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It’s that time of year again! December 31st is around the corner, which means that about half of us are now thinking about our new year’s resolutions. We’ll be thinking of improving ourselves and improving the world around us and in the spirit of this improvement, here is a resolution that hits both birds with one stone: be more inclusive.
By being more inclusive of others, you become a more self-aware and kinder person. And at the same time, the act of including others creates a world that is better than it was before. While I’ll be discussing this in terms of the disability community and in terms of disability inclusion, it applies to any group of people. So here are five simple actions you can take to meet the goals of this resolution:
This most of the time goes without saying, but when it comes to people with physical disabilities, it is somehow forgotten. I was speaking to a friend recently whose father is a wheelchair user. She was accompanying him on an errand and they got to a ramp. She asked him whether he wanted her to push him up the ramp and he said, no, the exercise was good for him. So she walked up the ramp behind him. In that very instance a person passed her, gave her a dirty look, and proceeded to push her father’s wheelchair up the ramp without his permission, violating his autonomy, his space, and his wishes.
Sadly, this is not uncommon. But luckily it’s very easy to fix. Include all people into the standard rules of common decency and don’t touch them without their permission.
Children often experience the phenomenon that adults talk about them when they are in their presence. Someone will ask a parent whether their child would like a piece of candy rather than asking the child directly. There are different schools of thought on whether that is okay, but we can all agree that when you want to ask someone of an adult in a room, you address that adult.
Adults with disabilities unfortunately often still have this experience of being talked over. Others will often address their personal care assistants or interpreters rather than them directly. Give all people the common courtesy of speaking to them directly when they’re in the room.
At the beginning of this month, my fiancée and I had a friend with a temporary disability at our house. She’d sustained a severe injury and stayed with us post-surgery. Before she arrived, we made sure to move all of our furniture into configurations that would allow her to maneuver our home on crutches. We didn’t do a perfect job, but she felt welcome and included.
The beauty about this tip is that it’s the most actionable item on this list because you can do it anywhere at any time even if there are no people with disabilities around you. Is your work building wheelchair accessible? No? Go talk to HR. Are you in a store that doesn’t have accessible bathrooms? Go speak with them and see what steps can be taken to open their establishment up to all of society—and thereby a wider customer base.
If you actually do this, even just once a month, you’ll be starting a conversation. I’ve no doubt that if everyone resolved to be more inclusive and nudged business and workplaces to be welcoming and accessible, we’d be seeing a shift in overall participation of people with disabilities in everyday life.
Of course don’t use slurs. Most of us know that the r-word is demeaning and almost exclusively used as an insult nowadays. So of course don’t use it. But there are subtler ways our speech can sometimes unintentionally be alienating and demeaning to others. For example, you may be talking about a road rage incident to your coworkers and wanted to describe just how angry a driver was. You say “s/he was psycho” and keep going. But given that about 20% of us have a disability and that many of them are invisible, chances are that some of your coworkers have a mental illness or love someone with a mental illness and you just conflated their disability with road rage. It doesn’t make for a great atmosphere.
But language, as always, is an incredibly complex topic. If you’d like to look at more examples, take a look at the blog I wrote just on that topic.
Let’s face it: you’re human. You’ll mess up and you won’t always examine all your underlying biases and you won’t catch yourself when you say something hurtful and alienating. We all live and learn. Perhaps the most important aspect of resolving to be more inclusive is just that. Making a conscious resolution to look for small and big ways you can change.
So as you make your list of new year’s resolutions, I sincerely encourage you to decide to be more inclusive. You’ve nothing to lose, and a better self, and a better word to gain.