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  • Writer's pictureMeg O'Connell

What is Disability Inclusion?

Updated: May 20, 2020

We have a new client. I admit it, I love new clients. They are typically energized, eager and excited to understand the principles of disability inclusion and how they can make changes within their business practices to better include people with disabilities.

This client is no different. They are a global company that is progressive and innovative in their products and services. They are also very proud of what they are doing in the diversity and inclusion space. Their annual report has multiple highlights about the success of their diversity programs and the diversity awards they have received.

But they are far behind on disability inclusion. They know it. They admit it. But most importantly, they want to do better.

During a recent meeting they asked a very good question, “What is disability inclusion?” We talked about a lot of things in response to this simple question and what they could do differently and how to seamlessly expand existing diversity efforts to be more inclusive of people with disabilities.

But I was struck by this simple question and how few people actually ask what it really means. As I have been working with them on their strategic plan and helping them get ready for 2020 – I have revisited this simple but powerful question again and again.

So, what is disability inclusion? The answer to this question comes down to two main concepts. Disability Inclusion is about Access and Belonging.

In 2020, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA at its core is about enabling access for people with disabilities. This meant removing physical barriers to all public spaces like office buildings, banks, restaurants, movie theatres and any other public space that people without disabilities can easily access and enter.

Thirty years ago, we were not a digital world. So, today when we think about access, we must ensure access for persons with disabilities to all online platforms. This includes everything done online like applying for a job, shopping, watching videos with captioning, images with alt tags and language that includes people with disabilities in diversity efforts.

The second concept is Belonging. Belonging is a concept that has evolved from all diversity and inclusion efforts over the last few decades. We started with the early ideas of being invited to the party, then not just going to the party but being asked to dance. Today when we talk about diversity and inclusion it is not about being a “guest” at the party, it is an individual’s rightful place at the party. It means they belong at the party.

Belonging is emotive. It is when someone feels they are part of the team, they are treated with respect, and valued for their contributions. Belonging means you feel confident your opinions and views will be heard and appreciated, and you are not afraid to speak up and be a member of the team, your workplace or your community.

Disability IS Diversity and just like all other diversity groups people with disabilities want to be included, respected and valued. Just like everyone else, we want access and belonging.


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