It is wonderful to see companies, non-profits and government agencies placing greater emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But when will this focus include disability? Today, it often seems like an afterthought.
Where Are the Captions?
“Can you please enable the captions?” I asked the leaders of a recent DEI training session I attended. “Of course,” they replied, but then struggled to do so. While Zoom now provides Live Transcript auto-captions for all accounts, it does not make it easy to enable them. The process requires two steps—one prior to the meeting at the account level and another during the meeting. (Come on Zoom! User-enabled auto-captioning would be much simpler.)
After some back and forth, it became clear that the consultants had not enabled Live Transcript in their settings prior to the meeting. Two hours of caption-less discussion now awaited. I should have requested captioning in advance like I normally do for events like this, but I had been feeling hopeful that a DEI consulting firm would be ahead of the curve. Heavy sigh.
As I learned later in the session, it comes down to “privilege” which they defined as the power to not to have to think about something. The DEI leaders were both hearing. They hadn’t thought about captioning, because they don’t need it. Privilege is a common barrier to inclusion, but they should have known better. These consultants need to start practicing what they preach.
What is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
While there is much discussion about diversity, equity and inclusion, it is sometimes unclear what is meant by each term. The below definitions come from dei.extension.org. The terrific images are from there too.
Diversity is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective.
The definition of diversity mentions disability, but people with disabilities often take a back seat when DEI initiatives are put into practice. According to the CDC, 26% adults in the United States have some type of disability. For DEI to be effective, this population must be taken seriously.
Equity is promoting justice, impartiality and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems.
The image shows that equality is not always enough. On the left, each person has one box, but two of the three are still unable to access the fruit. On the right, equity provides the right number of boxes so each person can participate fully. For people with hearing loss, equity might entail hearing loops for one person, captioning for another and sign language interpretation for a third.
Inclusion means that those who are diverse feel welcome. This is the ultimate goal.
This is where the rubber meets the road. When captions are not provided, people with hearing loss may feel excluded. Integration occurs when captions are provided upon request, but real inclusion means the captions are on and available without requiring any additional steps. Google Meet’s user-controlled captioning provides this. Zoom’s convoluted process to enable captioning still does not.
Disability and Diversity Intersect
People of all races, genders, sexual orientations, etc. have disabilities. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 Black adults, 1 in 4 White adults and 1 in 6 Hispanic adults in the United States have a disability. Disability also does not just mean people who use wheelchairs. Functional disability types include mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision and self-care.
If you are working on improving DEI at your organization, congratulations, but unless you are including disability, your work is incomplete.
Readers, do you believe disability need to be a critical factor in DEI discussions?
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33 thoughts on “When will Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Embrace Disability?”
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Excellent, excellent, excellent. This piece needs to be required reading beginning with national human resource organizations but by no means ending with them. We readers should keep this in our toolbox and forward when needed.
Feel free to share widely! Thanks for your support.
Thanks for this. I am coming to the end of my role as a Local Councillor in UK. My legacy I hope will be an awareness of anticipatory reasonable adjustments for disabled people at meetings. When officers know I am attending they provide 🎤 s loops (temp ones usually useless) but I am still battling with the anticipatory nature of adjustments.
In my remaining 15 months I will work harder!
Nothing was ever gained by discriminated groups without a fight!
Thank you for your advocacy efforts! They help us all.
It feels like we are still in the age of “Cap in Hand”.
It takes constant work. Thank you for your efforts.
With no disrespect intended, this post seems more centered around an uncomfortable personal experience than a true concern for DEI discussions. Presumption is the mother of disappointment… had the captions simply been requested, it seems like the most of this post would simply dissolve. As someone who navigates the professional world with both hearing aids and ADD, I personally can’t stand captions and turn them off almost any time I can, but I don’t think that puts me in a position of privilege. So captions being on and available with “no further steps needed” may save a step for you, but it ADDS one for me. In practice, it’s probably impossible to “get it right” for all the possible disabilities that people are dealing with- hearing being just one of many. I’m all for inclusivity in daily life for everyone, but personally I don’t want it at the expense of inconvenience for others- that just adds to the stigma and annoyance that we already get from those that don’t have our own individual issues.
Universal access would make captions available for those that want them (without having to ask for them ahead of time) but would not force those that don’t want them to use them to do so. That is, I believe, the exact definition of inclusion and why I wish disability was included in the discussion of DEI more often that it seems to be. Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective.
Ah Shari, you do stir the pot
I may be over simplifying things but it seems to me that disability is the common denominator of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It helps me to think that we all come to the table lacking some level of ability while claiming for ourselves the full blessings of DEI.
Interesting. It certainly does intersect in many ways. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Right on! This should be required reading for all D & I committees in both public and private sectors.
Thank you for your comment!
is there a cost to have cc??
I told my pastor I could see him but not hear what he says on F B, he emailed back saying he would look into it, but nothing from him and it has been over a year since I asked, any suggestions??
It depends on how it is delivered. CART, where a trained operator types the captions in real-time, can be expensive but ASR captioning is usually free. If you are watching on FaceBook, use the Chrome Browser which has auto-captions for all video content once you turn it on in the settings. Read more here: https://livingwithhearingloss.com/2021/04/20/hearing-loss-beyond-captions-are-catching-on/
Great discussion of this topic!
Covidical isolation multiplied by aging squared by hearing loss has so isolated me that the opportunity to participate with others by any means has become foreign Your support is very much appreciated as I try to raise myself up into the conversational world. Thank you !
Hang in there Robert. It is a new world for all of us. Take it slow and you will get there! Thanks for your comment.
Shari, I’m so glad you tackled this subject and so glad I found this blog after watching your incredible documentary. I work for a large high tech company in Silicon Valley and only recently lost my hearing (going on 2 years) and now have 2 cochlear implants. I’ve had to advocate for closed captioning especially since COVID when everyone started to use Zoom. Fortunately my company has been very flexible and accommodating. However, I have found that our inclusion and diversity team really only focuses on race, LGBTQ and women’s issues. I absolutely think there should be a “playbook” integrated into corporations as part of the inclusion and diversity program. Side note, I was able to use an old Android phone with Google translate app next to my computer speakers to create CC. Looking forward to reading more articles.
So glad you found our community. Welcome!
I agree that there should be more emphasis on ensuring that there is inclusivity for people with disabilities. When watching videos on YouTube, I sometimes try to turn on the captions, only to be told that they are not available. If more creators did this one simple act, people who are deaf or hard of hearing would immediately have access to something that before, they may have been unable to experience. One individual who is very informative on the topic of inclusivity for people with disabilities is motivational speaker Molly Burke. On her YouTube channel, she shares her experiences navigating the world as a blind person. I wish all people would watch videos like these to educate themselves more on this topic.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.