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?