Episode 4: Devin Quinn, Director of Communications for PIA

Devin BoyleInclusive apprenticeship programs help employers build a diverse and inclusive workforce of trained professionals, including those with mental health disabilities. Devin Quinn, Director of Communications for PIA, dispels the myths and stigma around mental health, opens up about her own bipolar disorder and PTSD, and discusses the benefits of hiring apprentices and employees with mental health and other non-apparent disabilities.


Intro: [00:00:00.96] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.73] The Workology podcast is sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, also known as ODEP. In November of 2020, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high growth and high demand jobs. Today’s podcast focuses on a topic that is incredibly important, and it is mental health disabilities. We close up May as Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m so grateful that this topic continues to be one that is at the top of our minds and is in conversation. Earlier last week, Naomi Osaka’s exit from the French Open came after being fined for refusing to attend press meetings. She shared upon exit of the French Open that she suffers from depression and anxiety, which are two different types of mental health disabilities. We’re talking more about mental health disabilities and today I’m joined by Devin Quinn. She’s PIA’s Director of Communications. This has been such a challenging year in general, particularly for people with disabilities. We’ve talked a lot on the podcast about disabilities in general, but for today’s podcast, we wanted to focus on the types of disabilities that aren’t always visible. As your organization focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, people with mental health disabilities can help diversify and bring new perspectives to your workplace and apprenticeship programs. But it’s essential that employers create a stigma free work environment where people can openly talk about their mental health from depression to anxiety to PTSD and get the support they need to be healthy and successful employees as well as apprentices. I’m excited to welcome Devin to the Workology podcast. Welcome.

Devin Quinn: [00:02:52.77] Thanks, Jessica. Thanks for having me.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:54.78] Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in accessibility and inclusivity?

Devin Quinn: [00:03:01.17] Sure. So, I am now the Director of Communications at PIA, as I believe you mentioned. Prior to joining PIA, I actually worked in communications for social justice issues, specifically focusing on advocating to increase equity in the education system for underserved populations, underserved youth. And then I began working in the accessibility space when I joined PEAT, which is the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology which is basically a sister initiative of PIA.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:32.40] You have unique personal experience with mental health disabilities. Can you talk about how they’ve impacted your work and personal life?

Devin Quinn: [00:03:42.95] Sure. So, I actually have diagnosed bipolar disorder and PTSD, which are two mental health disabilities that are recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. And actually, I believe it’s one in five Americans that are affected with mental health disabilities, which will include apprentices, new hires, employees maybe in the office next to you. There are a lot of us that exist in this country, and you’ll hear me use the term mental health disabilities as opposed to maybe mental illness or mental health conditions, because I think that term shows the gravity of, of these mental health conditions and sort of the supports we’re given under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, regardless of my disabilities, I’d say I’ve been a pretty successful employee and I’ve been able to perform at high levels. I’ve done everything from, you know, guest lecturing to, to presenting at conferences. So, I say all this just to point out that my disabilities have not gotten in the way of my success.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:49.14] Awesome. And thank you so much for, for sharing here. I think that being open and having a conversation about this topic is especially important. This past year has been particularly challenging for people who have mental health disabilities. It’s been challenging for everyone, but particularly with people who do have mental health disabilities. As reported in a recent article by Fast Company, 30 percent of the workforce has a disability and 62 percent of those individuals said their disabilities were invisible. Can you talk with us a little bit about the perception of invisible disabilities?

Devin Quinn: [00:05:32.42] Sure. So, unlike having a visible disability, for instance, let’s say someone who is blind and has a guide dog, an employer, someone running an apprenticeship program, apprenticeship training program, they may not know that someone has a mental health disability. You can’t, you can’t see me on camera right now but if you look at me, I don’t know that you’d know I have bipolar disorder and PTSD. It’s typically something that someone has to disclose to their employer or even their colleagues. I typically when I start a job, I will let my employers know that I have bipolar disorder and PTSD, so they’re not just aware, but so I can request appropriate accommodations. But unfortunately, not everyone always feels safe disclosing their mental health disability to the people around them, to their employers, to the people running their apprenticeship programs, which unfortunately is often the result of stigma and bias against people with mental health disabilities and people just not really understanding what they are and what that means for the person that has them.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:39.47] What do you wish more people understood about inclusivity, accessibility, disability and advocacy when it comes to mental health disabilities, particularly for current and future apprentice programs or apprenticeships?

