Guest Writer – Bronwen Nettles
Recently “DEI after 5” had the opportunity to speak with Sheri Byrne-Haber, a prominent expert in the fields of disability and accessibility. Byrne-Haber has over 17 years-experience providing inclusion and accessibility consultation for customers and employees in a world primarily designed for the abled. She holds multiple degrees in business, law, and IT. Her lived experience as a disabled person and advocate for her deaf daughter has driven her mission to synthesize her expertise by creating a more equal world through holistic accessibility programs. In her downtime, she trains and competes in archery and recently won the California State Seniors Archery Tournament for her shooting class and age.
In this podcast, “The Inclusion of Accessibility”, Sacha Thompson and Sheri-Byrne-Haber discuss why the critical components of disability and accessibility are topics too often left out of the DEI conversation and how to change that through education and implementation.
“Disability is the largest minority in the world.” (Byrne-Haber)
Understanding Disability in the Workplace
People living with disability comprise almost 18% of the world’s population. Despite this significant demographic, a recent survey conducted by The Valuable 500, a global collective of CEOs collaborating for disability inclusion, a disturbing 94% of organizations do not include disability in their DEI initiatives. This may stem from a misunderstanding of the full spectrum of disability and how comprehensive it is.
Disability is often assumed to be visible and physical. Blindness, deafness, someone who uses a cane, or a wheelchair are examples of visible and physical disabilities, yet 70% of disabilities are invisible. Dyslexia, Autism, MS, ADHD, and epilepsy are examples of invisible disabilities and within all disabilities, there is a spectrum of impact from minor to profound. It is easy to see how many disabilities might go unnoticed, and therefore unconsidered in a myriad of settings.
A disability can be categorized in 3 ways. A permanent disability is lifelong. A temporary disability is when a surgery, accident, or illness lasts for a period but resolves. The third is one all people experience, and it is called situational disability. When you hold a baby, or a phone, or sit with a seatbelt on, you are situationally disabled.
Disability affects so many people and in so many settings that designing a world from the outset for the inclusion of disability is the most cost-effective and respectful strategy to implement. When accommodations are not built into technology, when they aren’t built into the environment people must physically navigate, then it becomes a microaggression that “others” people who have to request accommodations. It sends the message that they are not considered or included. Byrne-Haber provides an example of having a ramp available for a stage,
“It doesn’t matter whether you have speakers who need the ramp. The ramp sends a message of inclusion. The ramp sends a message of we
expect people who will need this to be used to be on a stage someday.”
So how can companies support their employees and customers in a way that is more inclusive of disabilities?
“You need to re-think your approach to almost everything and look at it through the lens of would this adversely impact a person with a disability?” (Byrne-Haber)
The product teams of a company need to consider the needs of their customers and employees on the software side. Everything that is bought, built, and used needs to be assessed for accessibility. For example, in IT, 6.5% of employees are colorblind. Presentation documents
must be reviewed to ensure that red text isn’t on top of dark backgrounds, and that red and green aren’t used together. Think about your event spaces and what tweaks can be made to make them comfortable and easily navigated. For example, install coat racks at different heights to make them accessible for people who use wheelchairs to reach and have tables available in different heights. Have ample seating options at a cocktail event so people with invisible disabilities can sit down if standing for an hour mingling is not easy for them.
Even if the building you work in is ADA-compliant or certified there needs to be constant monitoring to ensure these accommodations are still useable as intended. Are pathways remaining clear? Are spaces designated for accessibility still being used that way or have they become a neglected storage space? Training maintenance staff to quickly spot and cure any such impacts is critical to keeping your company’s space truly accessible as designed.
Disability as a Part of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work
When it comes to training employees in DEI with the awareness of belonging as the big umbrella, you want to make sure that everyone is feeling valued, seen, and heard.
Building a DEI team without a dedicated member who focuses on Disability as it affects customers, IT, and employee procurement is a sure way to set your company up for a lawsuit. You need someone not only who understands disability, but ideally who also lives with a
disability and has expertise on disability beyond their own to provide that extra meticulous insight into your trainings, policies, strategies, and implementation.
Understand that accessibility is a program and not a project. It necessitates establishing a checklist, implementing the solutions, then constantly reviewing, and using feedback from employees and customers to create the next solution. It is ever-evolving and requires vigilance to incorporate changing awareness and the tools to remedy inequities for disabled people.
“People tend to think of disability as medical conditions when really disabilities are barriers that have been created that block people with
disabilities from fully participating.” (Byrne-Haber)
DEI must truly include the world of accessibility and disability inclusion if it is to reach its full potential to create a world where everyone has a space at the table.
Listen to this episode on your chosen podcast platform, or click here to listen now.
Looking for support for your organization’s efforts? Schedule your consultation with The Equity Equation today – https://theequityequationllc.com/dei-consultation/
Resources for Accessibility, Disability, and Inclusion:
DEI after 5 with Sacha Thompson and Sheri Byrne-Haber
The Valuable 500
Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
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