25 simple ways we can all be more disability-inclusive

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[Image description: Two hands with fingers close together on a book, opened to a white page filled with text in Braille.]

Hi everyone, before I launch into today’s topic, two announcements. First, I’m co-authoring a book about how we can reset the funder/grantee relationship to minimize power dynamics and allow us all to be more effective at our work and less likely to curl into the fetal position under our desks, rocking and weeping to 80s rock ballads. I’m writing it with Jane Leu and Jessamyn Shams-Lau, and we’re trying to raise $9,600 on Kickstarter by the end of this month. Please pitch in $5, $20, $50, or…$9,600. You’ll get cool prizes such as getting your name in the book for a donation of $5. For $50, you get a t-shirt and the book. For $200, you’ll also get a hand-made unicorn. For $9,600, I will personally fly to your office anywhere in the US and put on a puppet show about the horrors of restricted funding.

Second, last month I issued the #OpEdChallenge, which is simple: Write an op-ed related to your mission and get it published before the end of 2016. We nonprofits must be more vocal, especially in light of the political climate. Some colleagues are actually taking on this challenge! Look: “Seattle must address root causes of racial disparities.” And “Stand with your Muslim neighbors and fight bigotry.” You are awesome. If you’ve successfully taken this challenge, please let me know. Your op-ed may get mentioned here.

***

I have not written much on NWB about disability. Mainly because I am not an expert on it, and I’m afraid that I’ll make serious mistakes and cause offense. The world is complex, and there are so many ways for us to screw up. I’ve done it at least once already while researching for this post. I asked the NWB Facebook community for tips, writing “Please send in things we should all be aware of, and any pet peeves you have, especially if you work with individuals with disabilities or have a disability.”

This prompted a very patient colleague to write, “We typically don’t ask for feedback from ‘people who work with women or if you happen to be a woman’ or ‘people who work with gays or if you are gay,’ but it happens a lot in disability-world. I think that is something all of us unicorns might examine a bit (our unconscious assumptions of agency and voice of the disability community).”

All of us make mistakes, even when we mean well. But if we are to achieve equity, we must all do our part to address injustice in its various forms, and be willing to stumble, learn, and improve. We all need to do better for our community members with disabilities. Because it is intrinsically the right, the equitable thing to do. But also because it is in our own best interests to create a community that is accessible and inclusive to individuals with disabilities, because any of us and the people we love, with age or with life events, may now or in the future have a disability.

So please consider this post a tentative first step for me to increase my awareness and to be a better ally. I’ll probably screw up a few more times. This is certainly not a comprehensive post; disability is complex and varied, and deserves more coverage than just one post. These tips below (most of them simple), contributed by the NWB Facebook community—direct comments are in quotes—are actions all of us in the sector can take right away that may be helpful to our colleagues and clients with disabilities.

