Over the past few years, there has been a lot more discussion about inclusion in the workplace. However, an aspect of this that is often overlooked is how businesses can be inclusive on individuals with disabilities. While the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, it’s not always clear what that looks like in practice. In addition to what’s legally required, what best practices can businesses utilize to make the workplace more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities? To answer this question, we are talking to business leaders who have unique insights on “How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Have a Disability.” As part of our series, we were delighted to interview Tina Tyko.

With over 25 years’ experience, Tina Tyko is a Project Manager and Disability Rights Activist at Bona Fide Conglomerate. Bona Fide is a non-profit that gives people purpose, by providing jobs and advancement opportunities to people working with severe disabilities in private and government industry.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are? 

I have worked for many years as an employment specialist for individuals with developmental disabilities and dedicated myself to increasing my impact however possible. When an opportunity opened up to work within the AbilityOne program through Bona Fide Conglomerate, I jumped at the chance to support larger projects in order to advocate for larger teams.

I’m currently a project manager at the John F Shea Federal Building in Santa Rosa, Ca. This position allows me the opportunity to work in association with the GSA to find innovative approaches to making work satisfying for people of varying abilities.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I always stress patience, reasonableness, and empathy. Patience gives you the ability to step back and allow people the space to figure out the job on their own. Yet knowing when to step in is only reasonable, as is showing empathy in the way that you communicate. Believe me, I understand that how easy it is to get frustrated. But it shows real strength to thoughtfully communicate with others when they need it, and in a tone that is supportive. 

I think I can illustrate all three of those traits with one particular story. I have a member of my team who is brand new to the work force, she was barely 20 years old when she started. Now imagine, she began her career at the height of Covid as a janitor, even though she has a severe phobia of germs. Obviously, this presented a huge challenge. She is on the spectrum as well, so with her disability, Covid, and her fear of all diseases, germs, and sickness, it took years to get her to a point of success on the job. 

I had to work with GSA to allow us extra time to attend to her duties. BF also had to give me more hours to work with her. She would cry daily, often multiple times per day. On top of all this, she has a mom that doesn’t want her to work, or even be out in the real world, for fear of something happening to her. Although she has expressed she wants her daughter to succeed and become independent.

An impatient, unempathetic manager might ask: “Is it worth the trouble? Can’t her mother just take care of her so we can do business?”

Recently her mom was diagnosed with cancer. She can now provide a measure of support to her mother thanks to her real life skills and work. She has been very successful in this transformation and is now a lead janitor, trains other staff, and is a part time supervisor with BF.  

So what do you think? Do you think it was worth the trouble?

Can you share a story about one of your greatest work related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it? 

Covid brought a bit of a benefit to my staff because the building was mostly empty; they became used to not dealing with many people, and there weren’t any janitorial emergencies, so they could take their time on each task. 

Post-Covid, and the return to work for the tenants, I had to work with my staff to retrain them on these aspects of the job; completing tasks in an efficient manor while still maintaining detail, and also how to deal with tenants and GSA on a daily basis. 

I had hired several individuals on the spectrum who enjoyed the quiet and did not like dealing with people coming in and out of bathrooms while they were cleaning. The change really threw them off schedule. The old adage ‘it takes a village’ was very apparent in this situation. I had to make constant adjustments and rely heavily on the professionalism of those around us. In the end each individual has maintained their employment and is thriving on the job.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Unfortunately, the GSA is closing the building I oversee in 4-5 years. My love for my staff is fueling my desire to work closely with GSA in order to keep our contract at any other location that they may move to. I’m doing a lot of preparatory work and training the staff on being flexible with the hopes that we can save their jobs. 

One janitor, who is on the spectrum, that started with me about 3 years ago, is extremely shy and timid but is amazing at her job. I approached her about doing some supervisor duties, some admin computer work, and helping the staff work through daily job-related issues. Over the last 10 months she has grown incredibly and has shown great strides at her new tasks. I can’t even think about the possibility of her losing her job.

I’m continuing to work with the GSA through Bona Fide to do what we can to protect this team and continue to give others like them an opportunity to grow and succeed.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about inclusion. Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us? 

I’ve shared this story a million times, but I still feel it’s a great example of how trying someone new can have unintended benefits. After fighting hard to place a candidate in a job at a high-end fitness center, the club ended up receiving public praise and an increase in membership. 

