At Perkins, we believe we can build a world where people with disabilities can not only participate, but make life-changing contributions. In fact, we witness it every day. From a professional pianist who graduated from our Deafblind School, to a recent graduate and aspiring motivational speaker looking to teach kids about suicide prevention, we witness the power of inclusion every day among our students and alumni.
While we know many people with disabilities can do anything, many non-disabled people aren’t aware of the barriers and stereotypes that prevent people with disabilities from participating in their communities.
Together, we have the power to change that. Change is incremental and takes time, but when we work together, start small, and think big, we can create opportunities for millions of people with disabilities. Here are some of the small but meaningful ways you can foster disability inclusion in the workplace, the classroom and at home.
Disability inclusion in: The workplace
The data and research proving the benefits of inclusion at work is overwhelming. Not only does it boost business outcomes, productivity and innovation, it’s also the right thing to do. The U.S. population is richly diverse, with approximately 61 million Americans having a disability. Yet, disability and accessibility are often left out of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) initiatives and conversations.
Disability is diversity.
When you boil down the statistics, it comes down to 1 in 4 people with a disability, or a quarter of the population. Our newly open dialogue around issues like race, equality and mental health, has also highlighted that many disabilities are actually invisible. For too long, these topics have been taboo in the workplace and workers have been silent out of fear of retaliation or alienation. Workplace DEI initiatives have begun to change that, and organizations are beginning to believe they can reverse the course.
Creating a more inclusive workplace is no easy feat — there is work that has to be done. Here are the three most important steps to take if you believe in creating a workplace that includes and embraces people with disabilities.
Fostering disability inclusion at work:
- Leaders, talk to your employees and assess the current state of your workplace. Before you start rolling out initiatives and changing policies, take time to understand where your company or team is at and make sure you, together, have a clear goal for where you’ want to go. The biggest part of this is being willing to have the conversation with your staff, no matter how difficult it might be.
- Be an ally for people with disabilities. Start by doing your own research to understand the community and what real inclusion looks like in the workplace. Remember that it takes time and practice, but the research and learning will set you up for success.
- Prioritize accessibility at work. From the tools at work and the physical space, to digital experiences and marketing, true inclusion takes commitment. And that commitment starts with accessibility. Are your customers, clients, partners and employees able to fully access and enjoy your product, experiences, communications or space? There are many services available to help you find out, including our team at Perkins Access.
When you foster disability inclusion at work, you’re showing your colleagues that they matter. You’re showing your customers, consumers or partners that everyone’s experience matters. And you’re showing that the human experience, as wonderful and hard as it can be, is just that — human.
Disability inclusion in the classroom
When disability inclusion is practiced and promoted in the classroom, all students can benefit. Inclusive classrooms are welcoming and supportive of diverse needs, experiences and points of view. They also strengthen connections between students, and their ability to work together and value each other’s differences.
We’ve seen first-hand that every child can learn and successfully contribute to their community when given the right support. While that support comes from families, teachers, schools and governments, it must also come from their peers.
Our teachers know that when students are exposed to real-life experiences, assistive devices and specific accommodations, they are able to better understand true diversity. If you’re a teacher looking to foster disability inclusion for your classroom, here are three ways how to get started.
Fostering disability inclusion in the classroom:
- Introduce inclusion in a way your students understand. There are different ways to approach it based on your students’ age group. For example, one of our itinerant teachers uses band-aids to show representation, by asking the student “Do you need a band-aid?” for various ailments like a cut, stomach ache or headache. By presenting different scenarios that may or may not be remedied by a bandaid, the student grasps the general concept that people need different tools to help them. That simple model shows that there are things they may not need at the time, but others do. You can mimic that approach using glasses, a white cane or wheelchair, too.
- Include books that incorporate people with disabilities. But, don’t call attention to it. Having students read these different narratives and points of view on their own makes it more natural for open dialogue. Perkins Library curates a list of “Recommended Reads” each month, such as this Disability & America reading list for more advanced students interested in history. The library also has a monthly PerKids newsletter that highlights kid-friendly books, activities and more that are all accessible.
- Give opportunities for conversation and self-advocacy. Invite speakers who specialize in disability awareness and inclusion into your class to have a conversation with your students. You can also give students with disabilities the opportunity to speak to the class about it, if they are comfortable and have expressed interest in doing so. Moments where individuals with disabilities can share their perspectives on what it means to have a disability, what helps them, or what their experience looks like can make it a little more real. Plus, if students make those connections with their peers, it’ll be easier for them to understand. It’s never too early or too late to start those conversations.
Disability inclusion in the home
Inclusion and creating awareness of disabilities can start anywhere, but it often starts at home. Family members and guardians can play a powerful role in promoting acceptance and respect in their household. Children often look up to adults as role models.
As a parent or guardian, you have the power to help change that. We know it can be daunting to talk to your child about sensitive issues like disabilities, so here are some ideas to help you get started. Start in our resource library and talk to your child’s teacher for helpful tips. From there, you can start to implement the three quick tips below.
Fostering disability inclusion at home:
- Get your child out in the community. Whether your child has a disability or not, it’s important for kids to experience different situations, types of people and activities. Consider visiting your local library and explore the braille books section. Take note with your child about things you find inaccessible in your neighborhood, but in a way that shows how it’d be beneficial for everyone.
- Remember that it’s okay for your child to wonder. Every child has questions about others, but remind them that it’s not okay to talk behind peoples’ backs. If your child asks you a question about their peer’s disability, Emily Cantillon, one of our TVIs (teacher of the blind and visually impaired), recommends responding with “That’s a good question, why don’t you go ask them and be their friend? They might have questions for you as well.” “This shows them that it’s okay to create those relationships, introduces them to inclusion, and fosters respect for others,” Cantillon said.
- Talk to your child’s teacher and make sure you’re aligned. Figure out what teaching methods or concepts are working for your child around disability inclusion and learn how you can mimic that at home. As part of your child’s education team, you can always ask specific questions or request tips for continuing the lessons at home. This also creates a communication flow to make sure you’re on the same page.
Fostering disability inclusion doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking — and any step you take, big or small, has the power to reverberate within our communities. When it comes down to it, it all starts with having that conversation. Join us, and help us create a more accepting and accessible world for all.
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