  1. Make sure you include people with disabilities in the planning if you are working on projects regarding disability. A motto of the disability rights movement is “Nothing about us without us.” Take it seriously.
  2. Be aware that many disabilities are invisible. “I know a few people who have a brain injury from a car accident. Because it is not visible or obvious, people don’t understand the limitations it causes.They often ask “well what’s wrong with her? She doesn’t look sick” or are questioned when requiring extra breaks or shortened work hours regardless of doctors’ advice.”
  3. Speak and consult directly with the people with disabilities. They may have their families, friends, interpreters, or caregivers with them, and it is so easy to turn to the helpers and address them instead. Some of us may not even realize that we’re doing that. But it is demoralizing and makes people feel invisible.
  4. Knock it off with “Must be able to lift 50 pounds” on job postings if it’s not essential to the job. Says a colleague, “In my entire 15+ year career in the non-profit world, there has literally never been an instance where I could not ask another person for help, or use an assistive device.”
  5. Also stop writing “must have a car and valid driver’s license” if that is not essential either. “Think about whether a ‘valid driver’s license’ is REALLY a requirement for a job or volunteer position before posting it — or are you unintentionally excluding someone who is perfectly capable of coming up with alternative transportation in order to do the job?”
  6. Be aware of stigmatizing language. Even the most aware of us still thoughtlessly use “lame,” “crazy,” “morons,” “insane,” “OCD,” “schizophrenic,” etc. Saying things like “I have ADHD” when you really don’t, trivializes these serious conditions. Here’s a great article to read: “10 Answers to Common Questions People Ask When Being Called Out for Using Ableist Language.”
  7. Make sure all your events and meetings are accessible, including the physical space, as well as how to get there, and technology and services such as ASL interpretation and real-time captioning. “Always consider how people will get to the location, give plenty of notice, and offer assistance with transportation if possible. Some people with mobility concerns have very complicated commutes and it can be a juggling act to make sure everything happens when it needs to.” Here’s a quick checklist to make your event more accessible.
  8. Think about the layout of your events. Is there enough room between tables for people using wheelchairs, for example? “We’re often quick to ensure that people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices are able to attend events—or at least that’s my hope. What if they were presenting, though? Is there a stage that is only accessible by climbing stairs, or a podium that wouldn’t work for someone remaining seated?”
  9. Create an environment and culture that allows employees or volunteers to ask for accommodations. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to ask and also to be asked, so take away as much discomfort as possible by using inclusive, positive language and thinking ahead of what might be needed. Understand that a disability (visible or not) may sometimes interfere with job performance and allow the employee to know this is okay.”
  10. Be thoughtful when planning for fires, earthquakes, and other emergencies. “Everything from a basic fire drill to an active shooter/violent intruder. Do not assume the same plan options work for everyone, or that someone will help. Help folks identify a buddy if necessary, as well as a backup. ASK people with disabilities how others can help!”
  11. Respect wheelchairs and service animals. “The wheelchair is an extension of the person. Don’t lean on the chair or try to move it out of your way; that it is rude. Don’t look down on a person in a wheelchair; get to eye level even if that means you need to sit in a chair to have a conversation. If the person uses a service dog please, please, please don’t reach out and pet it…Don’t tell the person you wish you could bring your dog everywhere! The service dog is there to assist the person and help the person live more independently, not cuddle and play fetch with.”
  12. Provide captions for all your photos and videos, no matter the intended audience. We use a lot of videos in this sector, but most of them are not captioned. Photos may have captions, but it’s even better to describe the pictures in detail so people who use screen readers can know how awesome that 80’s-themed fundraising auction was. Here’s a helpful guide on how to write descriptive captions for your photos. 
  13. Pay attention to font size. “10 pt Arial isn’t very readable to those with visual challenges!” Having contrasting backgrounds is great too.
  14. Use plain language. “I am the sole paid staff for a nonprofit run by people who have been labeled with developmental disabilities. One important thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the importance of plain language. Forms, documents, etc. should all be simple and easy to understand.” That’s also just effective all-around. Way-too-academic language can be generally off-putting to donors, clients, and volunteers.
  15. Redefine “professionalism.” The appearance of ‘Professionalism’ is often a struggle for those with sensory processing disorders, executive dysfunction, etc. Meetings and presentations are often geared towards folks who can pay attention or sit still for long periods of time, ‘distractions’ like phones or fidgeting are often perceived as boredom or childishness, but in reality can be coping mechanisms that have been misinterpreted. As someone with executive dysfunction stuff, I know that I process conversations/lectures better when I am physically focused on something else (mini slinky in my pocket, mindless phone game open, a zipper I can mess with), and while that may be fine in smaller meetings, in more formal meetings I often feel the pressure to sit still and make eye contact with the presenter, which actually makes it impossible for me to focus.”
  16. Assume competence and intelligence. “Use respectful language and tone of voice that you would use with anyone else. People with extreme cognitive delays will still be able to recognize condescension and placating in your voice.”
  17. Be aware of icebreakers and activities that require movement. Asking people to catch things, to quickly trade places, to stand up to be recognized, etc. “At fundraisers, don’t ask people to stand up as a way of showing that they are donating a certain amount. A sign should do.” Or at least modify the language to acknowledge that some people may not be able to stand up.
  18. Be aware of well-meaning-but-irritating comments. Don’t say “Get better soon.” It may not be the case for everyone to “get better.” “I have autism. Sick of hearing I don’t look or act like I have autism. What does that mean? It’s a spectrum. We’re not all Rain man or that annoying guy on Big Bang Theory. We DO feel empathy. We feel deeply. We just don’t know how to show it. My struggles are internal. Every time I have to make a phone call it takes tremendous energy.” (On a tangential note: I agree, Sheldon is so irritating!!)
  19. Don’t use deficit language. “Handicapped” is offensive to many, and many of us still use phrases like “wheelchair-bound” or “constricted/confined to a wheelchair.” The alternative may be “so-and-so uses a wheelchair” or “people who use wheelchairs” or maybe “wheelchair-enabled.” Don’t say anyone “suffers” from or is “afflicted with” or is a “victim of” a disability.
  20. Don’t touch people without asking. “My hands, legs and voice shakes, some days worse than others. Well-meaning folks assume and verbalize all sorts of things including ‘don’t be nervous,’ ‘have more confidence,’ ‘are you ok’ as they grab my hands. Please don’t touch others without permission.” 
  21. Don’t assume anything. “Just because I ask you to repeat yourself it doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. Inability to concentrate may be a symptom.If I get up to pace while you are speaking, during a conference or education session, it’s not you, it’s me. My joints won’t let me sit too long. I’ll sit in the back if I can, but be aware it could happen. I will probably not eat any of that cake/brownies/kolacki/rugelach you brought in. Oh how I wish I could. Please don’t pressure me to try some.”
  22. Be flexible with time and locations. “Many people with disabilities require more time to get ready and to travel from one location to another, for example. An 9am meeting or interview may mean they have to get up at 6am.”
  23. Maybe retire “What do you do?” “For people without disabilities, it’s an easy icebreaker. For people with disabilities that make it hard for them to find work, it can make them feel like they have to justify themselves (and potentially endure invasive questions about their disability and health). You can ask so many other things: What neighborhood do you live in? How do you know (party’s host)? What’s your favorite kind of hummus?”
  24. Ensure everyone on your board and staff is trained on disability. Many of us get training on other equity issues, but disability often gets overlooked. Even though many disabilities are invisible, many of us unconsciously assume that people don’t have a disability unless it’s visible, so we don’t plan and budget for training unless a person with a visible disability is on our team. Let’s all get more training, period.
  25. In the meanwhile, we all need to read and reflect more. There are tons of great resources out there. Here are a few that I am reading, recommended by colleagues:

