3 Fearless Habits of Every Accessibility-Inclusive Business
What is accessibility, really?
Is it a website a blind person can use?
Is it a building a person who uses a wheelchair can get into?
Most people imagine ramps, designated parking spaces, and toilets.
But becoming accessibility-inclusive would unlock enormous possibilities for your business, wouldn’t it? Discovering untapped potential. Building a strong empathetic workplace. Improving and expanding your consumer market. Sounds good, right? But how? Here are 3 fearless practices every innovative accessibility-inclusive business has adopted.
1. Refresh your business think tank
Imagine you're a blind person approaching a heavy intersection with no tactile surface. Infuriating, isn’t it?
You could end up playing the waiting game. You know, the game where you wait for someone to walk by and ask for help. It would help you practice patience and sharpen your math skills because you might spend all day calculating how far you’d get if a friendly person ‘walked by right now.’
But for now, let’s focus on this gigantic limitation of access.
Why does this happen?
Do you think it's because you're blind? Or because you use a cane?
Your cane is your true right to mobility; the sidewalk is the problem.
This is pretty straightforward, right?
Then why do you experience this problem?
Because the world sees your disability as a problem to overcome.
The world sees you as a problem. Sigh.
But, you aren't a problem to overcome, are you?
You're a vibrant, remarkable person.
Accessibility should be about fairness.
Accessibility should buzz responsibility in identifying and responding to the environment you live in whatever your abilities or circumstances are.
And you know what? The business world should understand the difference between what is equal and what is fair.
So what’s the answer?
Take proactive steps and hire people with disabilities.
Build a robust recruitment channel by engaging with groups that support people with disabilities.
Start promoting a disability-inclusive work environment, educate and encourage empathy for people with disabilities in the workplace.
This leads us to the next practice.
Recognise the sneaky difference between equal and fair
Here's a quick example illustrated magnificently by Angus Maguire at the Centre for Story-Based Strategy
Do you see three people of equal size watching a baseball game and standing on boxes in the first image?
Notice how the third person can't see over the fence, even with equal access?
Because the reason for in-access has nothing to do with his height, but everything to do with the fence.
Now check out the second image.
It shows how the first person doesn't need a box to see over the fence, the second needs one box, and the third needs two boxes.
This is equity.
Equity means you have equal access to your environment based on the conditions of in-access.
Accessibility means understanding the specific conditions of in-access a disabled person has to deal with.
Get it? Good. But hang on a minute. Why does this happen?
Lack of knowledge, understanding, and outdated attitudes of people are some good reasons that come to mind.
You see, most of our world is designed with non-disabled people in mind.
And, I won’t lie to you, accessibility is a broad, hard-to-swallow topic that often requires specialist knowledge. For people coming to it for the first time, it can be overwhelming.
Without guidance, many businesses don’t know where to start. And, until recently there haven’t been many matter-of-fact, real-world sources for businesses to get their hands on so they can become disability-inclusive businesses.
So what’s the answer?
How can your business go about it?
First off, start seeing the fence as the problem and try removing it. Realise accessibility is about particular people, doing specific things, in identifiable ways.
These organisations exist to support your business in educating your staff, creating an inclusive working environment, and helping you meet the needs of your disabled customers.
To top it off, try to increase awareness of the different ways disabled people can access, understand, and interact within your business. And, let them know you lead the way in disability inclusion in the workforce.
3. Discover the X-factor of your disabled clients
Do you think the perfect user exists?
I didn’t think so. And yet services are designed with the perfect user in mind. But here’s the tricky part. People’s abilities to function are as diverse and changeable as a breath of fresh air. Let me explain what I mean. While my friend Petra was born blind, my grandmother was a wheelchair user for the last 12 years of her life, and my autistic student, Till, has a quiet space where he can recharge during class. Think about it. You can be born with a disability, or injury and illness can cause a disability but, learning, attention, mental health, and chronic pain are also disabilities. Neurodivergent disabilities leave people hiding in the shadows, plagued by stigma because the world doesn’t believe they exist.
And, here’s the interesting part. Only 17% of disabled people in the UK are born with their disabilities based on the Institute for Public Policy Research for disabled people.
That’s right. So, while some disabilities are obvious or have obvious physical characteristics, most don’t.
Not only that, but you might not realise a family member could be living with progressive hearing or vision loss that he might be afraid to acknowledge. Heck, your coworker could be struggling with depression, anxiety, or chronic pain and feel isolated because people around him judge and ridicule. For the first time it dawns on you — the likelihood of multiple disabilities can also increase with age. Scary, isn't it? Did you know 1 in 4 disabled people have two impairments and 1 in 10 have three or more? That's right. Here's another way to think about it.
Can you hear good when you're in a noisy room? Can you see well in bright sunlight?
I thought so.
And one more cold, hard truth.
Just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire.
That’s when it hit me.
Businesses need to deliver services devoted to the unique abilities people have and not with the perfect user in mind.
The truth about disability-inclusive businesses
A disability-inclusive business is not about the website a blind person can access.
It’s not about the building a person who uses a wheelchair can get into.
It’s not even about the ramps, the designated parking spaces or the accessible toilets.
Bonafide disability-inclusive businesses are devoted to the unique abilities disabled people have. Systematically. Reliably. That’s how they become the best accessible and inclusive employers. And, open the door to a whole new customer experience. `