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How Disability Inclusion Impacts All of Us

Disabilities come in many different shapes, forms, and sizes. Some are easy to see, but many can’t be seen at all. Two in five adults aged 65 years and older have a disability, and one in four women have a disability. Almost all people have a connection to someone with a disability, or they can become disabled at some point in their life. When we know better, we can do better.  If  we learn about others’ lived experiences, challenges, and unique super strengths, we can use our influence and power to remove those obstacles for greater inclusion and belonging for all.

How can we, as individuals, be inclusive of the disability community?  

Disability can be an important and sensitive part of someone’s identity. If I cannot find clues on their LinkedIn profile,  I respectfully ask how they want to be identified. When speaking of disability in general, it’s helpful to use “people first” language. For example, do not say “homeless crazy person”;to be inclusive, say “a person who is unhoused with mental health needs.” More examples include using “children with special needs” versus “special needs kids” or “a child with ADHD.” Using insensitive language can create a negative stereotype that could foster confirmation bias.  However, some individuals prefer to claim their disability as a proud part of their identity and do not use people-first language.  An inclusive leader listens to how they introduce themselves and respects their language choice when interacting with them. 

What can companies do to improve workplace culture? 

Companies can play a big part in making their employees feel welcomed and included. It first starts by improving company culture and embedding disability inclusion into company values. When you Listen. Learn. Then Lead With TLC (Transparency, Leadership by Example, and Caring)™ , you can positively change how your employees feel about your organization and coming to work. Try planning activities, meetings, and training, considering accessibility needs, and ask if employees or guests will need accommodations to participate fully. For example, consider if wheelchair access, closed-captioning, microphones,  or an ASL interpreter could be readily available.

This article is not meant to be all-encompassing of inclusive actions.  Ask your employees and listen.  Some leading companies for inclusion are intentionally using inclusive language on their job descriptions, company websites, and external communications to signal disability inclusion. They are also hiring experts to address ADA guidelines. Additionally, they are building inclusive practices into the way they work such as being considerate in pre-meeting etiquette. Try sharing agendas and copies of the slides and articles ahead of time and appoint a note taker in the meeting to benefit those with different cognitive processing abilities.

Additionally, let your partnerships and employee demographics reflect and connect with the customer base you serve. Partner with organizations that work with individuals with disabilities, hire individuals with disabilities, design products and services that provide accessibility for all, and encourage others to do the same. 

Where can I find the resources to do better? 

Resources are everywhere, but here are a few places to start your allyship journey. 

NPR Podcast: How to Talk about Disability Sensitively and Avoid Ableist Tropes

The Conscious Style Guide by Karen Yin

My Possibilities

Disability:IN

Bryan’s House

National Organization for Disability (NOD)

Respectability

Disability Resource

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