By Kristin C. Bennett
Purpose: This article integrates an ableism studies framework with disability justice principles to interrogate how medical insurance job advertisements may circulate ableist assumptions that impede corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals and social justice efforts.
Method: I use critical discourse analysis and thematic coding to analyze how normative ableist assumptions present in job advertisements and DEI documents may exclude prospective employees with disabilities as well as multiply marginalized identities such as Black women.
Results: Through my analysis, I demonstrate how normalizing assumptions related to productivity, rationality, independence, and corporate assimilation may contribute to the exclusion of multiply marginalized employees.
Conclusion: I ultimately provide data-driven insights regarding what I refer to as coalitional recruitment to help practitioners construct more equitable job advertisements attuned to disability justice.
Keywords: Disability Justice; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statements; Intersectionality; Job Advertisements; Rhetorics of Health and Medicine
- This article provides a brief overview of technical and professional communication in disability studies and rhetorics of health and medicine.
- It offers a discussion of the social justice implications of job advertisements.
- A discussion of methods for interrogating ableist assumptions across DEI statements and job advertisements that may exclude prospective/current disabled employees as well as multiply marginalized identities is also provided.
- Finally, insights and practical methods for reconstructing job advertisements and DEI statements in ways that center disability justice through a process of coalitional recruitment are discussed.
Attending to social justice has increased technical and professional communication (TPC) efforts to amplify “the agency of oppressed people … who are materially, socially, politically, and/or economically under-resourced” (Jones & Walton, 2018, p. 42), by disrupting traditional TPC rhetorical forms and knowledge-making practices. Through social justice, technical and professional communicators (TPCers) have interrogated artifacts, ideologies, and methodologies that constrain discourse, knowledge-making, and professional practices to those that reify White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gender, and Western identities (Agboka, 2014; Colton & Walton, 2015; Haas & Eble, 2018; Jones et al., 2016; Jones & Walton, 2018). In advocating for TPC social justice efforts, Walton et al. (2019) call for the centering of intersectionality, which recognizes the interlocking nature of oppressive forces like U.S. capitalism, racism, sexism, and ableism experienced by multiply marginalized individuals like disabled 1 Black women (Collins & Bilge, 2016) and advocates for collaborative coalition in pursuits of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
This article builds from previous scholarship to articulate a need for the intersectional examination of medical insurance job advertisements and DEI statements. Job descriptions reflect “regulatory texts” in that they govern communicative practices and consequential power relations by determining the parameters of belonging in certain professional spaces (Walwema & Carmichael, 2020). Thus, job advertisements have social justice implications for TPC because they endorse “values, texts, and ideologies” that empower certain identities while marginalizing others (p. 3). Previous scholarship has analyzed how job advertisement language and technical portal design can impact a range of intersectional identities such as international applicants, female applicants, and disabled applicants 2 (Mihaljević et al., 2022; Walwema & Carmichael, 2020; Dow et al., 2020; Gaucher et al., 2011). However, this scholarship has not examined the systemic influence of ableism across job advertisements. As Whiteness studies illuminate systemic racism, ableism studies demonstrate how dominant ideologies can oppress disabled folks (Cherney, 2019). Applied with disability justice, a theory and movement founded by disabled people of color to prioritize disability’s intersectionality (Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2018), ableism studies reveal how seemingly neutral documents can strengthen systemic oppression. I therefore integrate rhetorics of health and medicine, ableism studies, disability studies, and disability justice to trace how medical insurance DEI statements and job advertisements can perpetuate systemic oppression and to indicate a need for TPC intervention. I then analyze these job advertisements and DEI statements to demonstrate how such documents may perpetuate ableist assumptions that impede DEI goals. I ultimately provide TPCers recommendations for mediating what I refer to as coalitional recruitment through data-driven insights informed by disability justice.
Recent TPC scholarship has applied social justice in pursuit of equitable documentation and design (Agboka, 2018; Bennett & Hannah, 2021; Haas & Eble, 2018; Jones & Walton, 2018). As Jones (2016) explains, TPC “endorses certain perspectives, viewpoints, and epistemologies” (p. 345). TPC is never neutral because it draws from and reinforces sociocultural ideals. Through engagement with social justice, TPC research has sought to challenge dominant constructions and to center identities frequently marginalized by systemic oppression (Frost et al., 2021). Such social justice work requires that TPCers interrogate and expand conventions through interdisciplinary inquiry. In this section, I illustrate the social justice value of interdisciplinarity and trace TPC research that engages rhetorics of health and medicine (RHM), disability studies (DS), and disability justice. By threading together this scholarship, I situate medical insurance documents as important sites for TPC intervention.
Engaging Rhetorics of Health and Medicine and Disability Studies
In the U.S., TPC articulations of disability have historically been grounded in “culturally dominant” medical discourses that frame disability as individual pathology “to be treated, remediated, or cured” (Gutsell & Hulgin, 2013, p. 85) so that disabled folks may be included in ableist systems. Both RHM and DS recognize the impact of such medical discourse on the embodied realities of disabled folks. Using rhetoric as an analytical frame, RHM traces practical, theoretical, and ethical concerns related to medicine to analyze how cultural and sociopolitical representations of health can impact individual healthcare access (Melonçon et al., 2020). RHM thus postulates that discourse circulated by medical materials directly impacts how individuals access, navigate, receive, and experience medical care (Melonçon & Frost, 2015). Further, RHM attests to the systemically oppressive impacts that documentation and discourse can have for multiply marginalized embodiments in terms of race, gender, disability, culture, immigration status, language, and/or gender identity (Alexander & Edenfield, 2021; Frost et al., 2021; Green, 2021; Holladay, 2020; Mahar, 2020; Frost & Haas, 2017). As articulators of meaning, TPCers are primed to analyze and offer insight regarding such implications of medical discourse.
Further, RHM recognizes that research in medical contexts requires interdisciplinary intervention that “transcend[s] traditional academic disciplines and boundaries” (Melonçon & Frost, 2015, p. 7). TPC scholars have therefore integrated fields like RHM and DS in their work. DS advocates for a “critical stance toward ideologies of health and illness” (Holladay & Price, 2020, p. 33), challenges medicalized understandings of disability as lack, and analyzes how embodied disability experiences are influenced by “cultural barriers [that] preclude the full participation of disabled subjects in society” (Bell, 1997, p. 1). In other words, DS moves beyond medical understandings of disability by recognizing disability as experienced by individuals in the context of broader sociopolitical systems. When coupled with TPC, DS traces how “normalizing discourses” in documentation “can marginalize [disabled folks’] experiences, knowledges, and material needs” (Palmeri, 2006, p. 49). Engagement with DS has thus revealed that “in focusing on efficiency and innovation, TPC has widely embraced an ableist agenda” (Jones et al., 2016, p. 218). That is, TPC notions of efficiency can uphold ableist values of productive independence that frame disability as unproductive and inefficient (Erevelles, 2000). Together, RHM and DS highlight a need to interrogate how TPC may contribute to disability’s exclusion in medical contexts.
