he tells employees and managers at the global financial firm because he knows true assimilation of employees with disabilities into the workplace can happen only when people are comfortable with each other. “That doesn’t mean that we want people to be like everybody else; it means creating a culture with enough bandwidth to empower all employees, including those with disabilities. It means creating a level playing field.” That is Jim’s goal, his passion and the driving force behind his work every day.
Jim lives his work. He not only is a leader, but he also serves as a role model to help people realize that individuals with disabilities – those who are blind, deaf, low vision, mobility challenged or autistic, for example – aren’t as different from able-bodied employees as one might think. He knows this from experience, having been a quadriplegic for nearly four decades. “When I talk to people, I talk about the fact that I have been married for 30 years, I have two children, and two granddaughters, and I have never been unemployed a day in my life. I don’t talk about my wheelchair; I talk about my life.”
According to Jim, the biggest obstacle between disabled and able-bodied people understanding each other is the unspoken need to be politically correct. “Everyone is afraid of being human, of saying something that might embarrass someone with a disability. We don’t all get it right – and disabled people don’t expect us to. They know that able-bodied people can be nervous and unsettled in their presence.”
“My job is to make the two feel comfortable around each other. One of my primary messages is that they both have more in common than anyone thinks. Once people understand that, the concept works swimmingly well.”
Jim is working to transform the JPMorgan Chase corporate culture, breaking down barriers, getting managers comfortable with recruiting and hiring people with disabilities, and creating guidelines, standards and policies for disability inclusion. His team has worked to:
• Provide managers and team leaders with the resources they need to recruit, hire and advance employees with disabilities.
• Enhance recruiting practices for job candidates with disabilities while working closely with external partners, nonprofits and employment networks to identify top talent.
• Provide sign language interpreters, as well as Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) and live closed captioning services, for individuals, internal meetings and events.
“I want to make this very clear,” he says. “JPMorgan Chase went out and sought someone to do this. They had great progress changing the culture for women and people of different ethnicities, but not as much for people with disabilities. Our company’s leaders took this to heart, and they wanted to get it right. They hired me to drive disability inclusion in corporate offices across the globe.”
This begs the question; how does one change a global corporate culture? Jim’s answer – by letting people talk about disability freely and making the company feel smaller. “Our culture is changing because the topics are no longer prohibitive. We try to make people comfortable with the topic of disability. Every single person has a 70 percent chance of having a big or small disability in their lifetime,” Jim says. “That is what makes us more similar than dissimilar.”
Partnering with various areas across the firm is important:
• A central funding process makes it quicker and easier to get reasonable accommodations funded and delivered to employees.
• Global Real Estate group has established a set of disability best practices for use across all global properties.
• An Employee Accessibility Team routinely evaluates the top employee technology applications. They aim to make sure internal assistive technology tools are implemented in a timely manner – and that they work with company software applications.
• The firm’s global Access Ability Business Resource Group enables employees – as well as allies, colleagues and caregivers – to share information about and support people with disabilities.
• Global Supplier Diversity takes a proactive approach to find – and engage with – diverse businesses, including those owned by people with disabilities.
• Employees with disabilities are equipped to do their jobs through auxiliary aids/assistive technology (e.g., screen reading and speech recognition software, captioned telephones, video relay service).
There is an equilibrium in all of this, a balance when a changing culture allows each segment of the disability culture to be vibrant and active. When there is permission in the culture to do your job and collaborate with the proper support, great things can happen.
“We don’t have it all nailed down, but people no longer tense up because they don’t know how to talk to each other,” Jim says. “We are creating ambassadors who will go out into the world, speak to clients and collaborate with other companies like Microsoft, Google, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the United Nations.”
“The 21st century is the most exciting time for those with disabilities,” he continues. “Technology is advancing, transportation is better and medical advancements are in play. We have a lot of opportunities we did not have before, and there is more work to do.”
While Jim has only been with JPMorgan Chase for three years, he and his team have already influenced significant change. He says achieving inclusion isn’t necessarily about the law – it’s all about human nature. “People with disabilities are the largest diversity group in the world, and yet we are the runt of litter. Now JPMorgan Chase has taken the lead in showing the world that a workplace can be diverse and can accommodate people who are blind, deaf, low vision and autistic, for example. The company said to me, ‘Jim, go do your work. Do it right, legally and respectfully.’ That’s what our teams are doing, and together, we are going to expand this work and change the world and how we think about disability inclusion.”