Devin Quinn: [00:06:56.99] Sure, I would say first and foremost that people with mental health disabilities can be just as successful as anyone else. I think that’s, that’s not always, it’s, like I just mentioned, it’s not always something that everyone understands. And secondly, that hiring people with mental health disabilities can, can really help create a more diverse, well-rounded team and actually contribute to employers’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which you mentioned is what a lot of employers are working on right now. And in particular, apprentices with mental health disabilities can bring a unique perspective to the team. They, you know, I, at least, someone with a mental health disability, sort of, particularly in the pandemic, have understood and been able to support the needs of some of my colleagues that have been going through stressors that they may not be used to just because I have experienced anxiety in the past so I can sort of relate and have open conversations and be empathetic.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:56.48] You have experience in this area. So, I, and I think that for a lot of people, this maybe level of stress or anxiety, different triggers is, is new so you might not completely understand or fully realize that you even are experiencing some type of mental health disability.

Break: [00:08:20.84] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. Today we are talking with Devin Quinn. She’s the Director of Communications for PIA and we’re talking about mental health awareness. This podcast that you’re listening to right now is part of a new series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship or PIA.

Break: [00:08:46.18] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. In November, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high growth, high demand jobs.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:24.55] How can we, as HR leaders motivate our employer and inspire others to advocate for hiring, including apprentices with disabilities and creating a more inclusive workplace for people with mental disabilities?

Devin Quinn: [00:09:39.04] Sure. I think, first and foremost, employers and the people that lead apprenticeship programs or apprenticeships in intermediaries need to create a culture of inclusion. So, giving space to all employees and all apprentices, but in particular people with disabilities to feel comfortable disclosing their disability to them and that, that will really allow employers, those running the programs, mentors supporting the apprentices, to provide the right accommodations that best support these people with mental health disabilities on the team. Employers and programs that embrace inclusion of people with mental disabilities are more likely to, I think, more likely to attract and retain great employees and apprentices with and without disabilities. I think because, now in particular, people are looking for those work environments that are supportive, work environments that do provide wellness supports, because we’ve seen that happen with the pandemic. More and more companies are sort of coming up with different ways to create supportive environments for their employees and apprentices.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:51.13] I really feel like if an organization is supportive in this way, it really speaks to their culture and makes it an environment that all people want to be a part of because all of us have different individual needs. And if an organization is able to accommodate or willing to accommodate and work with people of all experiences and backgrounds, including those with mental health disabilities, it just makes it a better workplace for everyone.

Devin Quinn: [00:11:22.60] Absolutely.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:24.17] As you were talking, I was thinking about disclosure and wanted to ask you about the type of responses you have received in your own experience when you have disclosed that you have a mental health disability.

Devin Quinn: [00:11:38.69] Sure. So, I’ve actually seen it change with time. When I first started out in my career, mental health was not really talked about a lot. And it’s still, I mean, it’s still not the first thing people talk about in the workplace, but it’s, it’s becoming more common because of the pandemic that we talked about before. So, I’ve unfortunately gotten some negative comments, one of which always sticks out to me, which was based on a request for accommodations. The response was, you know, basically I needed to just deal with it, right? And just move on. So that was probably one of the worst. But, over time, as I started to disclose and work with different HR departments that have the background, understand, typically understand mental health disabilities, I’ve received really positive feedback. And so, you know, what’s, what they’ve said is, you know, just come to me if you need support, let me know what supports are helpful to you. And then coming on to the PIA team, you know, I work with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment, so I don’t think that there could be a better place to be where, you know, I feel comfortable disclosing. But I do know it can be really hard, hard to sort of cross that line and feel comfortable enough to disclose. But I would say, in my experience, it’s been worth it to be open about it. I’ve been given supports I wouldn’t have been given otherwise.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:05.21] For those who are listening, maybe they are new to accommodation conversations and somebody who makes a request. I wondered if you could share what type of expectation, in terms of the response you would like to receive when you disclose to maybe a hiring manager or HR, whether you’re an employee or a candidate, what’s the expectation? What are you looking for from them?