Under U.S. capitalism, disability is likewise associated with a lack of productivity because it is often framed as irrational. For example, one who has a mental disability; such as autism, depression, or anxiety; may not embody standard, “rational” forms of thinking. Mental disabilities challenge the habits of “clear” thinking and speaking characteristic of “rational thought” (Larson, 2021, p. 396). That is, the cognitive, spoken, and behavioral interaction strategies of disabled folks frequently misalign with ableist rhetorical standards. In this way, disabled folks disrupt standard notions of rhetorical ethos, or credibility, and may struggle to connect with neurotypical audiences, contexts, and organizational spaces (Walters, 2014). Because “identity and agency are rhetorically constructed through mutual interaction” (Kerschbaum, 2014, p. 69), disabled folks are frequently denied rhetorical agency, collaborative capacities, and professional recognition to engage equitably in workplace contexts. DS thus indicates a need for TPC’s interrogation of rational logics across documentation practices.
Centering Ableism’s Intersectionality
Although TPC’s engagement with DS has motivated equitable, socially just action, scholars in Black DS have critiqued the field’s tendency to prioritize White disability experiences (Bell, 2006; Schalk, 2022; Schalk & Kim, 2022). DS frequently occludes the systemic discrimination experienced by disabled people of color regarding medical access and accommodations. For example, DS often critiques the medical model of disability that encourages overcoming disability through medical diagnosis and treatment; it instead advocates for a social model that understands disability as influenced by sociopolitical discourse. However, disabled people of color have historically been under-diagnosed and denied medical treatment and accommodations for disability (Schalk & Kim, 2020). While DS has challenged problematic understandings of disability through attention to its social construction, it has simultaneously contributed to the medical marginalization of disabled people of color (Schalk, 2022).
In addition, TPC and DS scholarship has not fully accounted for disability’s intersectionality or ableism’s systemic nature. As Black DS has found, disability discourse can exacerbate racial and gender exclusion by framing certain identities as ideally normal and others as abnormal (Schalk & Kim, 2020). For example, the ideal of the rational mind is based in “racialized, gendered, classed, and sexualized ideas about bodily normalcy … intelligence, and competence [that] … continue to regulate bodies of color” (Taylor, 2015, pp. 183–184). Such seemingly neutral standards draw from a “discourse of pathology” grounded in “hierarchies where nonwhite, woman-gendered bodies are cast as deviant and disabled” while “white, gender-normative bodies” are privileged with belonging in public space (p. 188). U.S. capitalist norms of rationality may thus impact a range of identities including gender-queer, disabled, non-native speakers of English whose rhetorical logics may not align with dominant expectations. Ableism works systemically with racism and sexism to deny multiply marginalized identities like disabled women of color the rhetorical rationality integral to social interaction. In this way, the ableist ideals that reinforce certain bodyminds 3 as normal, rational, or productive “are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, colonialism, and capitalism” (Lewis, 2020). In recognizing disability’s intersectional basis, Black DS reveals how White supremacist U.S. capitalism has applied disability discourse to perpetuate “slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and the continued exploitation of people of color in contemporary times” (Erevelles, 2011, p. 103). While DS has challenged many ableist practices, its historical focus on White bodyminds has limited its transformative potential.
Consequently, Walton et al. (2019) urge TPCers to address intersectionality. Publicly recognized in the 1960’s and 1970’s through the efforts of Black women like the Combahee River Collective and Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is both a method and a theoretical framework that traces how race and other identity categories, such as gender, class, and disability, mutually influence experiences of power and oppression across social contexts (Collins & Bilge, 2016, p. 2). Intersectionality demonstrates how a single-issue analysis of discrimination based on race, gender, or disability does not account for the complex discrimination experienced by multiply marginalized individuals like Black women (p. 3). That is, intersectionality reveals how multiple “axes of social division in a given society at a given time, for example, race, class, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and age … build on each other and work together” (Crenshaw, 1999, p. 4). By applying an intersectional lens, scholars have moved beyond DS’s individualized focus and have recognized the integral connections between disability and the “colonial violence, developmentalism, [and] war” associated with White settler colonialism and imperialism (Roberts & Jesudason, 2013, p. 314). Intersectionality thus allows TPC scholars to trace ableism’s systemic connection to other oppressive forces.
Analyzing Disability’s Intersections through Disability Justice and Ableism Studies
To further examine disability’s intersectional implications, I advocate for TPC’s engagement with ableism studies and disability justice. As a conceptual framework, ableism reflects complex “ways of knowing, valuing, and seeing the so-called ‘abnormal’ body as inferior …. The core of ableism is an idealized norm that defines what it means to be human [and that articulates] that those who do not fit that norm are disabled, and … lacking” (Cherney, 2019, p. 8). Recognizing ableism as an interpretive framework that influences social and individual assumptions, ableism studies move away from individualized understandings of disability and interrogate ableism’s “linguistic codes and rhetorical assumptions” (p. 11).
However, because an ableism studies framework is not inherently intersectional, I call for its pairing with disability justice, which understands ableism as intrinsically related to “heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism” (Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2018, p. 21). Disability justice is a movement and theoretical framework founded in the efforts of disability activists of color and was officially launched in 2005 by Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, and Stacey Milbern (CODE, 2023). Responding to the disability rights movement’s frequent marginalization of “sick and disabled people of color [and] queer and trans disabled folks of color,” (Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2018, p. 22), disability justice centers experiences and leadership of disabled folks to challenge U.S. capitalist frames that equate human value with ableist productivity. In addition, it emphasizes how the ideological beliefs, logics, and assumptions that fuel ableism rely on and reify those of other oppressive systems like “racism, christian supremacy, sexism and queer- and transphobia” (p. 22). Together, ableism studies and disability justice can help TPCers trace ableism’s impacts across professional contexts.
