Reframing Disabilities: The Art Of Cooperation

Committing to support is not a one-time thing.

When I was younger, in my teens, I used to play video games every evening, like FIFA and Call of Duty, to escape into my own world. I enjoyed being in control of an activity I could initiate myself. Even at a young age, I felt a sense of independence.

Yet at the time, it had never occurred to me that there were other kids who didn’t have that same opportunity.

Over the last few years, the world has made a much-needed effort to embrace people with disabilities. There has indeed been a real wake-up call to include every experience in inclusion.

One of the leading industries leading the representation is, of course, television. Just as it had played a role in the representation of Black folks in the 1970s’ and the Asian community in recent years, it’s showcasing the disabled community. Remarkable TV shows representing the disabled community include Speechless, Daredevil, and Special.

Not only are we seeing much-needed representation on TV, there are also companies developing new products and services for their disabled audiences. As a result of more inclusive practices, like learning more about the wide-ranging spectrum of disabled experiences, businesses are slowly catching up with the social landscape shining light on the community.


The importance of empowering coverage

Rather than keeping them in the dark, we are finally giving space to the voices of those from the disabled community to tell their stories.

Everyday stories of children being given new glasses to see their family members better for the first time; teenagers getting the opportunity to take part in school activities thanks to new accommodating products; adults suffering from legs paralysis achieving to walk again with the support of new technology — all shine light on the amazing feeling that inclusion can give somebody.

Stories have an impact. Nothing creates more bridges between people than stories. Even on the smallest level, storytelling encourages empathy, bringing people together. With increasing representation on television and social media, disabilities have to be celebrated rather than ignored.

“Talking about the topic helps destigmatize it. It makes everyone more open to getting to know more about the experiences of someone with a disability” – Kirsten Doherty

In the business world, we are seeing several brands pave the way for disability inclusion:

  • Mastercard is redesigning bank cards to feature notches which allow users to identify which card it is: square for credit, round for debit, and triangular for prepaid.
  • Porsche has implemented a new transmission in its cars which allows people who have lost their legs to drive safely.
  • Skims has created a new collection to help people with limited mobility dress efficiently.
  • Sony has announced the launch of its new accessible controller and gamer headset.

One of the leading companies promoting the importance of talking about accessibility in an approachable way is Google.

Since promoting KR Lui to the head of brand accessibility, Google has re-adjusted its marketing initiatives towards the long over-looked disabled community.

The company released several ads promoting families dealing with visibility impairments and released a new eye-gazing technology app which helps people with motor impairments read messages.


Inclusion is when everyone feels like they can be their authentic selves

Though there is improvement still to be made, it was not long ago that disabilities were hidden.

At work, professionals often feared “not fitting in” and disliked the idea of coworkers going out of the way for them. Indeed, not everyone enjoys being asked “if there anything you can do for them?” Especially if they have grown up in a culture that promotes independence and hard work.

Support, however, does not always have to be physical, or in our words “helpful” — it simply has to involve the effort to acknowledge someone’s experience.

If you notice one of your co-workers have a disability, or share with you one of their hidden disabilities, rather than ask them what you can do for them, tell them that they will always have your committed support instead.


Building support and trust

An inclusive environment in any industry should never make a person with a disability seem like they have to work to succeed there. For example, someone who uses a wheelchair should not have to figure out how to enter a building or cross a pavement, the designers should have already done that work for them.

When we appreciate other people’s experiences and make an effort to accommodate them, we build trust.

That environment then leads to more opportunities for collaboration in a psychologically safe way.

In the business world, consumers with disabilities who are treated as co-creators for the launch of new products or services will most likely trust the companies more. They will form a partnership with them and most likely stay loyal if that company helps improve their everyday experiences.


The Google story

Google would have taken much longer to push the disabled community to the forefront of its inclusion efforts if it was not for KR Lui’s personal story of introducing her hidden disability at work.

She was working for a tech company in Silicon Valley and one day she lost connection with her hearing aids. Other than the excruciating cost of replacing them (upwards of $3000) they would take a week to arrive. She had to tell the CEO that she was almost deaf, a disability which developed in her childhood.

She felt incredibly alone when she called her boss. Having seen her potential early on, the CEO embraced her and helped her through her career ever since. He saw the potential in her values and character.

Lui went on to change the mood around accommodating disabilities in corporate America and politics when she helped Sen. Elizabeth Warren lower the cost of hearing aids nationwide.

Companies leading the charge in disability inclusion have strong leaders all the way down the organization. The top of Google focused on promoting employees from the disabled community to leadership positions such as the chief creative officer, the brand accessibility officer. Employees were also empowered to speak up and share their opinion. They were invited into marketing projects and became advocates themselves.

Creating that environment allowed them to embrace their disability with pride.


Final thoughts: It’s impossible to walk in someone else’s shoes without their story.

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