Thanks everyone. For helping me to become a better, more aware person. And for helping to make our community accessible and inclusive. Please provide additional advice, or feedback, in the comments.

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  • Jessica W

    I want to back your Kickstarter project but the $50 pledge level (hard copy book, t-shirt, etc.) doesn’t ship outside the US. Also, would you consider creating a pledge level just for the hard copy book? Thanks!

    • Elyse Jordan

      Hi Jessica- this is a great idea- we will work on a pledge level that will accommodate international shipping and update you once it’s added. Thanks!

  • Amanda K

    These points are so important for ALL PEOPLE – not just those with disabilities. Captions, font size, and simple language help everyone (you will never hear someone complaining they can read /understand your information too well). Don’t touch anyone without permission – YES. This should just be part of basic politeness. I also completely agree that we should avoid asking people “what do you do?” What does that even mean? I do lots of things! I get paid for non-profit work but I’m also a mom, make art, garden, etc. My go to alternative: “How do you spend your time?” or “What do you enjoy doing?”

  • Joe Ostrander

    Thanks for the article. The organization that I work for, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, underwent a process to look at how our organization’s policies, procedures and culture was inclusive of individuals with disabilities. The NRCDV Access Initiative: Documenting our progress towards greater accessibility – http://www.nrcdv.org/accessinitiative/ – may be a useful tool for others.

  • Cloggie

    Also, ask people which setups work best for them. The resources above are good ways to sensitize yourself to times where accommodations or changes might be needed, but everyone is different. Just because person A has the same disability as person B, doesn’t mean that the same set-up works for both of them. No one will be an expert in every disability need, so take the pressure off yourself to get everything right every time and just ask, “Does X or Y work for you? Is there another option that would work better?”

