As with other aspects of DEI, making real and sustainable progress on disability inclusion requires C-suite and peer-to-peer support. It also needs procurement changes to provide equity by choosing products and services that are accessible.
“It takes leadership for organization to make the market change, as well as individual advocates,” said Samantha Evans, CAE, certification manager at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.
For example, organizations need to stipulate with vendors up front, starting with the RFP process, that their commitment to disability means they will only proceed, renew, or engage going forward with accessible vendors. Then, that market will have an incentive to change to keep their customers and attract new ones.
Talking about accessibility often hits roadblocks because people get uncomfortable, and they don’t respond because they don’t know what to say. Then they feel guilty. “People center their reaction to the way they feel, instead of realizing this is an opportunity to change and make progress,” Evans said. The important thing to remember is, the goal isn’t to make everything 100 percent accessible. “It’s progress, not perfection,” Evans said.
Change begins by taking small steps. That starts with understanding how people with different types of disabilities experience the world, with compliance being the bare minimum. For example, not everyone who is deaf uses sign language, not everyone who is hard of hearing has a hearing aid, and not everyone who is deaf wants captions over sign language.
It’s essential to understand the communication preferences for people with disabilities because it’s easier to meet when you know what the need is. “We often hear about accommodations, but accommodations are a transaction, not a disability,” Evans said. “Accommodations are what happen when we don’t build an inclusive and accessible environment.”