U.S. workplaces continue to see an increase in diversification. A 2019 Washington Post analysis found that for the first time in the nation’s history, people of color made up the majority of new hires. And as many as 4.5% of the nation’s population now identify as LGBT.
These increases have spurred organizational shifts in many organizations, such as a substantial increase in the number of chief diversity officer appointments. They’ve also driven the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training to promote education, awareness, and empathy on these issues in the workplace.
However, DEI programs consistently neglect disability in their training regiment, either leaving the topic out entirely or simply mentioning it in passing without ever offering any actual insight. This is even though 15% of the world population lives with some sort of physical impairment.
So, how can companies foster inclusive environments for those with disabilities?
The Conversation Begins with Accessibility
Web accessibility is the next frontier of the civil rights movement and perhaps the most explicit form of inequality in the U.S. today.
Many diversity and civil rights issues have been won over the last 60 years, including the Civil Rights Act, The Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court’s 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized gay marriage, and a 2020 decision by the High Court that clarifies the Civil Rights Act as including gender identity.
Despite all these victories, the right of the disabled community to have equal and inclusive access to online resources is still a matter of debate.
As the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, the law was unable to account for the unprecedented shift in the quality of life to include internet access. Thus, the responsibility of businesses to provide adequate digital accessibility on their website is still ambiguous under Title III of the ADA.
Web accessibility has been fiercely fought through the courts over the past 20 years, and there has been a continual flux of progress and setbacks.
Despite issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Title II and Title III in 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice has continued to fail to introduce hard regulations on web accessibility twelve years later. It appears that the final work on digital accessibility will come down to a verdict by the Supreme Court or an act of Congress to revamp the ADA.
The Unique Inclusion Challenge of Disabilities
Equal rights advocacy involving sex, race, and sexual orientation all aim at addressing prejudices and injustice social practices that disadvantage minority demographics. However, these challenges are much more complicated in regard to disability.
Disability inclusion not only requires us to address stigmas and taboos, but it is integrally dependent on the presence of and access to special accommodations.
Regardless of how people welcome and embrace people with disabilities, if there are no ramps at the entrance of a building, designated handicapped parking, Braille alternatives on signage, or adequate accessibility features on a website, then practically speaking, inclusion has not happened. In other words, DEI is incomplete until tangible barriers to equality are addressed.
Web Accessibility Is More Important Than Ever
The nexus between an organization’s physical and online services are becoming more inseparable. Soon, a corporation’s digital and capital resources will be inseparable. This continued blending brings hope that Title III of the ADA will inevitably be forced to include web accessibility.
Innovations in home broadband and LTE wireless over the last decade have meant access to digital resources has become a significant component in the quality of life standards. Online shopping, hybrid, and remote work, and information access through search engines are being baked right into the daily life of the average American.
All these factors mean an organization’s approach to digital accessibility is a premier way to foster diversity in their work and customer culture. Refusing to address accessibility issues until you’re dragged to court can disenfranchise employees and send the wrong message to current and potential customers with impairments.
Corporate decision-makers have the opportunity to encourage diversity in an unprecedented way through initiatives that establish in-company standards for disability inclusion and specialized DEI training with the disabled community.
Efforts like these will spark insightful conversations among employees and development teams, all the while displaying good faith in the organization’s leadership that it will establish and act on DEI principles even when it is not necessarily expedient for them.
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