  • Re your # 7, my first experience with a well meaning but clueless nonprofit was at an event explicitly and entirely about welcoming diversity – but they had not bothered to find out that one of their speakers was a devout Muslim woman in a wheelchair! In Toronto, the most diverse city in the world (according to the BBC.) I had arrived early, spotted the problem because I had met that woman before, and pointed out the lack of a ramp to the stage. Why do I call them clueless? Because their response was “we’ll just have the guys carry her up.” When I pointed out she wouldn’t accept being touched by strange men, the organizer FINALLY moved the panel chairs and tables to the floor. I don’t think the speaker ever knew what she would have had to deal with, right before speaking to a crowd. I am not disabled, but I urge every single attendee and organizer to do their best to see the event through the eyes of those with various disabilities, and resolve issues before they happen.

    • Cloggie

      It has been my experience that people with mobility issues generally wouldn’t want to be carried outside of an emergency situation. I can’t say that I, an able-bodied individual would like it either. Poor planning around facilities is not an emergency.

      • Karin Spirig

        I completely agree. My husband uses a wheelchair and there is nothing more degrading to him then being carried, especially in front of a room full of strangers.

  • Julie Reiskin

    Excellent
    I am s disability rights activist with many years experience and I could not have written it better myself!! Great post and YOU ARE VERY WELCOME . Vu did an AMAZING and well received keynote for our annual event last year! THANK YOU … what a wonderful celebration of the international day of PWD which was last week.

  • I’ll also comment on the “what do you do?” question. A friend of mine attempting to relearn to drive after many years had an instructor who simply wouldn’t stop such questions and let her focus. She didn’t want to talk about her serious health issues, job hunting, dead parents and more insensitive questions – WHILE DRIVING. Amanda’s suggested questions are SO much better. And even better if asked at a reasonable time not while they’d be a distraction.

  • Cloggie

    #23 is generally a good idea. When making small talk in a situation where I have nearly no context for anything else but the weather, I ask, “How do you [like to] spend you time?” It gets people talking about something they’re actually interested in, which is the point of the question. People who are not working for whatever reason or who dislike their job don’t feel like they have to talk about something they might find unpleasant.

    • Helen Heath

      In addition, if the person is disabled as a result of a workplace accident, or is forced to retire as a result of serious health issues and/or a disability, to ask them, “what do you do” victimises them over and over again. I love the alternative “How do you like to spend your time?”. My husband has chosen volunteerism for many local community organizations and is an equally valuable asset in this role. It gives him the opportunity to “work” when he is able.

  • Carol Clarke

    I have been trained and have certification in disability inclusion in education, yet I learned so much from this post, thank you. I’m a bit mortified, thinking I was well ahead of the curve, but the main take-away was that one must always be conscious, curious, and civil.

  • Jaime

    Thank you for your awesome blog Vu! I took the op-ed challenge this year too! http://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article88146502.html

  • Mehitabel

    Wonderful post. I have both visible and invisible disabilities, although I don’t consider any of them so severe that they rise to the level of “disability”, at least in my own view. More like “challenges” or “pains in my a**”. I generally don’t ask for help or accommodation unless the situation is dire, because I don’t like the grilling that often comes with it; I just grit my teeth and muddle along as best as I can.

    Someone already sort of alluded to this, but one very simple thing that everyone should do in their work and event environments is pay attention to things like stairs and ramps. It’s obvious that people in wheelchairs need ramps, but not always obvious when someone has bad knees and/or hips, and can’t manage stairs or ramps without a handrail. Don’t have stairs or ramps without a sturdy handrail, ever. For some folks, even a few open steps with no handrail might as well be Everest – and you’re not necessarily going to realize it just by looking at them. Also, toilets with low seats and no grab rail can be miserable for people with bad knees and/or hips. Make sure restrooms have at least one ‘comfort height’ toilet, or grab rails, or both. These are simple and inexpensive changes to make to an office environment that can make a huge difference for folks. (You’d be surprised how many people are hobbling around on bad knees & hips – a lot of us do, but I know few people with this problem who actually talk much about it).

  • Merideth Erickson

    As an ED of a mental health services nonprofit I appreciate you writing this post. We are a Consumer Operated Service Provider (COSP) which by definition means that we have 51% of our governing board made up of mental health consumers and 50% of our staff also have lived experience with mental health/substance use issues. I actually did a case study for my dissertation on seven of the COSPs in Texas. I work to reduce stigma daily as an advocate but also as a leader of the organization in my own community.