Of course, they were initially apprehensive to hire someone with a developmental disability, but as I worked with the candidate and the fitness center management, the results began to pay off. The candidate became the most popular member of the gym, earned the gym positive reviews, and friends and family recommendations increased their membership

In the end, they not only decided to keep the initially temporary candidate, but they also hired several more individuals with disabilities. They came to realize that the disabled can be an asset; that their unique work ethic and enthusiasm can be a model of true diversity and inclusion within society.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have an inclusive work culture?

As we know, it’s been a struggle to get people back to work post-Covid. Many agencies are struggling to get people back to the office or hire new employees that want to work in an office setting again. The disabled population I work with want to work, they want to be part of the community they live in. 

I have done speaking engagements with many governmental and private agencies assuring them that being inclusive is not only possible, it’s smart business. Many employers think they need to make big changes for an individual and don’t realize that there are usually just minutely small changes that can make it work. These types of misunderstandings are robbing organizations of a loyal and productive portion of the available workforce.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what this looks like in practice? What exactly are reasonable accommodations? Can you please share a few examples? 

Again, many companies fear the word “accommodations.” But don’t worry, no one is asking people to buy another building to employ people with disabilities. If you work in retail, for example, you might color-code hangers to indicate different sizes and thus help someone sort and stock merchandise. We came up with this solution for one candidate as a very simple and unobtrusive solution that allowed them to work. Accommodations can often be very discrete and go unnoticed, but they make a world of difference to those that need it.

Aside from what is legally required, what are some best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities? If you can, please share a few examples.

People are just people, most of us want to be treated normally regardless of our differences. When it comes to people with disabilities, it’s common to see two types of coworkers; one that gives an exaggerated amount of attention and praise almost to the point of embarrassment, and another that avoids anyone different because they feel uncomfortable. My advice is: don’t make it weird.

Treat people like people. When you get to know your coworkers you will learn what they like and dislike and what makes them comfortable or not. What matters is taking a genuine interest in the people that you work with. That will generally make anyone feel more welcome.

Can you share a few examples of ideas that were implemented at your workplace to help promote disability inclusion? Can you share with us how the work culture was impacted as a result?

I recently met with a government agency that was open to hiring a blind individual, but they were unsure how to make it work. They reached out and asked for input. We were able to find braille keyboards on Amazon, and we moved some file cabinets to make it easier for the person’s mobility cane to read the room easier. We also added some additional mirrors around the office to alert coworkers if he ever needed any extra help.

They say that if you want someone to like you, ask them a favor. Even something as simple as asking for a pen can move the person asked to like you more. The mirrors in the office gave everyone an opportunity to occasionally offer support. This quickly evaporated any concern over having an impediment in the office and contributed to an overall feeling of teamwork and mutual support.

This is our signature question that we ask in many of our interviews. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started My Career”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Patience is what you get when you’re supposed to be mad, but you choose to understand. Working with people of varying abilities requires patience on both sides of the employment dynamic. You may expect time-consuming adjustments to get people going, but you also have to consider the feelings of the managers and business owners that are well-intentioned but impatient. 
  2. They don’t call it a non-profit for nothing, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get anything. Making material sacrifices is part of the assignment, but you can’t put a dollar figure on changing people’s lives.
  3. Communication is like buying a new wardrobe. Everything needs to be tailored, so don’t get mad if it doesn’t fit initially.
  4. If you know it will be a difficult conversation, do it with compassion.
  5. Always have a sense of humor.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life? 

“When the pupil is ready, the teacher will come” Chinese Proverb. As I said before, sometimes you have to give people space to work; space to win and space to fail. Accepting direction can be a little easier when you know what you don’t know.

Also, “Close some doors today.” Not because of pride or arrogance, but simply because they lead you nowhere. I see this population continually getting doors closed on them out of just having a developmental disability. I try to tell them to close the door themselves, if you’re not wanted move on, that person or thing does not deserve you. Take your power back. Learn from the experience and proceed to the next door. The right one will open.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to bring awareness to every employer regarding the importance of putting developmentally disabled adults to work. The shareholders will get their dividends, and the company will live on after you retire, but how did you contribute to society in the process? 

Right now companies are begging people to come to jobs that they don’t appreciate, for a check that’s never enough, to do work they take no pride in. People with disabilities are happy and grateful to work, and their sense of accomplishment flows over to their coworkers. And employers that are willing to deal with a month or two of workplace adjustments contribute to a lifetime improvement in a person’s life. That’s one heck of a reward for a minimal contribution. 

How can our readers further follow your work online?


This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!