Job Advertisements and DEI Statements as Social Justice Concerns
By integrating TPC scholarship in DS, RHM, and disability justice, I have aimed to identify the medical field as an opportunity space for TPC. Because the medical field perpetuates ableist understandings of disability, it is a critical area for TPC intervention. Although previous scholarship has examined ableism’s influence across medical contexts, such scholarship has not considered its influence on medical insurance job advertisements. Although TPCers may be hesitant to intercede in job advertisements due to their legality, TPC skills of “producing, solving, and critiquing” workplace problems are extremely relevant to legal contexts (Hannah, 2011, p. 11). In fact, TPCers often influence “legal precedents” and work with and beyond “regulations, laws, or guidelines” (p. 13) to address “competing professional interests” (p. 20). TPC intervention in legal contexts is crucial because the law’s focus on individual rights does not always inspire broader efforts of social justice. For example, the rights-based discourse of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) frames disability as a single-axis, individual problem and facilitates retroactive accommodations that often erase rather than include disability. That is, the ADA does not account for ableism’s intersectional connection to other oppressive forces, which limits its capacity for social change. Consequently, TPC mediation is vital in workplace contexts like job advertisements where legal, DS, and social justice concerns converge (Bennett & Hannah, 2022).
Recognizing the need for TPC intervention in areas where DS, law, and TPC overlap, I identify medical insurance job advertisements as a space where TPC might mediate goals of legal rights and social justice. Job advertisements are important sites for TPC examination due to their function as “regulatory texts” that standardize organizational behaviors and privilege certain knowledges, practices, and beliefs (Walwema & Carmichael, 2020). Job descriptions “reflect historical, societal, and institutional values that make clear what employers value” and dictate the bounds of belonging (p. 5). These documents thus have immense implications for DEI efforts because they articulate an organization’s values (Reeve & Shultz, 2004). For example, academic job advertisements in rhetoric and TPC often discriminate against international applicants by inquiring into applicant eligibility or authorization to work in the U.S. (Walwema & Carmichael, 2020). In this way, job advertisements may draw from anti-immigration logics that exclude applicants born outside the U.S. In addition, scholars have found that job advertisements language can reinforce gender discrimination by implicitly discouraging women or nonbinary applicants from applying to specific jobs (Gaucher et al., 2011; Mihaljević et al., 2022). Likewise, job advertisements may discriminate against disabled candidates, such as those with autism spectrum disorder, by using ambiguous language (Dow et al., 2020). These findings indicate that job advertisements can have significant social justice consequences.
One under-examined area for TPC medical intervention is that of health insurance. In the U.S. healthcare system, insurance is integral to medical access; yet, many individuals experience discrimination in receiving and navigating health insurance due to race, class, gender, ethnicity, and/or disability (Balghare, 2022). When applying ADA law, medical insurance companies often position disability as a “risk classifier” (Crossley, 2005, p. 92) in “underwriting and pricing decisions” (p. 94). The presence of disability may thus increase insurance costs and potentially limit coverage for disabled folks. Likewise, under ADA law, “people with disabilities are protected from health-insurance discrimination only if it is irrational or intentionally discriminatory” (p. 95). Because the ADA may offer “meager protection against disability-based health-insurance discrimination” (p. 95) and may not account for ableism’s connection to other oppressive forces, health insurance reflects an important site for TPCers to work with and beyond the law to ensure equitable access for disabled employees.
In this section, I provide an overview of the methodology and methods informing my analysis and discuss my process for choosing and analyzing sites.
This article examines the discursive implications of medical insurance job advertisements by analyzing the normalizing assumptions such documents may reinforce. Specifically, through a combination of ableism studies and disability justice, this article evaluates the intersectional implications of job advertisements to better understand how seemingly neutral language may marginalize specific populations and how normative assumptions may be founded in broader systems of “interlocking” oppression (Roberts & Jesudason, 2013, p. 314). Engagement with ableism studies and disability justice is integral to my methodology, because these frameworks demonstrate how oppressive forces like ableism, sexism, and racism may collude in seemingly normative contexts like job advertisements to exclude certain identities like disabled folks from workplace contexts.
Choice of Sites and Analytical Methods
I analyzed jobs in the medical insurance field due to the fraught relationship between medical insurance and disabled folks. I was specifically interested in analyzing medical insurance job advertisements as their convergence with TPC, law, and DS indicates an important site for TPC mediation. To choose specific sites of analysis, I referenced the Disability Equality Index’s “Best Places to Work for 2022” list. The Disability Equality Index is a “comprehensive benchmarking tool for disability inclusion” (“About the DEI”) that identifies which companies are most inclusive and equitable regarding disability access. From this list, I analyzed four of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s national sites: Massachusetts, Tennessee, Michigan, and Rhode Island. I chose Blue Cross Blue Shield since its nation-wide brand recognition positions it as a model for other insurance companies. To maintain brand-based consistency across my chosen sites, I did not analyze other adjacent companies, such as Blue Shield of California.
I visited each organization’s website and compared the language in their DEI statements and recent job postings to build my analytical corpus. I analyzed the 15 most recent jobs posted between September 1, 2022 and December 15, 2022 that incorporated aspects of TPC as defined by the Society for Technical Communication. My analysis also included the standard statements present in each job advertisement. Analyzed job postings sought communication skills related to “technical or specialized topics,” required “communicating by using technology,” or involved “providing instructions about technical or specialized topics” (“Defining”). I compared job advertisements to DEI statements, because both genres convey corporate values. My goal was not to make broad claims about all of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s job advertisements but to instead compare the assumptions of a small sampling of job postings to the organizations’ correlating DEI statements.
I applied critical discourse analysis (CDA) in my document analysis. Discourse impacts identity by influencing “words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities” that help one gain sociocultural recognition and acceptance (Gee, 2001, p. 526). I used CDA to analyze how the discursive patterns (Bloor & Bloor, 2007) reflected by job advertisements and DEI statements contribute to larger organizational understandings of disability and potentially disempower certain intersectional identities through ableist assumptions. I used thematic coding to analyze the collective documents (Saldaña, 2016, p. 199). Identified themes helped me to recognize “repeating ideas” regarding the documents’ discourse, to examine relationships between statements, and to make broader conclusions about the corpus. Drawing from disability justice and ableism studies, my thematic codes denote assumptions that reinforce or challenge disability’s intersectional marginalization. Table 1 reflects an overview of codes, definitions, and textual examples.
Recognizing a connection between the frequency of discursive assumptions present in the documents and broader organizational values, I first analyzed code frequency across each document. I then noted code frequency across each Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) location. Ultimately, I evaluated the consistency of organizational values by comparing the frequency of codes in the job-related documents to the DEI statements (refer to Appendix A-B).
In this section, I provide an overview of my analytical findings based on themes identified by code frequency. These themes reflect underlying assumptions in the documents and include 1) human as productive, 2) knowledge as standardized rationality, 3) autonomy as collaborative independence, and 4) inclusion as legal compliance.
