In discussions about diversity and inclusivity, we often hear less about how the special needs community is impacted. It may appear as though the community is forgotten and, that is unfortunate because, the community is larger than most of us know or even can imagine.
Here are some potentially mind-blowing facts from the World Bank on Disability Inclusion:
“One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. The World Bank, states that one-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.”
That’s a lot of people!
Think about those facts against the following questions:
- How many office buildings do you enter where you will see Braille written at door entrances, on doors, or even particular items in the room?
- How many spaces do you see handrails, crash rails or even corner guards? How cluttered is the floor space?
- What about ramps for wheelchair-bound folks to enter a space, or even an elevator or lift to bypass the struggle of using a staircase?
- How and where are light fixtures placed?
- Is staff trained in sign language and emotional intelligence?
- Are businesses hiring, training and promoting people from the special needs community?
- Are needs assessments being done for the communities your business can serve?
These questions could go on, but you get the picture. The point here is that the special needs community ought to be considered when “inclusivity”, “diversity”, or even “accessibility” get thrown about.
Here’s some more insight into the matter:
According to the Dublin based National Disability Authority, companies ought to – “Make your buildings more accessible”. Though they’re based in one part of the world, advice is transferable and its application is replicable. Wherever you are, make your buildings accessible. That is one way in which you may better serve your customers.
The NDA goes further to recommend that audits of building accessibility be done every three years to determine what is working for all parties involved and make adjustments where necessary.
The NDA focuses primarily on physical structure but other factors – like those in the questions asked – must be considered.
An important note:
For the love of all things diverse, inclusive and accessible, blind and deaf are not blanket types to cover all forms of special needs or disability. Bear in mind that not every special need is easily identifiable. Some persons live with autism while some are dyslexic, for example. Additionally, other forms of mental and intellectual illnesses and struggles exist.
So, are we truly considering members of the special needs community if we do not put simple, but important measures in place? It is imperative that ‘seeing’ people, ‘able-bodied’ people, or intellectually adept take note that their everyday-second nature tasks may take much longer for the members of the special needs community if the spaces we invite them to are not properly equipped to facilitate them. In other words, providing real access makes your business an inclusive one.
The question is this – How is your company investing to support this vast community?
Let us do away with selfishness and the lack of action in our highfalutin procedural and policy documents. Let us support our brothers and sisters who are different. If they cannot access a space or service, it means that your company has failed its target to create a diverse and inclusive space for all as you state in those diversity policy documents or in your discussions.
According to the Business Imperative of Diversity | Winning the 20s written by Miki Tsusaka, Matt Krentz, and Martin Reeves from the BCG Henderson Institute, “diverse and inclusive organizations generate unconventional solutions and offer up more ideas, increasing the likelihood that they will deliver winning products and services and greater long-term growth.” Essentially, your business also needs to come through with innovative actions. It feeds growth, and as “in an environment of declining aggregate economic growth globally, innovation provides the necessary fuel for an induvial company to grow.”
So, consider the probing questions asked earlier and use them to fuel your innovation to grow your business and serve your current and potential customers.
Environments that are rich in diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility are supportive. Sometimes, support looks like retrofitting or altering physical spaces. Sometimes it looks like training others how to communicate with as many communities as is possible. Sometimes it means providing folks from other communities the opportunities to truly be involved
How can this benefit your business as much as it benefits the community?
Here are a few:
- You get to understand your people.
When you invest in the facilitation of access and inclusivity, your business will be better able to meet the audience’s needs. Once that sense of belonging is established, half the battle is won. Show them that you truly care and that they are valued. Treat your people well and they will become indirect brand ambassadors for your services. They will speak highly of your products and the buy-in will expand. Trust will develop, and the snowball effect will ensue.
- Diversity increases the skill range
When your business diversifies their talent pool at every tier, they increase the skill sets that reside within the company. It makes no sense to place a glass ceiling above the heads of people limiting how far up the ladder they can go. Remember that it’s not a game of the genders, the sexual orientations, the generations or any other community. If the skill and capabilities exist, welcome them with open arms.
- Happy employees lead to increased productivity
This is a legitimate 3-in-1 deal. When your employees feel like they belong and can excel without fear of prejudice, then their productivity is likely to increase. Facilitative environments encourage happy employees who in turn do more for your business. The research on this is clear, “diverse and inclusive organizations generate unconventional solutions and offer up more ideas, increasing the likelihood that they will deliver winning products and services and greater long-term growth.”
Let’s wrap this up with another important message from the folks at the BCG Henderson Institute:
“In the corporate world, the primary types of diversity that come to mind all drive success … and the more types of diversity, the merrier.”