When will Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Embrace Disability?

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.

Disability and inclusion go hand in hand.

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

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

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

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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Book: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss

21 thoughts on “When will Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Embrace Disability?

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  1. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    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.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Feel free to share widely! Thanks for your support.

  2. 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!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for your advocacy efforts! They help us all.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      It takes constant work. Thank you for your efforts.

  3. 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.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      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.

  4. Jerry Henderson – Pownal Maine – Thank you for coming to my space. This is where I post thoughts, opinions and commentary on a variety of subjects at irregular intervals. I try to do something weekly, but have not nailed down a rigid schedule, like every Wednesday, yet. If you would like email notifications of new posts, you can make that happen right on the site. Simply enter your email address to subscribe. Also, if you would like to comment I welcome that. Just do so in the space at the bottom of any selected post. Sharing thoughts, opinion and commentary is a peculiarly human characteristic. It must be exercised to be enjoyed. Jerry Henderson
    Jerry Henderson says:

    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.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Interesting. It certainly does intersect in many ways. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for your comment!

  5. 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??

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      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/

  6. Russ Ewell – Russ Ewell is the founder HTG, E-Soccer, and Digital Scribbler Inc. His work focuses on using technology to overcome human limits. Today Russ’ focus is on “leading good.” In order to be successful, Russ believes that it is critical that businesses remember to give back to the community and ensure that the work environment is supportive to employees. Russ intends to take his leadership experience and help others learn how to lead good. Russ Ewell is committed to helping others both as a leader in the church and as an entrepreneur in the technology industry. Russ Ewell son wanted to play baseball with other children, regardless of their disabilities. This spurred Russ to create E-Soccer in 2000 - a volunteer program, which is free for all, that encourages children of all abilities to play the sport together. Over the years the program has expanded to other sports such as basketball and fitness activities like karate. Russ believes that as children with disabilities become adults, it’s imperative that society makes these individuals feel included. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and most adults with disabilities don’t have many of the same opportunities in regards to education and employment. Russ Ewell and his wife, Gail Ewell, founded the Hope Technology School, in part, to equip young adults with the skills they need to excel in society. Russ is passionate about technology, and looks forward to continuing to use technology to help individuals overcome any limitations they face no matter what they are. To learn more about Russ Ewell, visit his website at RussEwell.org
    Russ Ewell says:

    Great discussion of this topic!

  7. 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 !

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      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.

  8. 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.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      So glad you found our community. Welcome!

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