Human as Productive
Because disability justice understands value beyond U.S. capitalist production, I was interested in analyzing the documents’ assumptions regarding human value. Prioritizing embodied difference, the DEI documents collectively reflected human as the most frequent code (80 instances). For example, BCBS MI 16 stated, “Our goal is to encourage and support multiple perspectives and to respect the talent and input of all employees.” Such statements indicate how the corporation embraces employees’ embodied perspectives as integral to the workplace. Similarly, BCBS MA 16 noted, “To build healthy communities, we need to fight racism and address inequities in health care.” Such statements validate individuals’ inequitable healthcare experiences based on embodied differences such as race, gender, and disability. However, such statements do not consider the intersectional complexity of healthcare or how forces like ableism and racism may converge to constrain individual healthcare access. Although such statements value embodied difference and recognize the situated nature of healthcare access, they do not consider intersectionality.
Since the DEI documents collectively emphasized employee and client humanity, it was unsurprising that they discussed productivity far less frequently (41 times). However, despite its infrequency, the presence of this assumption across the DEI statements undermined their equitable impacts. For example, BCBS MI 16 stated, “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is proud of its record and will continue to strive for a competitive diversity advantage, which allows us to retain our leadership position in creating a healthier Michigan.” As this statement indicated, although the documents value workplace diversity, they compromise this gesture by referencing diversity as a “competitive … advantage.” Such statements reinforce a U.S. capitalist agenda in that they frame diversity not as valuable in itself but due to its productive capacity to further the organization’s competitive edge. Such logics may contribute to practices that commodify diversity and center market needs over human lives.
The job advertisements collectively reinforced these underlying capitalist assumptions, with productivity (982 instances) being the second most frequent assumption. For example, BCBS MI 5 noted that potential employees will “Discuss users’ needs and determine vulnerabilities or areas of poor performance to boost productivity, efficiency and accuracy in our computer systems.” This statement explained that potential employees will understand users’ needs to increase “productivity” and “efficiency.” In addition, the documents collectively assumed that productive employees are able-bodied. For example, BCBS Michigan 1 noted that employees must have an “ability to move quickly.” The document presumed that prospective employees can “move” quickly and ably for the sake of corporate efficiency. My analysis thus indicated that the human value emphasized by the DEI statements was overshadowed by underlying goals of productivity.
By emphasizing productivity, these job advertisements perpetuated the ableist view that valuable bodies are productively able. Since disabled bodyminds do not align with U.S. capitalist productivity, disabled folks have been frequently framed as “unproductive” and excluded from workplace environments (Erevelles, 2000). In emphasizing capitalist productivity, the BCBS documents contribute to disability’s marginalization. Further, U.S. capitalism privileges the “white heterosexual male body as the most productive and profitable citizen” (p. 166). Thus U.S. capitalist views of productivity are ableist, sexist, and “deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, colonialism, and capitalism” in that they frame dominant bodyminds as most “valuable” (Lewis, 2020). By prioritizing able productivity, these documents perpetuate violent logics that devalue non-native English speaking, disabled, nonbinary folks of color.
Despite the documents’ assumptions of productivity, the presence of human across the job descriptions (160 instances) articulated appreciation for embodied difference. For example, the BCBS RI documents all noted that “We appreciate and celebrate everything that makes us unique: age, national origin, citizenship status, perspectives, experiences, physical or mental disability, military status, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.” Such statements indicated attention to human value beyond productivity. Although the documents attended to differences like race, disability, citizenship status, and gender, they did not account for their intersections; these documents thus lacked frameworks for thinking “through complex intersections of racism and ableism in the lives of disabled people of color” (Mollow, 2006, p. 69) and did not account for how each employee’s identity “can be a site of privilege or oppression” (Berne et al., 2018, p. 227). In simplifying embodied experiences and relying on ableist assumptions, these documents fell short of their DEI goals.
Knowledge as Standardized Rationality
Disability justice also advocates for the value of embodied knowledge in challenging oppressive systems. I therefore analyzed document assumptions regarding knowledge construction. The DEI statements collectively valued embodied knowledge (52 instances). For example, BCBS RI 16 noted, in relation to its diversity council, “These associates, who reflect a broad spectrum of diversity, have pledged to help enhance awareness of diversity concerns [and], raise critical issues to the attention of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team.” Here, a diverse staff is tasked with leading inclusion efforts based on their embodied experiences. In contrast, rationality was one of the least frequent assumptions in the DEI documents (5 instances). Although the documents celebrated embodied knowledge, they disregarded the intersectional complexity of individual experiences through generalizations regarding diverse identities.
However, the prevalence of embodied knowledge reflected by the DEI statements was not extended into the job advertisements. In fact, standard rationality was one of the most frequent assumptions across the job documents (862 instances), while embodied knowledge was the least frequent (52 instances). Across the corpus, understandings of knowledge construction were based predominantly in Western, White, heteronormative, ableist assumptions of rationality. For example, BCBS TN 12 noted that candidates should possess “Excellent oral and written communication skills as well as business acumen to communicate details about enterprise architecture, policies, and practices to technical and nontechnical colleagues.” This statement presumes that candidates will engage in standard knowledge-making and communication practices that mirror those of their colleagues. Similarly, BCBS RI 6 indicated that the position required a “Positive, energetic attitude, with the ability to handle sensitive and pressured situations.” Such assumptions deny the dynamism of embodied experiences by presuming that employees will have positive, energetic attitudes even under extenuating circumstances. As Taylor (2015) explains, “mental disability … operates as a social organizing concept …. In particular, the specter of the disabled mind is deployed against those who fail to conform to dominant gendered and racialized roles and behaviors” (p. 188). In other words, rational logics and behaviors align with White, able-bodied, heteronormative, Western practices. Notions of seemingly neutral rationality thus reinforce certain logics as integral to “civilized life” (p. 183) and exclude non-dominant knowledge-making strategies or embodied experiences.
In standardizing knowledge-making and communicative practices, these documents contribute to the exclusion of disabled bodyminds in workplace environments. Traditional understandings of rhetoric require that communicators connect with their audience by modeling behavioral conventions; however, disabled individuals, such as those with autism, often communicate in ways that do not match traditional rhetorical expectations (Walters, 2011; Yergeau, 2018). Advocating for “excellent” oral and written communication skills and “positive, energetic attitudes,” the BCBS documents reinforce ableist ideals. Further, such assumptions about employees’ communicative, knowledge-making practices connect to what Taylor (2015) refers to as “compulsory able-mindedness” (p. 82). Founded in McRuer’s (2006) concept of compulsory able-bodiedness, or the need to perform ability for social acceptance, compulsory able-mindedness functions “as a racialized and gendered social organizing concept that marks some bodies as mentally incompetent and maintains societal divisions and inequalities along not only lines of ability, but equally along lines of race” (p. 82). Specifically, compulsory able-mindedness “has its roots in racialized, gendered, classed, and sexualized ideas about bodily normalcy … intelligence, and competence” (pp. 183–184) and regulates a range of intersectional identities including disabled bodies of color. The rational forms of knowledge making, communication, and behavior endorsed by the BCBS documents therefore reinforced Western, White, heterosexual, cisgender, ableist standards that perpetuate exclusion.
