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The Difficult Conversation Around Increasing Accessibility in Your Organization

Remember a time when you had to have a difficult conversation at your organization?

Did you go on to have it or did you put it off for some time?

Did thoughts swirl and grow larger in your head, making the conversation grow bigger and scarier than it turned out to be?

What was the outcome?

When you think about the concept of accessibility, you will realize a component of basic human rights for all disabled individuals to be able to use the same amount of time and effort to complete a task, as someone that does not have a disability. It is having an environment where everyone is empowered, can be independent, and will not be left out or discriminated against by any systems that are not inclusive.

Ideally, increasing accessibility at your organization is more of a conscious effort that has to be driven from the top with you as the vocal leader for making a change, otherwise, nothing shifts.

Did you know that not wanting, or choosing not to have conversations about increasing accessibility at your organization is the definition of privilege?

You may find the process of increasing accessibility at your organization overwhelming, especially since it’s a relatively new concept to many people.

Why do people resist difficult conversations?

You are most likely to get some resistance among staff at your organization as the subject of increasing accessibility is not an easy one. Wonder why there would be resistance?

People resist difficult conversations because, well, they’re difficult!

People are afraid of getting judged, misunderstood, or seen as speaking from a position of privilege. Ideally, we want to feel “safe” and also be liked and supported by others. We also care about others and the way they feel, or the way our words or actions might make them feel.

Sometimes it could be that people are tired of explaining themselves or raising their concerns on the subject.

Leaders or managers also fear that the conversation may not go well and employees will become upset, turning their frustrations towards work or clients. In the same vein, some employees may not want to be told that they are failing the team or making mistakes.

Most times, emotions run high on both sides, causing the conversation to become quite heated. Be comfortable in your discomfort and know that the ultimate outcome of these conversations is worthwhile, and will continue to help your organization grow.

So how can you prepare for difficult conversations at the office?

Have you have tried starting the difficult conversation as regards increasing accessibility at your organization, and felt like it was too much work? I have a few questions I usually ask myself to get me to prepare before having a challenging conversation.

  • What is my purpose or role in this conversation?
  • What do I hope to accomplish at the end of the day by having this conversation?
  • What would be an ideal outcome at my organization once we have had this discussion?
  • What assumptions am I making even as I have this discussion?
  • Are there any common concerns among the people I plan to have this conversation with?
  • How have I contributed to the problem? Is there representation currently in this room?

You don’t have to work with all these questions, but two or three of them will definitely help you come up with a workable plan. Please remember it’s important to come from a place of respect and genuine curiosity to get people to trust you in the process.

During the conversation

Start off authentic- nothing turns off a conversation faster than your audience writing you off. If you come from a position of privilege, now is the time to discuss and identify how your journey had created this path towards accessibility awareness. Let the people in the room know that you don’t claim to be an expert, but that climbing this mountain starts with self-awareness and the first small steps. You’re here to be their guide, to listen, and to leave judgment at the door. Build their trust, and allow grace for mistakes and bold questions.

You can couple this with dedication, investment, and consistency in holding conversations about increasing accessibility at your organization. More than one conversation may need to happen to make meaningful change.

As a way of ensuring the buy-in of your employees, include a section in the conversation about building personal empathy, and guide folks in the conversation to think about friends or family that might be living with a disability. Share personal examples.

Be sure to approach the topic in an intentional way. Why do I say this? Because emotions tend to flare and leave individuals of the involved department or section of the organized feeling shamed or judged. But while this may happen, if you choose to focus on facts along with the empathy you’ve built, the conversation should process smoothly.

With emotions in check, and all or majority of the participants present (could be an entire department or top organization leadership), your suggestions will help guide curiosity about the next steps in change for a more inclusive organization.

Additionally, being open to feedback is crucial. It is important to let everyone know that they work in a safe space and will be heard, and their comments or suggestions valued. This will also definitely help in the overall adaptation of change, and teach everyone to be more thoughtful and present.

Increasing accessibility

When we talk about digital accessibility, it goes beyond just websites. The entire brand of an organization must be considered from each point. From the website to the marketing items, photography, illustrations, color contrast for brands and logos, to the ease of donation forms, must work together to create a harmonious and consistent brand with full accessibility.

Accessibility is not just for the blind. The most common other disabilities are seizure disorders, focus/ADHD, color blindness, limited mobility, autism, sensory issues, and dyslexia. Your plan on inclusivity should reflect on the latest WCAG guidelines for accessibility and aim for AA or higher standard of compliance.

As a bonus, here are a few other ideas that I believe will also help you increase accessibility at your organization:

  • Ensuring all sections of your organization are physically accessible to everyone regardless of their physical ability. Does your environment use doorknobs, or flap handles?
  • Ensuring that all work applications are in formats accessible to all interested candidates. Can your applicants use screen readers to complete an application?
  • Attending disability-focused job fairs to gain insight on what more you can do for your organization to make it more accessible. When possible, you can sponsor members of your organization to attend these fairs too! This is a group effort.
  • Educating all members of your organization, about increasing representation and diversity when selecting stock photography or visual items.
  • Increasing accessibility can also mean sending out presentations or information prior to a meeting so that folks can pull up the items on a larger screen, or use screen readers. Ensure that fonts are always 12 points or larger.
  • You can also encourage people living with disabilities to take up active roles in meetings. Create space and equity by allowing time to digest and gather thoughts. Gather questions in non-verbal formats.

Have you tried any of these? How have they impacted your organization? What other suggestions do you have?

Dive further into inclusivity with “Identifying Pronouns: Why Is This Here?”

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