In This Blog: although asking about somebody’s disability or a form may not be the best way to get you the answers you need, it is important you ask a very similar question. Doing so can ensure that your event is accessible and inclusive of disabled people. However, it can be difficult to know how to ask the question. So, below we look at ways to ask the question and also to create an environment where people feel comfortable to answer
Developing an inclusive service
You will hear me, along with many other disability inclusion experts talking about the importance of providing a service inclusive of disabled customers and employees. One way of ensuring access and inclusion of disabled people is by asking questions on registration forms. These questions can support you to adapt to enable a disabled person to feel included and engaged. However, asking the question in the wrong way can be detrimental to you, your business and your event in many ways:
- Bias in the engagement process. This could be the engagement process for a recruitment drive or an engagement process for a product or service. Unconscious bias held by hiring panels and decision-makers can be swayed if disability is disclosed on a form.
- Asking about disability on a form can be interpreted as a way of discriminating against a candidate in the recruitment process. If a disabled person for whatever reason is not successful in the application process, after disclosing a disability, the candidate/business could see this as a form of discrimination on the basis of disability.
- Not every person that requires support identifies themselves as having a disability. An individual may simply tick the “no” box because they do not identify themselves as a disabled person. Therefore, if you ask somebody about their disability and they say “they don’t have one”, it has been a waste of a question.
- Asking the question in the wrong way may not get you the answer that you specifically require. For example, if you ask a disabled person with a disability is, they me tell you a bit that does not mean that you will know what support they need. As an example, if I tell you I have cerebral palsy, do you know what support I require?
Essentially, at a form filling stage, we don’t need to know if a person is disabled. After all we are supplying/entertaining/hiring on someone’s merits as a qualified individual not as a characteristic. However, it is essential to know about access requirements for purposes of ensuring accessibility and inclusion.
How to ask if someone has a disability on a form:
You can simply ask:
Do you have any access requirements you would like me to be aware of?
This question can cover a multitude of options for you and for the people filling in your form. For example, access requirements do not have to be exclusive to disability; a parent with a child at nursery school may need to be at the school gate at a certain time. Therefore, their access requirements will be that they cannot attend interviews between 11 and 1.
Communicating your inclusive intensions
For disabled people, tailoring a service or experience to be inclusive and accessible can make a massive difference to how a person experiences what you are offering; it can support a person to feel valued and welcome. It will also support a person to feel confident that when asking for specific support needs, they will be greeted positively and not with the door.
Here are some elements to consider alongside asking questions about disability on a form:
Setting the scene for disabled people to feel included and to want to engage
Now we have found an appropriate alternative question that will support you to find the answers you need, we should talk about how to frame the question in order for people to feel confident to answer. Before asking the question: “Do you have any access requirements you would like us to be aware of?”, let’s consider how to set the scene:
Disabled people (or any people for that matter) are much more likely to engage with your feedback question if they know why you are asking. Otherwise, it is natural to be suspicious about what you are going to do with that information. Devote some space to communicating why are asking, what you are already doing to be accessible and inclusive and what you will do with the information you are given.
When I talk about explaining what you will do with the information, I am not just referring to GDPR. Although this is very important, I am referring to insuring the recipient of the form understands how are you will use the information to support them to have a better experience. People are more likely to answer honestly if they understand why the question is being asked.
In lockdown, I hosted a series of webinars for the general public. A paragraph explained how the webinar was inclusive, why the question about access was being asked and what would be done with the information gathered. The screenshot below shows details within the section.
Asking the question
So many people are nervous about asking the question. It may be to do with a fear of the answer – but really, what can the worst scenario be? As a disabled person, I do not sit around at home thinking “how can I make this business’ life more difficult?” Many disabled people have already found ways to manage a disability. Therefore, the access requirements that we require are either free to implement or something that should be pre-existing in the first place (for example, an accessible toilet)
Others don’t ask the question as they conclude if nobody has complained in the past, there is no need to ask now. The reason why nobody has complained in the past is that they do not know that there is support available. They may have simply gone somewhere else.
Not every disabled person knows exactly what they will need to feel truly included in the process. This may be because they don’t know what is going to happen when they get there or it may be because they don’t know what support may be available to them. This is where you can fill in the gaps.
Start by explaining what is going to happen and what they will need to do. This might be the process of an interview they will be attending, or an event they are coming to. The more information you can offer, the more informed the person can be about the possible support they may need.
Offer a list of suggested support. This helps disabled people who need more support and encouragement to ask. This will also reinforce the message that you are inclusive and want to value and welcome disabled people into your business.
By offering alternative solutions to completing an online form, you can ensure that you are not excluding anyone. You may consider offering a downloadable Word document or a contact number. This contact number should connect the person with an employee who can support somebody to complete the form. Ensure the person is equipped with the information they will need.
Engage with the response
When you ask a question (any question) you should have a strategy for dealing with a response. What is your process for implementing that reasonable adjustment your audience attendee has requested? At the very least, you should be reaching out to that individual to thank them for getting in touch. Explain what the next steps in the process are – if there are any.
If you do not know how to implement the support the individual has asked for, be honest, say that! You can collaborate with that individual to find a solution that works for them within your budget and/or limitations. If after discussion, you find it is something you cannot implement, have that discussion with the disabled person. Explain why it is not possible and what alternative you have in mind.
After your event, follow up with all your guests by asking them about how they found your event in terms of inclusion and accessibility. As before, ask if anyone had any access requirements when attending. All the people who answer yes, you can ask follow-up questions about how they found the experience. Use this knowledge to improve and develop your service for the future.
If nothing else, the most important thing to take from this blog is confidence. Too many people don’t engage in the conversation for fear of getting it wrong. It is better to get it wrong and to ask how to correct it than to not ask in the first place.
Esi (rhymes with messy) set up Celebrating Disability in 2017; offering training, consulting and auditing to support businesses attract, engage and retain disabled people. Having the opportunity to support businesses to see the wealth of benefits that disabled people can bring to business, either as customers or employees is a privilege. She is passionate about disability equality and inclusion and loves nothing more than that “Ah ha” moment with a client when they see what disability equality and inclusion can do for them.
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