Autonomy as Collaborative Independence
Because disability justice advocates for interdependence across communities, I was interested in better understanding how the collective documents might account for or contradict this value. In the DEI documents, assumptions of interdependence were much more frequent (58 instances) than independence (7 instances). For example, BCBS RI 16 explained that to further their DEI goals, they “proudly partner with and support community organizations that promote various aspects of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” Through such statements, the DEI documents referenced collaborative efforts with community partners to promote DEI. Further, BCBS Massachusetts 16 noted, “Each one of us has a role in making diversity and inclusion a part of everything we do.” Such statements recognize the collective responsibility that all employees have in furthering DEI goals. These discursive moves echo disability justice’s understanding of access as collective. However, while disability justice centers the experiences of multiply marginalized bodyminds to challenge normative structures, the BCBS documents categorize identity factors as separate and disregard their dynamic intersections.
Although references to independence were rare across the DEI documents, they were much more frequent in the job advertisements. Because assumptions of both independence (663 instances) and interdependence (708 instances) were heavily present in the job advertisements, this revealed a generative point of tension. For example, BCBS Tennessee 1 indicated that employees should have the “Ability to work independently with minimal supervision or function in a team environment sharing responsibility, roles and accountability.” As this statement relays, employees are expected to function successfully both independently and in groups. While such statements value collective workplace efforts, they rely on normative understandings of autonomy. The documents equate autonomy with independence and thus privilege identities that are “able-bodied white, wealthy, and male” and contribute to the exclusion of “people with disabilities, of color, and women who are imagined as dependents who weigh on other’s (i.e., men’s) autonomy” (Bailey, 1997, p. 146). Because these documents advocate for independent autonomy, they may discourage applications from non-native English speakers, disabled individuals, women, nonbinary folks, people of color, and multiply marginalized individuals. Such assumptions are further echoed through the documents’ emphasis on independent leadership and personal accountability. For example, BCBS MA 2 discussed what employees “will” or “must” do and included phrases such as “solve problems independently,” “oversee,” and “manage.” Used in combination with labels like “competitive” and “leader” (Gaucher et al., 2011, p. 110), such terms may translate as both ableist and “masculine” and can dissuade disabled, women-gendered, nonbinary, and gender queer individuals from applying. Specifically, job seekers may associate such terms with a hostile environment in which they need to continuously compete with dominant identities for recognition. In constructing a baseline of competitive independence, such job advertisements may exclude many prospective applicants.
Further, although the BCBS documents promoted interdependence, they often did so for the purpose of productivity. For example, BCBS Massachusetts 1 explained that potential employees will “Assist with developing team members to their fullest potential and identify opportunities for cross training and support career advancement.” Here, the interdependent act of supporting one’s team is framed as a means of productive advancement. These documents articulated the importance of interdependent support but upheld independence as integral to employee autonomy and success. In disregarding how autonomy requires “social support” (Graby & Greenstein, 2016, p. 252), the self-sufficient independence circulated by these job advertisements contributed to systemic, intersectional discrimination against identities that are not “white, wealthy, and male” (Bailey, 1997, p. 146). As disability justice relays, autonomy and independence are not synonymous; in fact, all autonomy is relational in that it requires access to external resources such as money, social support, medical care, technology, and food (Mingus, 2011). In contrast, relational understandings of autonomy recognize that all individuals rely on other human beings, organizations, and resources and that access to such resources can vary dynamically across social, cultural, and political contexts (Siebers, 2011). A relational view of autonomy also recognizes that all decision-making is socially, politically, and culturally contextualized. Thus, the independent autonomy advocated for by BCBS individualizes understandings of access in ways that disregard autonomy’s relational complexities.
Inclusion as Legal Compliance
Further, disability justice resists understandings of access as assimilation with able-bodied normative structures and instead advocates for understandings of access as frictional transformation (Hamraie & Fritsch, 2019). Consequently, I evaluated the documents for assumptions of assimilation. Although the DEI statements frequently articulated a need for organizational transformation (47 instances), they likewise emphasized assimilation (40 instances). This indicated an interesting point of tension, with transformative efforts potentially limited by assimilative impulses. For example, BCBS MI 16 stated, “We understand the need to go deeper [with inclusion] and do more to address equality and equity.” This document recognized that equality and equity require “deep” transformative efforts. However, such transformation was impeded by assimilative goals. For example, the document stated, “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is proud of its record and will continue to strive for a competitive diversity advantage.” Such statements frame diversity as strengthening corporate competitiveness and disregard the value of diversity in transforming workplace culture. Further, because intersectionality was absent from discussions of these “deep” transformative efforts, the documents fell short of their equitable goals; specifically, the documents disregarded how systemically interconnected systems like ableism, racism, sexism, and homophobia can coalesce to exclude multiply marginalized identities (Crenshaw, 1999).
Assumptions of assimilation (1093 instances) were most frequently coded across the job advertisements while transformation was one of the least frequent assumptions in these documents (91 instances). For example, the BCBS RI job descriptions collectively noted, “Take a chance to be creative. Move outside the status quo.” Such statements encouraged employee creativity and original insight. However, the job advertisements far more frequently sought employees who might align with existing structures; for example, BCBS TN 8 noted that the position requires candidates to “Establish and implement standards and policies to promote quality of medical care and services provided to members, and to assure accreditation.” Here, an emphasis on standards impedes potential for organizational transformation. Further, in many cases, job advertisements valued change only within prescribed limitations; for example, BCBS MI 7 sought candidates who “identify and understand requirements and develop alternate solutions.” The document advocated for “alternate solutions” but only within the scope of prescribed, standard “requirements.” In many cases, the job advertisements advocated for change to further productive goals. For example, BCBS RI 10 asked job candidates to “Make recommendations to improve the efficiency of operations.” This statement designated transformation as valuable when it improves operational “efficiency.” The BCBS documents thus advocated for assimilative efforts that limit potential corporate transformation.
This tension between assimilative and transformative goals indicates an opportunity for TPC intervention in composing job advertisements in the medical insurance field. Many workplace documents aimed at promoting access draw from the ADA’s rights-based discourse. In doing so, corporate documents frequently individualize access, emphasize productivity, and aim to assimilate employees within an ableist status quo (Bennett & Hannah, 2022). Based on my findings, BCBS draws heavily from rights-based discourse. While such discourse promotes individual accommodations that facilitate more equitable disability access in workplace contexts, it disregards the systemic nature of ableism, ableism’s connection to other oppressive forces, and disability’s intersectional complexities. Such rights-based discourse falls short of social justice goals by maintaining existing systems of exclusion and reinforcing understandings of disability as an individual, medical problem in need of resolve.
