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16.08.2022 By Sena Pottackal, Junior Associate and Rebecca K. Roussell, SVP, DEI Communications

#WeAreIn: Reflections from the Disability:IN Conference.

Sena Pottackal stood by a poster for the event. She is holding a white cane as used by people with visual impairment.

We recently attended the 2022 Disability:IN Global Conference and Expo. This event is held annually during Disability Pride Month in July and empowers over 400 leading companies to achieve disability inclusion and equality. This hybrid event gathered 4,000 disability champions from 32 countries. It was an enlightening experience for both of us. Here are a few key takeaways.

What we learned about accessibility.

Throughout the conference, speakers emphasized the need for accessibility consideration to be at the heart of everything brands and corporations do. During a fireside chat, Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin called for a change in the term DEI, suggesting that an ‘A’ be added to create DEIA: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. Without accessibility, we cannot honestly say we have diversity, equity, or inclusion.

As we strive to advance accessibility, we must make sure we are all starting from the same place. We must begin our accessibility journey by not only talking to people with disabilities but including them in decision making conversations. We must embrace the mantra of the disability community, “nothing for us without us.” By doing so, their lived experiences will help us recognize exclusions and intentionally develop solutions to facilitate more inclusive environments. Consequently, it is imperative that organizations hire people with disabilities, ensuring that their seat at the table is recognized, so they can credibly be part of the change and advance accessibility solutions from start to finish.

What we learned about recruitment.

A panel on “Global Recruiting for Talent with Disabilities with Cultural Issues in Mind” emphasized the need for remote work options, which remove transportation barriers, facilitate disability-friendly workplaces, minimize sensory overload, increase access, and much more. To help people in their pursuit for professional opportunities, we can add language to job postings to clearly communicate that a role is remote.

In our post-pandemic world, we are now much better equipped to evaluate how we can modify roles to support remote work, and these assessments could lead to the creation of more, richer opportunities and the standardization of virtual employment options for a much more inclusive workforce.

We also learned about returnships, a type of internship, when an attendee inquired about resources to help disabled workers rejoin the workforce after an employment gap. Bettina Thompson, a project manager at Amazon, recommended researching returnships, which were originally developed to support full-time mothers returning to the workforce after a period looking after children. These opportunities often offer pay and benefits for experienced professionals returning to work after acclimating to a disability, pursuing treatment for a chronic illness, serving as a caregiver for a loved one, etc. They usually last between a few weeks to a few months and provide training and mentorship to help sharpen skills and develop new ones. In addition to obvious benefits to the job seekers, companies also benefit. Returnships support the recruitment function by expanding the talent pool and providing access to unconventional middle and senior level candidates with diverse backgrounds.

What we learned about event planning.

When planning a disability-inclusive event, we must prioritize accessibility. A speaker from “The Road Map to Accessible Events” panel said selecting a physical location is often one of the first steps for event organizers. He encouraged event planners to first identify an accessible city before selecting a particular convention center or hotel as the venue. State travel bureaus are a reliable source of assistance with locating these cities. He acknowledged event organizers frequently exclusively address wheelchair access but should expand their accessibility scope to include other disabilities too.

The Disability:IN conference made a commendable effort to make the event experience accessible for attendees of all abilities. During the online registration process, individuals were prompted to disclose their disability and accessibility needs. Each session was started with an accessibility check and a call for accessibility needs by the moderator. To support deaf and hard of hearing attendees, sign language interpreters were provided as well as Communication Access Realtime Transcription (CART) service for all sessions. The event also implemented many accommodations to support blind and partially sighted individuals. It was not perfect (it is always a learning curve, let’s be honest), but as someone who is visually impaired [Sena], it was an excellent attempt.

What Sena shared about accessible and inclusive communications.

Having completed the Disability:IN NextGen Leaders program in 2021 – a mentorship program for college students and recent graduates with a disability – Sena was invited to speak on the “Practical Guidance for Accessible and Inclusive Marketing and Communications” panel, joined by Jill Kramer, Chief Communications Officer at Accenture, and John Pluhowski, Senior Vice President, Chief of Communications at TD Bank. Ron Pettit, Director, Disability Inclusion and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Compliance, with Royal Caribbean, moderated the discussion. The panel provided diverse disability-related perspectives from each participant’s various lived experiences: Jill is the child of a parent with a disability; John is the parent of a child with a disability; and Ron and Sena are both people with disabilities.

Reflecting on this experience, I feel immense gratitude. It was a privilege to share the stage with these titans in the accessible communications space, and I appreciated the 200 attendees who chose to invest their time to learn how and why we must make our communications accessible for all.

We discussed training teams about accessible communications, practices for creating accessible social media content, and guidelines for creating accessible digital assets. I highlighted information from Current Global’s own research report and the free accessible communications guidelines we produced for the industry. I was delighted to hear one of the audience members mention that she and her team were taking Current Global’s Accessible by Design 21 Day Challenge to learn the fundamentals of accessible communications. How great to hear about the impact of our work!

Participating on this panel gave me an invaluable sense of community and confirmation that we are truly on this accessible communications journey together – and making a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

Over the course of three days, it is fair to say that we both grew as DEIA professionals by exposing ourselves to the thoughts and lived experiences of other disability, inclusion, and accessibility champions. But we have so much more to learn and so much more to do to achieve true disability inclusion and accessibility. And we understand that the best way to achieve our shared mission for a truly disability inclusive and accessible world is through intentional and proactive collaboration.

As you work to create accessible communications in your own organization, know that at Current Global is here to support you throughout your journey. You can access all the resources mentioned in this blogpost at accessible-communications.com. To connect and collaborate, email us at hello@currentglobal.com.

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