Updated: Jun 2
By Gwen Navarrete Klapperich and Elizabeth Ralston, Consultants
One in four people in the United States is living with a disability, which makes it more important than ever for organizations to ensure their buildings, programs, and services are accessible. As consultants with lived experience with disabilities, we believe that your accessibility will certainly benefit the audiences you seek to involve in the mission of your organization.
But where to get started? We suggest you consider the following principles when thinking about integrating accessibility into your organization:
Accessibility is an important part of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. People with disabilities make up the largest minority within the US population, and people with disabilities intersect with other identifying traits such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, etc. Ignoring the disability population and their needs for accessibility means that your DEI initiatives are lacking a crucial component to making your organizations truly equitable. If you already have a goal to focus on DEI initiatives, bring accessibility on board.
“Nothing About Us Without Us”
Does your organization’s staff and board represent the people and the community they serve? In other words, if you serve people with disabilities do you have at least one person with a disability on your staff AND board? Having a child/spouse/parent with disabilities does give one certain insights, but at the end of the day these individuals cannot truly know what it is like to live with the disability their loved ones have. By having the very people you serve hold representation in decision-making positions within your organization, you are giving a powerful, equitable voice to the people who need it the most. Allowing people with disabilities’ voices to be heard gives organizations added insights and fresh, innovative ideas on how to best serve their clients.
Assume Capability or maybe: Examine your Ableist Assumptions
“But someone with X disability couldn’t possibly do this job!”
Many people with disabilities hide their conditions from their employers, schools, and social groups. Remember that 1 in 4 people has a disability, so the chances that you know/work with/live with at least one person with a disability is enormously high. Invisible disabilities like hearing loss, vision issues, anxiety, PTSD, etc. are very common and overlooked. We encourage you to challenge your assumptions about people with disabilities and focus on what the person CAN do instead of what the person can’t do. With the right accessibility tools in place, people with disabilities can accomplish great things, as evidenced by the success of programs like Walgreens’ campaign to hire PWD and Microsoft’s Autism at Work initiative.
Accessibility should be integral to your diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. It is also crucial to allow people with disabilities to be represented on your board and staff and it benefits all of us when we challenge our assumptions about the capabilities of people with disabilities.
About the authors:
Gwen Navarrete Klapperich is a talent development consultant who frequently trains on topics surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.kitaconsult.com.
A version of this blog post was posted by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits in March 2022. The authors retain full rights to this content.