Rather than recognizing the value of embodied experiences like disability to invoke corporate change, these documents frequently framed difference as a quality that must be overcome. For example, BCBS 16 articulated, “We believe good health shouldn’t depend on your race, ethnicity, or the neighborhood in which you live.” This document attempted to transcend embodied, intersectional difference by advocating for equitable health care for all; while all individuals deserve access to care, such statements disregard the sociopolitical basis of healthcare inequities. In contrast, transformative change requires that employees address the “lived experiences and power differentials that keep us apart” and that they “confront … differences openly and honestly” (Roberts & Jesudason, 2013, p. 315). That is, by acknowledging the differences that characterize employee experiences, organizations can pursue change that facilitates more equitable access and that includes embodied differences like disability as they are. Although many TPCers may be hesitant to engage with legal documents like job advertisements, these findings illustrate a need for TPC intervention. As Bennett and Hannah (2022) explain, “TPCers, as articulators of meaning, can reimagine the law and work beyond its compliance mandates in ways that inspire collective transformation” (p. 332). By engaging with disability justice, TPCers can facilitate legal compliance, support individual accommodations, and advocate for corporate transformation.
Facilitating Intersectional Coalition
Although companies may advocate for diversity in their DEI statements, they may undermine such commitments by using ableist language and assumptions. Specifically, because all job descriptions articulate corporate values, they participate in systems of power that influence individual experiences of belonging (Walwema & Carmichael, 2020, p. 5). Consequently, when drawing on normative assumptions in their documents, practitioners may exclude disabled folks as well as “women and people of color…regardless of their disability identity or status” (Schalk & Kim, 2020, p. 42). As Walton et al. (2019) explain, “the psychological strain and amount of work required for individuals to perform working identities varies … by perceived fit with the qualities and characteristics that the employing organization … values” (p. 69). That is, an employee’s normative “fit” in an organization influences the psychological strain they experience at work. However, when helping individual employees “fit” into existing frameworks, the legal, rights-based discourse prevalent in job advertisements does not account for ableism’s systemic nature. Although legal accommodations may help disabled employees to access existing structures, these accommodations do not alter exclusive systems.
Consequently, it is vital that TPCers help organizational stakeholders to interrogate and “reimagine” the professional norms communicated by job advertisements and DEI statements (Konrad, 2018, p. 136). Because of their capacities to mitigate the concerns of diverse, interdisciplinary audiences, TPCers are primed to mediate accessible design practices in workplace documentation like DEI statements and job advertisements. I thus encourage TPC intervention in composing these documents through intersectional coalitional efforts with a range of organizational stakeholders. Centering intersectional positionality involves understanding “identity categories (such as race and gender)” as “fluid and contextual” (Walton et al., 2019, p. 63). It likewise rejects efforts to assimilate marginalized folks like disabled individuals into oppressive systems by instead seeking to dismantle such systems (p. 28).
To center intersectionality in TPC’s intervention efforts, I draw from Walton et al.’s (2019) recommendations for engaging intersectional coalition in rejecting and replacing unjust organizational practices. As they explain, “Individuals can rarely reject, let alone replace, unjust practices alone, and recognition on one person’s part is often prompted by another’s revealing” (p. 142). In other words, challenging dominant frameworks requires diverse perspectives that help all stakeholders to reject oppressive practices and to recognize how their own actions may implicate them in existing oppression. To aid in the construction of more equitable public-facing recruitment materials, I offer guidelines for what I refer to as coalitional recruitment: creating recruitment materials such as job advertisements and DEI statements through coalitional efforts. This process should incorporate stakeholders from a range of departments, but it should center those who are not reflected by seemingly neutral, dominant norms. By mediating coalitional recruitment efforts, TPCers can help composers of job advertisements better understand how “daily, mundane practices contribute to the marginalization, exploitation, and powerlessness of others” (p. 139). Coalitional recruitment is thus integral to TPC efforts in combating systemic ableism in medical insurance documentation. In this section, I draw on findings to help TPCers mediate coalitional recruitment to address corporate, legal, and social justice goals in documents like DEI statements and job advertisements. Through these efforts, TPCers can help medical insurance companies move away from standard assumptions that perpetuate oppressive systems and towards documentation practices that promote intersectional access.
Interrogating Ableist Productivity
Although the DEI statements in my corpus articulated value for human difference and diversity, such efforts were overshadowed by goals of human productivity. As Erevelles (2011) explains, under a U.S. market-driven capitalist ideology, “individual citizens are required to demonstrate their capacity to be productive, efficient, and competitive participants in the workforce” (p. 41). In valuing consistent able-bodied productivity as integral to job success, these DEI documents and job advertisements may discourage disabled candidates from applying. This emphasis on productivity further discriminates against a range of job candidates, such as people of color, immigrants, and/or nonbinary folks, as such identities may not align with U.S. capitalist standards of productivity. As disability justice emphasizes, “Ableism is connected to all of our struggles because it undergirds notions of whose bodies are considered valuable, desirable, and disposable” (Mingus, 2011). By framing White, male, able-bodied productivity as desirably normal, these documents collectively contribute to disability’s intersectional exclusion. In revising such documentation, I recommend that TPCers mediate coalitional review of such documents’ productive assumptions. Specifically, I recommend that coalitional recruitment:
Center intersectional embodiment by exploring historical exclusion. In enacting coalitional recruitment to review documents like job advertisements and DEI statements, TPCers should include a range of employees; however, they should center the perspectives of those who are not White, cisgender, wealthy, heterosexual, or native English speakers. By mediating coalitional conversations that center multiply marginalized perspectives, TPCers can help producers of documents like job advertisements better understand the exclusive impacts of productive U.S. capitalism. Specifically, TPCers might encourage each coalition member to share their experiences with productivity expectations at work. Rather than aiming to assimilate these perspectives into one view, TPCers should encourage communication by members across difference. In this way, such coalitions can address differences of experiences transparently and better understand how productive expectations may yield a range of impacts (Roberts & Jesudason, 2013). TPCers might also incorporate external resources for coalitional consideration that explore the history of U.S. capitalist exclusion. For example, they might draw from resources cited in this article, such as Erevelles (2000), Taylor (2015), or Berne et al. (2018), to inspire conversations among coalition members regarding experiences of intersectional workplace exclusion. Importantly, TPCers should encourage coalition members to bring to conversations a range of relevant resources connected to their individual experiences. By critically historicizing the political implications of personal experiences, coalition members can analyze how seemingly neutral frameworks may have exclusive consequences for multiply marginalized identities.