  • Thanks for sharing! This is a great read for everybody. I’ve become more conscious of your #19 from my previous experience working as Marketing Manager for the National MS Society. Here’s another thing to add: to continue using positive language that promotes individuals as not defined by a condition, we always used the phrase “living with XX”. For example, John, a man living with autism, Jane, a woman living with multiple sclerosis, VERSUS, John, an autistic man, or Jane, a woman with multiple sclerosis. It puts the person first before whichever condition they may be living with and puts the condition as a secondary acknowledgement. I have found that to be more positive. Curious to know if anybody has found that helpful at all.

    • Dina Elenbaas

      This really depends on the person and, to an extent, the disability. I know a lot of people who have autism who strongly prefer “autistic person” to “person with autism.”

      • Thanks for sharing Dina! The particular language I was referring to was a branded initiative by the Society. I’m sure other organizations have had other approaches. For instance, the Society was cautionary on using verbiage such as “fighting” or “battling” (a few cancer-related organizations use this in their marketing materials). Also noticed that in one of the event programs, titled “I Ride With MS”, participants felt strongly against the event title because they felt as if they “ride FOR MS” as opposed to “with”. Fascinating to see how use of words can change the context for each individual…

  • Julie

    Great news! Re grantee/grantor power dynamics: Have you read the recent research report from Independent Sector: http://independentsector.org/partnerships_for_impact_synposis? Splash International, a Seattle-based nonprofit, and Open Road Alliance are featured as a case study (http://independentsector.org/uploads/powerdynamic/PowerDyne2-ORA-SPLASH-v2-FINAL.pdf) and would be happy to talk with you if it’s of interest. Please email julie@splash.org or cyndie@splash.org.

  • digopheliadug

    Thanks so much for #6 – I’m still working on this with my otherwise very thoughtful office. It’s an ongoing struggle, but as a crazy person (I’m reclaiming it, it’s really liberating for me!), I find that kind of language really alienating.

    • Melissa B

      I agree with this one – though I think it would have been better if the linked article had given some ideas on words that could be used in place instead of just saying “don’t say that”.

  • Gabi Lloyd

    I agree, great post!! I work for Goodwill and interact with people with various disabilities each day and also plan nearly all of our events. Your post has helped me to be more mindful of what I say, how I act, making special accommodations, etc.

  • Angela

    Congrats on co-authoring a book! I look forward to having it on my bookshelf.

    Thanks for exemplifying what allyship for people with disAbilities may look like. While this is not a comparison game, the civil rights movement for people with disAbilities has slowed down to a halt and requires championing and leadership in order to regain momentum. Namely, the lack of employment opportunities (even in disabled-friendly places such as Seattle) for people with disAbilities deserves more local, state, and federal attention. It is a sad reality, much like all civil rights issues.

    YES to #1. Case in point, the rainbow pedestrian walkways in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Though I admire the City’s initiative to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, it is my opinion that the City was remiss of not engaging people with disAbilities in its project. The rainbow sidewalks are difficult for people with visual impairments to navigate due to the paint coatings.

    To point #2, yes yes yes! Here is a somewhat recent adaptation of the parking sign that should be adopted across the country: http://cdn.goodmenproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/disabled-sign.jpg. What I love about this image is that it begins to rewire the general public’s under-informed perceptions of people with disAbilities.

    Based on my limited experience as a commissioner on the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, I would like to add onto your remarkable list:
    – Refrain from using air fresheners or wearing perfumes, colognes, or cosmetics to avoid irritating folks’ fragrance sensitivity.
    – Always restate your name when in a meeting space so that those who are visually impaired know who is speaking. As a follow-up, it is essential that one person should speak at a time. For example, “This is Angela. I want to point out that we are looking at an adaptation of what Initiative 123 would look like if the public favors it. This visual looks like this…”

    Thanks for allowing me to share, and thanks again for fostering equity for people with disAbilities.

