In This Blog: disability inclusion is possible for everyone in every business with every level of impairment. Here we will dispel the myth that it is not possible
The Cambridge Dictionary defines inclusion as:
“the idea that everyone should be able to use the same facilities, take part in the same activities, and enjoy the same experiences, including people who have a disability or other disadvantage”
We’ll revisit the idea that disability is a disadvantage in another article. Although the definition is clear, many people are still pondering how to include everyone in an activity/event. If you have read this article you may have some ideas. But, is it possible? What do you think? How, when disability is so varied and unique to the individual is it possible to be inclusive of everyone?
I think we need to start with tackling the assumption that we need to do all the work ourselves to ensure disability inclusion. Yes, as the event host/employer/responsible party, we need to take ownership and initiative over ensuring everyone feels included. However, this does not necessarily mean that we have to have all the answers. After all, if everybody is unique, how is that even possible? Unless you are a mind reader.
Is disability inclusion another form of exclusion?
I have heard people say to me “well in order to be inclusive we are actually excluding others”. This is really not the case. To use a fairly obvious and popular example: if there was a ramp up to a building instead of a flight of stairs, it does not mean that non-disabled people cannot get to the top. However, it does mean that a wheelchair user will be able to get to the top. The same principle applies to what we are talking about here. If you make it inclusive for the majority, the people who do not need the extra thought will still successfully be able to manage.
Ensuring disability inclusion takes a little bit of research and preparation. In the case of an online event, you cannot expect that every single one of your participants attending will not need any extra support or any adjustments made to the style of your presentation. After all, many disabilities are hidden and undisclosed. It does not necessarily have to be difficult; for example, somebody with ADHD may struggle to concentrate in a webinar lasting longer than one hour. Therefore, adding in a few extra breaks, a few activities to break up the session would support that specific participant to successfully participate and engage.
Recently, I discovered on PowerPoint, on the slideshow, you can turn on automatic closed captions. This means that participants with a hearing impairment will be able to follow along and understand what is being said.
Those are just a couple of examples of how you can ensure the majority of participants can engage in your event. However, returning to what I was saying earlier, there are ways to encourage your participants to tell you their access requirements.
Wait for it: Ask them! Yes, it really is that simple. By asking the question, you are hearing from people themselves about the support they need to engage and participate. You’ll need to do some groundwork in order to encourage people to feel confident about telling you. You need to show that you are genuine. There are many ways to do this and they do not have to be time-consuming or expensive. A simple statement when asking the question will go a long way to support people to understand why you are doing what you’re doing.
Oh no wait, it’s that terminology barrier again. The fear of offending a disabled person by asking the question in the wrong way often prevents people from opening a dialogue. Don’t worry, you don’t have to ask about somebody’s disability to find out if they have any access requirements. A simple question is:
“Do you have any access requirements you would like me to be aware of?”
However, how can the individual answer the question if they don’t know what is going to be happening? It would be like me saying to you: how should I grow my audience? You will need some context to answer the question; who I am? What’s my business? What’s the product/service that I am trying to sell? Which market am I trying to sell in? What is the target demographic? And so on and so forth.
Offering context is beneficial
Whilst inclusivity and accessibility are not necessarily the same thing, they are not always exclusive either. As a wheelchair user, if someone asks me about my access requirements, I need to know if the building has step free accessibility before answering the question. If the building does not have step free access, I cannot be 100% included. Offering your potential participants some context will go a long way to helping them answer the question. Explain what you were going to be doing, how long you’re going to be doing it for, if it is a live venue, the venue. Any breaks, essentially the more information you can offer an individual about what will be happening, the more they will be able to answer your question about any support they may need.
Where and at what stage are you going to ask the question? You can ask this question at many stages in the participants journey to your event:
- At registration
- In follow-up, confirmation emails/conversations
- Wherever you are promoting your event – alongside the information of the event, you can have some information about accessibility and inclusion. This could include contact information of the team/person that can be contacted for support or more information
- Following the event – many organisations (including my own) ask for feedback. This is a great opportunity to ask about the inclusiveness of the event. You could ask as a general question to all your audience members but also you could ask a specific question to people who benefited from your event’s inclusiveness. Once again, without asking about a person’s disability, you could ask a question similar to the one above. If the participant answers “yes”, they can be redirected to a couple more questions. These questions could ask about their experience; how they found the general information, how they found the communication, how they found the event to be inclusive.
After gathering all of this information, don’t throw it away, return to it and analyse the data. What could you improve on next time? What are your learnings? What went well?
If you don’t see any results first time, this does not mean that this was not a success or that it was unnecessary. If customers and employees are not used to seeing these kinds of questions or actions from you, it may take a while for the trust to settle in. It may also mean that because of the effort you put in at the beginning, there was no need for anyone to come forward. However, the more you practice the above, the more people will approach you and give you feedback.
Celebrating Disability Best Practice
Below are the Celebrating Disability best practice guidelines that are utilise when hosting any event to ensure inclusion:
- Access requirement questions in registration
- Proof of genuineness and authenticity (on the Celebrating Disability website) – it’s not always about what you say, it’s what you do
- Pre-event questionnaire – an opportunity for participants to tell me anonymously about any access requirements they may have
- Describing and reading content on all slides and material presented
- Inclusion questions in survey
Is there anything else that I’m missing that you are doing to be inclusive in your events? Share them in the comments.
Esi (pronounced SE) 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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