Deemphasize productivity discourse through attention to embodiment. Through coalitional recruitment, notions of capitalist productivity might be exchanged for more human-centered expectations that recognize the dynamic nature of lived experience. For example, employee performance varies day-to-day, especially for disabled candidates with conditions like chronic pain or depression. Composers of job advertisements and DEI statements might thus avoid including ableist expectations, such as moving quickly or navigating a fast-paced environment, that privilege able bodyminds. In addition, employee job performance may fluctuate based on the privilege they experience across contexts. As Jones et al. (2016) articulate, “People occupy varying positions and degrees of privilege based, in large part, on sociopolitical constructs like gender, sexuality, ableness, and so on” (p. 220). Although privilege fluctuates based on context, the BCBS job advertisements consistently engaged phrases such as “must be,” “will,” and “are expected to” that assume static employee experiences. TPC-mediated coalitions might reflect on the ableist impacts of such language and instead offer insight into the types of work candidates do and the resources the company can provide to empower employees across diverse situational contexts. Similarly, phrases such as “appropriate,” “effective,” “efficient,” and “competitive” were present across the job ads; as relayed in the discussion section, such terms may exclude a range of identities. Through coalitional recruitment, TPCers can help stakeholders review such terms and collectively offer more inclusive alternatives. Holistically, TPCers can apply insights from coalitional review to help composers of job advertisements and DEI statements frame employee differences as generative sources of corporate growth and transformation.
Decentering Commonplace Rationality
Like productivity, notions of standard rationality were heavily present across the documents. Specifically, rational knowledge, belief, and communicative engagement were framed as expectations across many of the job advertisements. Despite the inclusive intent of BCBS’s DEI statements, this emphasis on standard rationality upholds a compulsory able-mindedness that can invalidate knowledge-making and communication practices like those of disabled folks (Taylor, 2015). For example, mentally disabled individuals are frequently deemed “unreasonable or incapable of rational thought” (Prayal, 2011, p. 480). By presuming employees of standard, rational thought, these documents may discourage applications from those with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Such ableist assumptions impact prospective disabled employees, non-binary applicants, employees of color, and other multiply marginalized identities. Linked directly to a “discourse of pathology,” ableist notions of rationality have historically designated certain bodies as desirable, or productive, and others as deviant (Taylor, 2015). In drawing from rationalist norms, the BCBS documents may thus contribute to the “historical and continued attribution of deviance to bodies of color … and people with disabilities to positions of societal nonvalue” (p. 194). I therefore recommend that TPC-mediated coalitional recruitment efforts center diverse communication and knowledge-making practices. To challenge standard rationality, such coalitions might:
Interrogate neutral understandings of rhetorical communication. In mediating coalitional recruitment, TPCers can help composers of documents like DEI statements and job advertisements to critically reflect on the impact of standard assumptions regarding employee communication, behavior, and knowledge-making. For example, they might lead a coalitional review of requirements such as “good” or “excellent” communication skills and draw from members’ experiences to offer examples of diverse forms and strategies that workplace communications might take in medical insurance contexts. Disabled folks like those with autism “straddle neurotypical and autistic discourses …. They achieve many of the objectives of a traditionally effective ethos … but do so in non-normative ways” (Walters, 2011). Through TPC efforts of coalitional recruitment, composers of job advertisements can more equitably articulate and validate a range of communication strategies as integral to medical insurance contexts.
Decenter dominant rationality by validating embodied knowledge. In mediating coalitional recruitment, TPCers can help composers of documents like DEI statements and job advertisements to recognize a range of embodied knowledges as valuable in medical insurance contexts. To do so, they might ask coalition members to discuss the communication, research, and problem-solving strategies they use across workplace contexts and to share how their epistemological contributions have been received by others in different professional spaces. In this way, coalitional recruitment can expand understandings of what constitutes knowledge and critically reflect on how existing frameworks may problematically disregard certain knowledge-making strategies. In this way, coalitional recruitment can center and celebrate embodied difference, and inspire a larger cultural shift towards corporate practices that amplify frequently marginalized voices and perspectives. Likewise, TPCers might work with a range of professionals to decenter dominant understandings of rationality and to explore the implications such assumptions may have for employees. Specifically, they might analyze the consequences of standard, neutral expectations like “good” communication or “effective” training. As Walton et al. (2019) explain, “For those in positions of privilege, inclusivity requires a willingness … to recognize the legitimacy of many ways of knowing, accepting that some people’s knowledge will call into question one’s own long-held truths” (p. 52). By mediating conversations in which employees share their knowledge-making strategies, TPCers can help composers of job advertisements and DEI statements to challenge ableism and to center non-dominant identities.
Articulating Relational Understandings of Autonomy
Findings also revealed that the BCBS documents collectively assumed independent autonomy as integral to employee success. An emphasis on independent autonomy excludes disabled folks “as inherently deficient, dependent, and incapable” (Graby & Greenstein, 2016, p. 228). Further, in advocating for independent autonomy, these documents disregard the inequitable distribution of resources based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status. The collective BCBS documents thus reinforce ableist standards that may exclude a range of identities who do not align with self-sufficient notions of autonomy. Through coalitional recruitment, TPCers might thus:
Facilitate relational autonomy by providing transparent resource access. The BCBS documents reflected tension between expectations for independent accountability and collective efforts. By mediating engagement from intersectional coalitions, TPCers can help composers of job advertisements deemphasize independent action and reframe autonomy as relational. For example, coalitional recruitment can help composers of job advertisements identify the resources available to support the autonomy of a range of bodyminds so that they might reference such resources in job advertisements. Further, by encouraging members to discuss experiences in which their autonomy was supported or undermined in workplace settings, coalitional recruitment can inspire stakeholders to identify practices that facilitate employee autonomy and to reject and replace practices that negatively impact employee decision-making and empowerment. Based on coalitional conversations, composers of job advertisements and DEI statements can better understand how discursive norms may limit certain employees’ autonomy in specific contexts and consequently replace such language with more inclusive considerations. In this way, medical insurance documents like DEI statements and job advertisements can articulate understandings of autonomy that recognize “the interdependence and the validity of all human subjects, regardless of individual dependency needs” (Graby & Greenstein, 2016, p. 253).
