The number of people from marginalized groups and people with disabilities participating in academic opportunities and careers is increasing, and with it, the importance of accessibility in professional organizations. The goal of accessibility is simple – to provide equal access for every student, every member of a community, and every employee of an organization to the tools and resources needed to feel included, valued, and useful. Everyone should feel welcomed and be able to participate in all available activities. This is a wonderful concept that many organizations put a lot of effort into practicing, but unfortunately, an idea that many other organizations still struggle with.
So, how can we create a world (in business and otherwise) where everyone can have the opportunity to communicate, learn, play, and experience all the world has to offer, regardless of their abilities, backgrounds, and level of education?
Why Is the Sense Of Belonging Important?
The need to belong refers to a human emotional need to connect with and be accepted by members of a group. This can include the need to belong to a peer group at school, be accepted by colleagues, be part of a sports team, or be part of a religious group. This need is more than being acquainted with other people. It is about gaining acceptance, attention, and support from members of a certain group, as well as providing the same to others.
People often try to present themselves in a certain way in order to be accepted into a specific social group. Teens might dress the same way, a sports team member might adopt the dress and mannerisms of other teammates, or scientists might take on the same view on some matters as their peers, all just for not standing out of the crowd. But what happens when some people stand out too much, whether because of their challenging backgrounds, education level, or even disability?
How we perceive disability can seriously affect not only the well-being of people with disabilities but also society’s moral compass. When we have a negative attitude toward disability, we disempower people with disability, causing their social exclusion and isolation. On the other hand, when we have a positive attitude towards disability, we promote social inclusion.
There are various forms of disability, from temporary to permanent, from acquired to present from birth. Some people require minimal support, while others may need it full-time. Some can experience episodic disabilities. Whatever the case may be, people with disabilities have one thing in common – a shared experience of encountering negative attitudes and barriers to complete participation in everyday life and activities. Many experience discrimination compounded by a negative bias towards their race, gender, sexuality, or cultural background.
The concept of accessibility is a way of eliminating such unnecessary social constructs. The problem is not with people’s lack of ability but with the way our society is organized, including social attitudes and barriers that prevent such people from living their lives to the fullest and truly belonging to the world around them.
Life Without Barriers Is For Everyone
When the story of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) began, it didn’t start at the signing ceremony at the White House. It began way earlier when people with disabilities started to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from communities, jobs, and activities. It started with raising voices against their segregation and establishing groups that advocated for the rights of people with disabilities. The ADA owes its existence to countless people whose hard work contributed to the passage of this valuable act. From its creation and numerous revisions and amendments, the ADA kept the same goal – to showcase how exclusion and discrimination harm the individual and how it harms society on the whole.
A wonderful example of how people with disabilities can do practically anything as long as they have inner strength, resilience, and access to means is the No Barriers Program, which helps tens of thousands of people facing difficulties to overcome them, reconnect with their purpose, and unleash the best in themselves. Through their various programs, and especially with their No Barriers Life framework for positive growth, this amazing organization helps those disabled in any way to break through their barriers, unleash their potential, and have a positive impact on the world.
Another praiseworthy organization that has done so much for people with disabilities is Disability:IN, a nonprofit that promotes business disability inclusion worldwide. Its goal is to collaborate with corporate America to enable full inclusion of people with disabilities, promote accessible innovation, and foster a culture of inclusion. But, misperception of people with disabilities isn’t their only issue; other barriers persist, such as unconscious bias, non-inclusive supply chains, and insufficient access to technology and tools that can support the normal life of people with disabilities.
Access to All
An inclusive society is an accessible one – all people should be able to access the tools and resources they need for a flourishing life. While accessibility is mostly associated with providing access to persons with disability, access issues are universal and affect everyone. We must consider accessibility broadly and how it impacts everyone to build organizations that are inclusive for all.
A proper way to make information, activities, and facilities accessible and usable by everyone is through the concept of universal design and the IDEA. Rather than designing for the average employee or customer, organizations and institutions should design for people with differing abilities and disabilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, languages, and more. This way, organizations can make everybody feel welcome and minimize the need for special accommodations for those who want to participate in their business, activities or access their information resources.
I believe this is possible, that we can build a world where everyone can enjoy the same rights and opportunities as everyone else and lead their lives as valuable citizens who can make meaningful contributions to society. This is what the World Happiness Foundation stands for and what I hope you stand for too. If that is the case, I invite you to join us and make the world a better place, one happy person at a time.