  • Marilyn Smith

    As a Deaf person the single biggest obstacle for my community is the unwillingness of service providers to cover interpreter costs. You are not truly accessible until you budget for this and hire the best interpreters possible. This includes fundraising events NPOs put on, workshops that are open to all, etc. Engage in the services of a respected Deaf professional in your area to get guidance. Interpreters make a living doing what they do and are not volunteers.

  • Karin Duval

    Thank you for this; it is an under-addressed topic. Thank you to everyone commenting for your additional insights. I have a few thoughts to add. Ask everyone before an event “Is there anything we can provide or ensure that would facilitate your learning or experience?” Also, I simply ask people directly. One professional woman with hearing loss, who is at a huge number of community meeting, said that no one had *ever* asked her what would be helpful to her. We have to do better than that. In addition, in general, and specifically in the context of an emergency, do not define people with disabilities narrowly, as people only to be taken care of. I know a blind gentleman who pointed out that he would be invaluable in many emergencies because he does not need to be able to see to lead us all out of a building quickly.

  • Becca Katz

    I would add: Be sure to accommodate eating restrictions and allergies at your meetings and events. There are many experiences that happen in non-profit world (i.e. food at meetings, traditions like S’mores at a campfire are popular in my line of non-profit) that can exclude people with allergies or dietary restrictions. S’mores, in their traditional form, are not gluten free or vegan. But, there are now products to make S’mores both gluten free and vegan, so it’s possible to preserve this tradition while being inclusive. When this is not possible, consider adjusting the tradition to preserve the purpose and make it more inclusive. This takes extra forethought, and it matters.

  • todustodus

    Two more things I would like to add to the list:
    a. please, please, please give a person with a disability a chance to work for you. There are many times when I apply for a job and once the prospective employer finds out I’m deaf, I never hear back even if they were gung-ho in their initial inquiry. It makes job-searching a huge (and disheartening challenge).
    b. please avoid lumping us into the category of “well, she has a disability, so she should only work on disability issues”. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve explained that my professional interests are in X area only to be told “Why don’t you find a job focused on deaf issues” (which is absolutely nowhere near my area of interest and something I don’t actually have any professional experience in!) — would we ever say that to someone else? e.g. you’re a unicorn and you should only work on unicorn issues?

  • Luna

    Thank you for including a segment on disability. I loved seeing this in my inbox. If you are interested in continuing to explore this issue, I would recommend reading this article released by Chemonics.

    http://blog.chemonics.com/disability-inclusive-development-is-smart-development

    I work for an international ngo that treats people with disabilities. Your thoughts on this issue, with a global perspective, would be an interesting addition…

    Just my thoughts, thanks!

  • Dmalfi

    When inviting people with disabilities to a live performing arts performance, please know that they -or the support staff that assists them – may not be familiar with theatre protocol. It’s best to send a sheet with helpful hints. How close are the bathrooms? What time should they arrive? If the show starts at 2. One needs to arrive before 2 and if the party is bringing 30 people in wheelchairs, it may take extra time to get everyone up to the theatre in your theatre’s small elevator that only fits two people. If dealing with an agency, let them know how many wheelchair seats are available.

  • Pat Dobbs

    For someone that proclaims they don’t know much about disabilities, you did a great job. Thank you so much.

    As a person with hearing loss (I have 2 – cochlear implants) and author of the Nine Guiding Principles of the Hearing Loss Revolution (www.HearingLossRevolution.com) let me tag on a few extra comments specific to hearing loss:

    1. (ref#2) Hearing loss is an invisible disability. Unless we’re wearing hearing devices and you see them, you have NO way of knowing we have a hearing loss. And the trouble with that is, unless we let you know we haven’t heard what you’ve said and perhaps to look at us when you talk, you have no way of knowing if we’ve heard you correctly or not.

    2. (ref#7) Thank you for mentioning real-time captioning. If I say I have a hearing loss people assume I know ASL but I don’t (wish I did). In fact of the 48M Americans with hearing loss only about 2 – 3% of them sign (ASL). With captioning we can always follow what’s going on. Without it, we’re challenged.

    As well as captioning, Hearing Loops are the assistive listening device of choice for large venues. It allows the speaker’s voice to go right into our ears – eliminating the distance separating us and the ambient noise that is so disturbing to people with hearing loss.