Address gaps in resources through coalition. A relational understanding of autonomy not only facilitates a cultural shift towards the inclusion of diverse embodiments, but it also increases “material support for people’s needs … in ways that recognize people’s self-determination … and their right to choice and control over the way those needs are met” (Graby & Greenstein, 2016, p. 252). Consequently, the support offered to employees should be grounded in the intersectional needs and experiences of employees themselves. Coalitional recruiting can help to identify existing gaps in available resources by having employees share moments in which they felt powerless or unsupported. Moments of failure offer vital points of reflection, as they reveal how the design of certain professional environments may not support all identities. Composers of job advertisements might then reference these coalitional conversations in the advertisements themselves as evidence of the company’s commitment to relational autonomy. Importantly, such conversations should reject assimilative impulses to standardize employee experiences and instead provide staff members with opportunities to offer their uniquely embodied experiences as sources of workplace change. In such ways, coalitional recruitment can support disability justice goals of relational autonomy.
Disrupting Efforts of Homogenous Assimilation
Findings revealed that although the BCBS documents advocate for change based on employees’ embodied experiences, such values are undermined by goals of assimilation, or alignment with a corporate status quo. For example, all job advertisements expected candidates to mirror standard experiences and knowledge. As Walton et al. (2019) explain, “homogeneity serves those already at the center” (p. 69), or those whose “identity markers are associated with stereotypes that correlate with institutional values” (p. 75). In other words, by endorsing standards, organizations like BCBS may marginalize prospective employees who do not align with such norms. Normative commonplaces reinforce “unrealistic standards based on imagined able-bodied workers” that leave disabled employees “without confidence and agency to persuade others … to reimagine those normative commonplaces” (Konrad, 2018, p. 136). That is, when practitioners emphasize standard norms, they limit the capacity for employee difference to inspire organizational transformation. Consequently, I recommend that coalitional recruitment resist goals of homogenous assimilation through attention to intersectional difference. Specifically, they might:
Interrogate normative workplace commonplaces. I recommend that TPCers mediate coalitional conversations to better understand how existing commonplaces may contribute to the marginalization of non-dominant identities. Commonplaces that frequently discriminate against disabled folks include “rationality, criticality, presence, participation, resistance, productivity, collegiality, security, coherence, truth, [and] independence” (Price, 2011, p. 5). While such commonplaces contribute to ableist exclusion, they likewise perpetuate dominant Western, White, cisgender, heteronormative standards of behavior that may marginalize a range of identities (Schalk & Kim, 2020). I thus recommend that TPC-led coalitions interrogate these concepts across documents through considerations for intersectionality. Specifically, coalition members might reflect on what each of these terms means to them and/or how their experiences with these commonplace expectations have impacted them in and outside of the workplace. As disability justice recommends, transformation should be led by those most impacted by oppressive systems; while all individuals can provide insight into the impacts of seemingly neutral commonplaces, frequently marginalized identities like disabled employees of color can reveal the intersectionally complex and violent implications of such neutrality. To avoid making multiply marginalized employees carry the weight of such initiatives, these TPC-mediated coalitions should be supported by the efforts of all organization members. As disability justice relays, intersectional access requires the collective efforts of all (Berne, 2018).
Challenge notions of fit by collectively reimagining corporate culture. Further, coalitional recruitment might encourage composers of job advertisements and DEI statements to think critically regarding references to assimilation and organizational “fit,” as such discourse can impede the transformative potential of diverse perspectives. Instead, coalitional members might offer critical insight from their workplace experiences to inspire broader corporate change. As Konrad (2018) notes, “If everyone takes part in reimagining work in the interest of accessibility, flexible mind-sets can cultivate workplaces where creativity and reinvention lead to new possibilities” (p. 137). By incorporating a range of individuals in reviewing documents, coalitional recruitment can engage critical conversations about existing structures and support transformative efforts toward collective access. Such perspectives can help composers of job advertisements de-emphasize organizational “fit” and instead articulate how the organization adapts to new employees’ intersectional perspectives and needs. Further, such coalitions might ask members to share moments of disjuncture in the workplace and to reflect on what contributed to their experiences of exclusion in certain contexts. By centering intersectional difference, coalitional recruitment can help practitioners understand “how systems of privilege and disadvantage operate together … to be better equipped to dismantle them” (Roberts & Jesudason, 2013, p. 316). That is, intersectional coalitions can help those composing job advertisements and DEI documents to better understand the systemic connections between employee experiences with racism, sexism, and ableism. In mediating coalitional recruitment founded in intersectionality, TPCers can help practitioners in medical insurance companies to reject commonplace practices that contribute to the marginalization of disabled employees.
Through coalitional recruitment, TPCers can help medical insurance companies to resist normalizing discourse and challenge systemic oppression in ways that facilitate increased access and inclusion for prospective disabled employees. Specifically, by reviewing documents like job advertisements and DEI statements, such coalitions can amplify embodied experiences, knowledges, and practices frequently excluded from U.S. medical insurance contexts. While this study demonstrated the implications of normalizing discourse in medical insurance job advertisements and DEI statements, it was limited to one U.S. organization’s DEI statements and recent job advertisements. Future research might examine documents from a wider range of organizations in and outside the U.S. to make broader or comparative claims. Further, while this study traced the intersectional impacts of job advertisements and DEI discourse, future studies might examine the intersectional consequences of institutional training or evaluation documents. In addition, this study focused on discourse analysis; future research might interview current or prospective employees to identify the embodied implications of normalizing discourse for a range of intersectional identities.
Attention to intersectional coalition is integral to medical insurance DEI efforts, as it encourages practitioners to interrogate seemingly neutral documents, practices, and assumptions for their potential participation in systemic oppression. Because discrimination is often rooted in norms that favor dominant identities, appreciation for diversity and inclusion is not enough to facilitate equitable workplace access. Instead, by prioritizing intersectionality through efforts like coalitional recruitment, TPCers and workplace practitioners collectively can replace discriminatory commonplaces with discourse grounded in social justice.
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About the Author
Kristin C. Bennett is an Assistant Professor of Technical Communication at Sam Houston State University. She received a PhD in Writing, Rhetorics, and Literacies at Arizona State University. Her research examines the intersections between rhetoric, disability studies, rhetorics of health and medicine, and technical and professional communication. Her work has appeared inIEEE: Transactions on Professional Communication, The Journal of Business and Technical Communication, Composition Studies, and Teaching English in the Two-Year College.
1 I use disability-first language (i.e., “disabled individuals”) rather than person-first language (i.e., “individuals with disabilities”) to frame disability as a desirable or welcome aspect of lived experience. I do not use person-first language, which reinforces ableist logics of overcoming by framing one as a person despite one’s disability. (Cherney, 2019).
2 My discussion of disabled job applicants includes but is not limited to physical disability; it also considers a range neurodivergent and invisible disability experiences, such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and autism as well as embodiments that reflect multiple disabilities.
3 The term “bodymind” indicates a connection between the body and mind, and challenges notions of the body/mind as two as distinct entities (Price, 2014).