Meet an Alaska Airlines leader with a disability who says he is doing what he was meant to do October 27, 2023 Diversity, equity and inclusion Marianne Lindsey 4 min read Share Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window) On social, Steve says he is a “dad, husband, Seattle sports fan and employment attorney” who is “funny once a year. Twice in leap years.” Funny and employment attorney are not terms you typically see together, but Steve, director of Employee Relations, Mediation, and Investigations (ERMI), has made a name for himself at Alaska as a leader who cares and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s also a leader with a visible disability. “My story in a nutshell is that I’m profoundly deaf,” Steve said. He lost most of his hearing during infancy, which affected his speech development at an early age. It’s been a life-long disability. “I don’t remember life before hearing loss, as it’s all I’ve known,” he said. Steve hears with cochlear implants (surgical devices near his ears, which help with sound perception). “I rely on lipreading to supplement my hearing. I also lean heavily on closed captioning in video calls,” he said. Steve leads a team of Employee Relations professionals at Alaska who investigate violations of our People Policy. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but something Steve believes he was meant to do. “I strongly believe my life experiences with deafness have led to a major part of my (and my team’s) philosophy, which is helping employees feel heard and validated through what can be a very traumatic process,” he said. Steve, far right, on a fun outing with his team members from Employee Relations, Mediation, and Investigations (ERMI). He speaks from experience, having seen bias as a kid growing up as teachers didn’t know how to accommodate his learning. He overcame those odds, graduating from high school, getting a law degree, and passing the bar exam. “There’s still a stigma about disability today, but it’s less overt than it was when I was a kid,” he said. It’s why today, he regularly reaches out as an advocate for people with disabilities on social media. He wrote a series of articles on LinkedIn titled “Flying while disabled: what works well, and what airlines can improve.” Steve is also part of ACCESS, a Business Resource Group (BRG) focused on disability advocacy for our business and encourages employees with disabilities to pursue leadership opportunities. I don’t normally like to toot my own horn, but when it comes to disability advocacy, that’s a different thing. I think it’s really important for employees to see that, yes, you can have a significant disability and be a leader too.” He says of the 250+ directors and above at Alaska, he doesn’t know of many with a disability. “That’s not a knock on Alaska,” he said. “But rather, it’s a reflection of the reality that disabled folks are significantly underrepresented in employment in general, and those numbers drop even more as you get higher into the leadership ranks.” Alaska has taken several measures in the last year to do better, including being the first airline to set up a Disability Office to coordinate on all areas of disability advocacy for employees and guests, achieving our goal of 7% for representation of employees who self-identify as having a disability and creating more accessible employee spaces for corporate and airport employees. Steve fully recommends Alaska as an employer that is doing the right thing to help employees with a hearing disability feel whole at work. Things like having people turn their cameras on in meetings so he can read their lips and closed captioning for live meetings are game changers for employees with hearing loss. He regularly tells his training classes about his disability, addressing it with his signature humor. “Talking about it upfront helps people unfamiliar with a significant hearing loss like mine to see me as a fuller person and not just as “the guy with those big hearing aids.” Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window) Related Comments Love this story! Comments are closed.