Greg Pollock joined PNC in 2018 as its first accessibility officer.

Accessibility often sits at the crossroads of innovation and disability inclusion. Consider video screen captioning, which has benefitted everyone but was introduced at the National Conference on Television for the Hearing Impaired in 1971.

Could one of the next big ideas in financial services grow from attempts to address the needs of customers with disabilities? PNC’s leaders think so.

That’s part of PNC’s rationale for inviting ideas for accessibility from all levels of the organization. Recruiting and hiring individuals whose perspectives are shaped by their own accessibility experiences furthers PNC’s efforts to find opportunities where innovation and disability inclusion intersect.

"Rather than retrofitting a building or website to meet accommodation requests, we must anticipate all of our employees’ and customers’ needs at the point of inception," said Greg Pollock, who joined PNC in 2018 as its first accessibility officer. "From our technologies to our employee benefits to our recruitment strategies, the opportunities to realize full disability inclusion are abundant.”

Positive results for all stakeholders

Leadership roundtable discussions and fact-finding in late 2017 put PNC’s long-term strategy around disability inclusion into motion. Hiring Pollock was a key early step. Four pillars — accessibility, talent, technology enablement and customer experience — emerged as the foundation of the plan.

Soon, signs of organizational progress followed:

  • PNC established a new enterprise-wide accessibility learning journey.
  • Accessibility standards for new technologies were developed.
  • A hiring strategy was put into effect that brought in dozens of new employees with disabilities.
  • Events took place including a “flash hack” to cultivate ways to expedite internal accommodation requests and PNC’s Military Employee Business Resource Group brought veterans into the conversation with a focused discussion on hidden disabilities.
  • Customer service improvements were made such as expanded call-in options and greater flexibility for customers to use their preferred service channel.

Groups outside of PNC took notice. Disability:IN named PNC its Employer of the Year in 2019. PNC landed on Disability Equality Index’s “Best Places to Work” 1 list in 2017 through 2020. The Hearing Loss Association of America selected PNC for its first ever HLAA Outstanding Employer Award in 2020.

While awards are nice to have, they’re not what drives PNC.

“One thing we’ve learned on our journey is that accessibility has a direct impact on everything we do,” Pollock said. “Accessibility is about creating many positive and visible results for all of our stakeholders – our customers, employees, communities and shareholders. This level of innovation can only be achieved if we hire the very people who stand to benefit most from this work.”

Feedback from all levels of the organization

When Pollock joined PNC, he guided the integration of accessibility into business and talent development processes, but he knew progress would require far more than his individual perspective. He has fostered a culture in which employees with disabilities share their experiences in the workplace or as customers, while leaders pay close attention to the feedback and act decisively.

An intern who had a hearing disability noted the need for office elevators that provide clear visual cues upon arrival, in addition to the audio cues.

A senior leader with a mobility disability spoke about the need for carpets to cover slick marble floors in a PNC building’s entryway.

A recruiting administrator pointed out the need for a streamlined process to get assistance with screen-reading software.

PNC learned from all three instances and consequently improved the employee and customer experience in each case. While some accommodations require more work than others to implement, turning feedback and insights into action and innovation is what defines accessibility progress at PNC.

To reinforce Pollock’s ongoing work, PNC partners with leading universities and advocacy organizations to establish a pipeline of job candidates whose perspectives are shaped by their experiences with disabilities or their veteran status.

Zarin Hamid joined on PNC’s cybersecurity intelligence team in September 2019. In July of 2020, she received Disability:IN’s Next Gen Alum of the Year award. In the 11 months between those major career moments, she helped PNC understand several of the challenges she encountered as a job seeker and new hire.

Unsure who could help her with career guidance after graduating from college in 2015 and spending several years pursuing jobs in the intelligence industry, Hamid turned to a disability advocate on Instagram, who steered her toward Disability:IN’s mentor program in early 2019.

After meeting a PNC recruiter at a Disability:IN conference and securing her current job, Hamid moved from Florida to Pittsburgh to live on her own for the first time.

She shared her trying experience with acquiring a stand-up desk as an office accommodation — it took weeks to arrive, and the initial model she received failed to meet her needs.

Hamid recognizes the opportunity she has to propel the work started by Pollock. Uneasy about public speaking because of a disability that affects her voice, she nonetheless agreed to appear on guest panels and open up about her experiences after winning the Disability:IN award.

“Disability is not static,” Hamid said. “People think if you have a disability, you can’t do certain things. I may not be able to do something today or tomorrow, but a year from now, I can.

“Career growth is a big thing for me, because you don’t want it to be five years from now and still be stuck in the same role because people around you have a limited mindset and think, ‘Oh, she might not be able to do that.’ What I hope for PNC is to help their employees understand that disabilities aren’t limiting. With open minds and collaboration, anything is possible.

“I tell applicants with disabilities, ‘Hey, don’t be ashamed of asking for accommodations,’ and I share my story with them about how it wasn’t an overnight thing for me to land a career at PNC. It was years in the making. So I talk about having patience and not giving up.”