Maryellen Reardon’s life changed dramatically following a serious illness after the birth of her youngest daughter 18 years ago. An antibiotic she took for treatment caused her to lose the majority of her hearing over a six-month period.
“My thought at the time was that I will never get to hear my daughter’s voice,” says Dr. Reardon, who is Vice President, Learning, at Prudential Insurance Company of America in Newark, New Jersey. “I could tear up thinking about it.”
Not only did Reardon experience hearing loss while caring for a newborn, she was juggling a full-time job, too. Her biggest concern: How to continue her dynamic career with hearing loss.
Reardon soon got answers, thanks to an employee resource group at Prudential that at the time, solely served people with hearing loss. The group, called ADAPT, which stands for Abled & disAbled Associates Partnering Together, now includes people with all types of disabilities. “I thought, what a wonderful stroke of luck,” Reardon says, adding that she immediately sent a note to the group asking for advice on how to move forward.
“The outpouring from that group and sharing … the kind words and encouragement and resources they provided was incredibly valuable to me. I would have been very challenged to make it past my hearing loss if they were not available to me,” Reardon says.
Big shoes to fill
Today Reardon oversees the recruiting and professional development of field associates. She manages a multimillion dollar budget and sets up contracts with online recruitment websites while managing a steady flow of various projects. She also leads strategies to inspire the field associates to earn their professional designations through comprehensive education programs at an accredited university. And she helps lead ADAPT.
“Maryellen has made a tangible difference in how our firm thinks and acts on issues of diversity and inclusion and her influence has seeped into Prudential’s culture,” says Ignace Conic, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion at Prudential. “I respect that she chooses to focus on her abilities, yet she is always candid about being a person with a disability; that’s something that inspires many of us. She’s truly an outstanding leader.”
Technology and text messaging
The biggest challenge for Reardon work, she says, is the personal issue of managing her hearing loss while trying to take in a constant flow of information. “It adds a level of planning to my day that not everyone has,” says Reardon, who holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology.
Reardon credits technology for making work easier for people with disabilities. For many telephone calls Reardon uses WebCapTel, a state-based relay service, where an operator relays spoken words into text that Reardon can read on her computer’s Internet browser. For confidential meetings, she uses New Jersey Relay, a similar service that enables the text of the conversation to be encrypted.
Still, Reardon prefers face-to-face meetings with her back toward a window so the glare doesn’t prevent her from seeing the other person’s face in order for her to lip-read. If she is meeting with several people, Reardon will get there early to find a centrally located seat, and makes sure that she lets people know about her hearing loss.
If there’s a communication breakdown, Reardon says she’ll ask people to repeat what they’re saying, and sometimes she will telephone an individual in the group after the meeting to ask for more details. When she works from home, Reardon loves to use text messaging. “I use texting like a teenager. It’s a fantastic tool for someone with hearing loss,” she says.
Seeking out advice
Reardon advises job seekers with disabilities to avoid getting “bogged down with how tough the job market is right now,” and instead do what she did – look to others for support and advice. She recommends LinkedIn, which has many professional groups for individuals with disabilities. “You can talk about your issues, ask questions and get really good advice there,” she says.
She also encourages other employers to instill a culture of inclusion so workers with disabilities can authentically and freely give their best. It’s the way things are done at Prudential, she says. “My feeling is that overall there’s nothing to lose [by hiring a person with a disability], but there’s an awful lot to gain,” she adds.