Devin Quinn: [00:13:33.14] Sure. So actually, I think the first step is being honest. I, I want to know that the person I’m talking to does fully understand at the end of the conversation what my needs are. They understand more about my disability. So, in the initial conversation, if the person I’m talking to doesn’t know much about my disabilities, I would love for them to ask me more so I can explain to them, you know, what experiences I go through, what my day to day is, and sort of the accommodations I’m looking for. I think another great response would be, you know, I would love to start educating my team on how we can best support people with mental health disabilities. I’d love to get more information from you for how we can support our employees as a whole. I mean, I think that that would be based on the current climate, a great way that an employer could start having a dialogue.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:29.65] Awesome. I think you’ve helped so many hiring managers and managers and HR people with just this response alone of what you’re looking for. So, thank you for sharing. What types of accommodations and support might help apprentices with mental health disabilities in the workplace?

Devin Quinn: [00:14:49.43] I think for apprentices in particular, the first place to start is for the apprenticeship intermediary, the people training the apprentices, to create an open environment where apprentices with mental health disabilities can disclose and get the support they need. I think it’s also important to make sure their trainers are well versed in the needs of folks with mental health disabilities and sort of what those, you know, the ins and outs of what those mental health disabilities look like. I think that same apprenticeship intermediary, the same folks training the apprentices, can be an ally when the apprentice transitions to the workplace to on-the-job training. They can be there to help educate the employers and also the mentors that will support the apprentices on the job. And then what employers might not realize is providing accommodations to people with mental health disabilities is not actually that costly or may not be that costly. So, for instance, the option to telework. Maybe apprentices with mental health disabilities might do better in a telework environment. And I think what we’ve all learned from the pandemic is a lot of us can be pretty productive in a remote environment. So that’s an option as well. I think it’s creating a, it could be open to creating a flexible work schedule to make sure people can go to doctors appointments, which is also just helpful to employees in general to have that. And then a small thing is, you know, if an employee is teleworking, having the option to keep video on and off during virtual meetings can really help mitigate anxiety, for instance.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:29.48] Devin, thank you so much for sharing and being a part of the Workology Podcast. Where can people go to learn more about you, PIA, and the work that you do?

Devin Quinn: [00:16:40.22] Sure. So, PIA will be publishing a lot of content and resources in the coming year specific to supporting apprentices with disabilities. And I hope to create resources specific to people with mental health disabilities. I always think it’s helpful to have detailed information there. The Job Accommodation Network is also a great place to go. They have some resources on how employers can provide accommodation specific to people with mental health disabilities. And then the National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great place to learn more about the stigma that exists and how to combat that stigma.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:20.91] Wonderful. Well, we’ll include some links in the transcript of the podcast over in the show notes so you can go to Workology and check that out. Again, thank you, Devin, for sharing your story and taking the time to chat with us today.

Devin Quinn: [00:17:34.35] Thanks, Jessica.

Closing: [00:17:35.70] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over a hundred on demand-courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.

Closing: [00:17:51.67] I’m so grateful for open and honest conversations like we had with Devin today. Her insights and willingness to share her own personal experience is unique. But we need more willingness to step up as a person with disabilities and talk to our employers, our apprenticeship programs and others about our mental health disability. And as employers, we need to be aware and understand the requirements of accommodations and what questions to ask, conversations to have and what might be involved. Mental health is an important topic for everyone, and I’m so grateful and thankful that Devin is willing to share her story. Thank you to PIA who is powering this series focused on inclusive apprenticeships. And thank you to our Workology Podcast sponsors Upskill HR and ACE the HR Exam.