Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month at Hershey: How Centralized Accommodations and Togetherness Help Me Make One of America’s Most-Loved Brands

By Chris Genovese, Production Operator at The Hershey Company

  • The Hershey Company’s Abilities First Business Resource Group (BRG), employees who are living with a disability feel connected to our company purpose of making more moments of goodness.
  • Centralized Accommodations Funds is a company-wide general fund to cover reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities and is considered a corporate best practice.
  • Centralized Accommodations has a positive impact on my personal and professional life as a deaf employee. The accommodations include the Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), which allows me to communicate effectively with my co-workers.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) was declared by the United States Congress in 1988 for the month of October. The purpose of NDEAM is to raise awareness of the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.

2020 also marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and all places that serve the public. This act was a game changer for millions of individuals with disabilities in the United States, giving them more independence and opening up doors that were previously closed to them. Prior to the ADA, many individuals with disabilities were confined to their homes because they simply couldn’t access public spaces—a feeling of isolation that many of us can relate to right now due to the global pandemic.

Here at Hershey, we have a long-standing commitment to fostering an inclusive work environment where all employees, including those living with disabilities feel connected to our purpose and feel valued for the countless ways in which all of our team members push us forward.

“All of our employees make us stronger. People living with disabilities bring with them strength, adaptability and resourcefulness in the face of adversity,” said Chief Supply Chain Officer, Jason Reiman. “Whether members of our retail teams, or manufacturing, like Chris, employees living with disabilities greatly contribute every day to our purpose of making more moments of goodness.”

We’re proud to be recognized by the National Organization on Disability as a Leading Disability Employer for the last four years.

My experience working at Hershey as an individual living with a disability

I was hired in 2012 at a plant that makes Twizzlers in Lancaster, PA. My first role here was a Production Operator and I held a variety of roles before I transferred to another plant in Hershey where I attended training for multiple roles including Snack Size Wrapper, Packaging Machinery and Drop Kiss Packaging Machinery. I also completed the six-month certified highly technical work in the Hershey’s Syrup bottling operations before I was transferred to the Reese’s Plant in 2020—where I am one of the first employees with a hearing disability.

My hearing disability does not interfere with my work here at Hershey. I use a VRI app to communicate with people on my cell phone which provides ‘just-in-time’ American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters. Our Plant Supervisors also have the VRI app so they can communicate with me using interpreters or text depending on the situation.

This technology is very useful when I attend meetings, trainings, presentations or when I am struggling to communicate with others. This allows me to follow along during meetings, ask questions and engage in the dialogue with my team. I also use a notepad to write notes, provide direction or ask short questions for quick communications. In addition to the technology available at my fingertips, Hershey also provides an in-person ASL interpreter to assist during large meetings or training sessions to ensure I have what I need to be successful.

The plant supervisors and my co-workers also use VRI or a notepad with a pencil to ensure two-way communication. If I am struggling to understand what others are relaying to me, they all adapt and use the VRI to continue the conversation. Our unique Hershey culture and our value of togetherness is obvious in these day-to-day actions of the team to ensure I am included. My co-workers share how even shared they want to learn sign language so we can communicate more.

Safety is our highest priority at Hershey

Working at a manufacturing plant is fast-paced job and safety is our highest priority. To ensure my hearing disability does not interfere with me being aware of situations unfolding around me, the Reese plant installed alarms with flashing lights, and I have a pager that vibrates to cue me when there is an emergency. They also installed flashing lights on our forklifts so I can see them when I am working on the plant floor since I am not able to hear the machinery. My supervisors, co-workers, and I work with new employees to make them aware of these safety measures and processes. The dedication of the entire team to these processes keeps myself and my co-workers safe from harm during our physically demanding workdays.

I bring a number of strengths to my role at the Reese Plant because I am highly focused, and I can quickly adapt to running various machines and lines with my vast experiences. As a fast learner, I completed the six-month Reese’s cupping training along with other non-disabled employees because I had the VRI accommodations and was equally successful in the training. I want others to know that people with disabilities are good problem solvers and highly adaptable because we have to adjust to living in an able-bodied world.

I am an employee, who happens to be deaf, working in a manufacturing plant and I can do any job or position when I have the opportunity. I love what I do, where I work, and being part of a team that makes one of our most-loved brands, Reese’s, for consumers around the world to enjoy.

If interested in working at Hershey, explore our open career opportunities.