    3. (ref#9) Thank you for mentioning “Create an environment and culture that allows employees or volunteers to ask for accommodations”. I should also add, that people with hearing loss (or any disability) also has to take the initiative and ask for accommodations. It goes both ways. We have a responsibility too.

    4. (ref#11) People with hearing loss also have service animals. I have one (his name is Cobb).

    5. (ref#16) Thank you for #16. There is so much stigma associated with hearing loss that people often are hesitant to let people know they have a hearing loss – even if that means that they have to “fake” that they’ve heard something when they haven’t. (Ugh – that’s awful for both the person with hearing loss and whomever they’re talking to).

    6. (ref#23) Thank you for #23. Statistically people with hearing loss have a lower level of education and less earning power than people with normal hearing. (I believe this is changing).

    In summary Hearing loss is a major public health issue that is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. There are 48M Americans with hearing loss and 60% of them are in the workforce (we’re not all “old” as the stereotype goes).

  • Jim Beck

    Thank you, thank you THANK YOU for this! Having worked in disability rights for 30 years, including 13 years as exec of a Center for Independent Living before coming to the foundation world, it’s been an interesting change and adjustment. I was at a recent national grantmaker conference and as near as I could tell I was the only person out of at least a few hundred who had a visible disability. I always figure there are some folks in the mix who have non-apparent disabilities but it was a bit jarring to be the only crip (yes, owning it). I’ve been very pleased that my foundation has encouraged me to start an accessibility initiative – we are requiring grantees to self-assess their facilities for architectural access (had to start somewhere – won’t end there) and then make progress at ameliorating barriers. Ultimately we will make funding contingent on progress.

    And as todustodus wrote, please hire us. We are among the least employed and most under-employed “minorities” in the country. We have a lot to offer the world, and definitely a lot to offer the sector. Thanks again for such a great post!

  • MLWalker_Pgh

    Thank you for writing this article. However, there is one thing I need to challenge you on and that’s the title. While some of these behaviors and actions are relatively simple to implement, others are not, or at least they aren’t when one has a lifetime of unlearning to do beforehand. This is especially a challenge when it comes to language, because no one develops language patterns all at once, and language and thought are directly linked. It’s not simple to “stop saying these things” or “stop making these references” when you have to retrain your brain to do so, which also means shifting your entire perspective.

    Along these lines, even if all 25 suggestions were simple (and, once more, they aren’t), collectively they represent an entirely different way of interacting with the world for the able-bodied people of the world. Getting to where we should be, where we all make more mindful choices out of consideration for those around us, isn’t impossible, but it will take a lot of work and patience.

    I’m not saying they can’t or shouldn’t be done – obviously they can and should – but there should be more honesty about the work that it takes to get to that point. It’s not all simple, which should be recognized, but it is worthwhile.

  • Judy Hppa

    One thing I would like to add, regarding: “Be aware of icebreakers and activities that require movement. …” I have a colleague who is nearly paralytically shy. Heʻs absolutely brilliant, runs his own nonprofit, is widely respected, has impeccable credentials, all of that. But heʻs really, really introverted. He was recently at a meeting where the participants, which included govt reps, were more or less socially required to get up on a platform as a group and dance, and be recorded, for a “whimsical” kind of group video that is posted to the internet. For him this was agony, and I understand it. I personally could not imagine basically requiring adults at a professional meeting to do that. Additionally, there may be many invisible reasons why someone will not or cannot dance that range from brain issues to non-obvious physical trauma that the person might not want to cheerfully announce. What is a good rule to create for this kind of a situation?

  • Josephine

    YES! Thank you for including hearing impairment. It is SO frustrating to have a webinar or other teaching tool without captioning. It’s totally unacceptable to a whole group of people. It’s such an invisible condition but you have no IDEA who among you has what level of hearing impairment.

    ALSO, food can be such an issue. Please don’t pressure people to eat anything. EVER. Actually, just don’t pressure people to do anything, ok? You don’t have the right to UNDERSTAND everything about me or my life. If I say, “no, thanks” and you ask, “why not?” You could be asking me something deeply personal and it’s, frankly, none of your buisness.