By Dr. Kathryn Woodcock, P.Eng., C.C.P.E., I.C.A.E
Dr. Woodcock has contributed several thought-provoking articles to InPark on accessibility and equity in relation to the attractions industry. This new story is about integrating the principle of accessibility into Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, concepts, and culture. It corresponds to an EduTalk she is presenting on the topic on Nov 15 in Orlando, during IAAPA Expo 2022. More info: https://www.iaapa.org/expos/iaapa-expo/sessions/whats-your-idea-inclusion-diversity-equity-accessibility-planning
What’s your IDEA?
Many Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI or EDI) programs and slogans leave out Accessibility as a separate principle.
Equity means that different people need different things to experience the same result, and therefore you might argue that Equity subsumes making things accessible, but I’ve seen too many instances where even diversity and social justice events and organizations fail accessibility. It is clearly not sufficient to be in favour of inclusion.
Accessibility is a little different. Unlike other equity and inclusion, you cannot always achieve accessibility by simply changing your attitude and being more open-minded, or receptive, or fair. Sometimes it means you need to do something different in an architectural sense or incur extra costs to make something accessible, like adding audio description or captions or interpreting.
Disabled people are estimated to be between 15% and 30% of the population, depending on how you define disability and who is doing the classification, so it warrants the explicit attention. (I should say IDEA is not just my idea. It is one of several acronyms in common use within this general area.)
IDEA is a value
The first thing you have to do is to decide if it really is your value. I mean, I think it’s worth considering – you’re squandering a whole lot of talent if you directly or indirectly make any types of people feel unwelcome or make it difficult for them to contribute and it’s leaving money on the table if potential customers can’t get in or feel unappreciated. But I have heard often enough, “We have enough job candidates or customers as it is – we don’t need to expand the pool.”
IDEA is not an obligation or a training subject. IDEA is a value that needs to be infused in your culture.
If it is NOT your value, and you’re reluctant about it, no amount of IDEA programming and staff training is going to transform your organization and gain you positive press for IDEA in the big picture. You need to do the deep thinking and decide that you are willing to work for it.
What convinces you? The skill shortage and spending power arguments can be made, but if your interest is conditional on specific returns, the argument can break down on the individual level where the actual action happens. That doesn’t mean there is no benefit. On your team, do you have the wisdom of 100 people or do you have the same wisdom 100 times over? A diverse team brings different views that can improve your product because they see it from different angles. For inclusion of customers and guests, are you thinking about the investment needed to accommodate a particular guest, or the opportunity to bring in not that guest but also their whole companion group that sticks together, as well as to market to other guests with similar needs and all of their companion groups?
There is also the grand social value argument. Think about me, a disabled woman. Should I be sitting home excluded and potentially consuming social benefits instead of participating, contributing, paying taxes and spending on consumer goods and experiences? I have had a lot of great opportunities in my adult life, but I have also had difficulties on the job market at times, and in accessing products and events due to both my gender and my disability, separately and together. Overt, overt discrimination. If you had the chance to have someone like me as a team member or customer, would you walk away if I cost more than another team member or customer?
I’m not differentiating IDEA in your team and IDEA in the product you offer to customers. One of the things that makes a guest or customer feel welcome is to see their own face reflected back at them. It signals that someone inside the organization gets them. Especially when you’re often excluded, that is an awesome feeling. Starting with team member diversity can pay off in more satisfied diverse customers.
If you decide you’re in, you need to set expectations and track how you’re doing. What does IDEA mean? What kind of things will you measure? Are you going to expect specific numbers of hires and percentages of team composition, and metrics of customer diversity? Alternatively, perhaps you will audit your processes. It can also include informal or semi-formal feedback. You may also receive unsolicited input from your customers and guests.
What performance levels do you expect and how soon will you hit key benchmarks? What happens if you miss them? If there are consequences for missed expectations of any kind for anything, there must be consequences here. Your team will only take your goals seriously if there are consequences. The goals must be realistic – because the consequences must be real.
Often, you already have some people in your team from generally underrepresented groups – although they may be keeping their heads down to avoid calling attention to themselves. It happens. We often feel precarious and even alienated because we have literally been passed over or sidelined on a regular basis.
Ensure team members from those groups feel free to let you know what they need to contribute effectively to your team. Strangely, and in contrast to how they engage with other diversity groups, organizations often consult agencies and parents when it comes to disabled people. There are a lot of people happy to speak in our place, giving you input about your organization and your products. Make sure you are hearing from us.
When those team members trust you to hear them, they may also be an honest source of insight into how your organization meets the needs of customers and guests from their communities. Don’t patronize them by calling them “rabble rousers” when they do. And don’t be defensive. Be prepared to hear recommendations that involve change. Remember, by definition, they are on your team. They want you to win.
You need to get the message out so everyone knows that it is an expectation. How do you do that? You do it in the same way as you set expectations for anything else you achieve effectively. If you are excellent at managing employee productivity or financial management, look at how you communicate your expectations in those areas. If you are a blunt-talking organization and you start talking touchy-feely about IDEA, people are going to be suspicious that the new program is just for show. If you communicate by person-to-person messaging in areas where you’re effective, sending around a memo or written policy or newsletter puff piece about IDEA is not going to communicate it effectively.
It’s ideal to perform your expectations, not just announce them. Take a visible action. Not a token performance like hiring a “diverse” person into a position with no power, but a meaningful action you’re prepared to keep up.
Often, the most meaningful action will be something that emerges from feedback from diverse members of your team. This shows that you listened.
It’s common to celebrate the achievements of diverse members of your team. Make sure not to celebrate them as “overcoming” or contributing “despite” their characteristics. They are successful because they bring value to the organization, and some of that is because they are those things, not in spite of them.
Change is always uncomfortable. Ensure that people who are joining your team know you are serious, if not already on board with these values. If someone feels they cannot receive and act on feedback to ensure another person feels included, it may be difficult for them to help the organization advance these goals.
Starting before the hire also creates an inclusive environment from the start, to ensure that people who need equity accommodations are not afraid to let you know what they need before their probation is over.
IDEA is not just about what management says and does to people – it is about what management allows team members to say and do to each other. Your goal is to ensure that no one joins your team feeling they can diminish any other member of the team or any of your customers or guests – for any reason, really, but especially in regard to their culture, gender expression, disability, skin colour or age.
The IDEA is to include more people, not to take away from some people and give to others. We don’t want anyone to treat it as a burden, or worse, a threat. All of the best strategic intentions can be undermined by individuals and groups unwilling to support the vision. Expectations, goals, communication, and consequences are essential to keep the team aligned and moving forward, and enjoy the benefits of a good IDEA.