Where Does Disability Fit in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Movement?

Disability does not discriminate. There is no race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or culture that does not have members with disabilities. But often, disability is excluded from conversations about diversity.

As the world puts a sharper focus on DEI and as so many corporations move to make their DEI policies better and more inclusive, there is work to be done to include disability as a pillar of the conversation rather than an afterthought.

The DEI movement primarily focuses on highlighting racial and cultural respect and recognition. What many do not realize is that people with disabilities are also a minority community that has been oppressed and discriminated against for as long as many other minority populations. In fact, we only just received equal rights in 1990 with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (July 26, 1990).

The names of many human rights activists are well known, but few have ever heard the names Judith Heumann or Lex Frieden. I grew up never knowing the history of how I got to have the rights and services I have today as a person with a disability. And I probably never would have learned it if I had picked any other major in college. In grade school, we learn the history of the equal rights movement, but the section on disability is rarely addressed in full, if at all. We are never taught about the deinstitutionalization movement, or the people who crawled out of their wheelchairs and up the stairs of the capital, or those who laid in the streets to protest the inaccessibility of public transportation.

So how is the public supposed to build empathy, compassion, and understanding for the 25% of their population that has disabilities when they are never taught about them?

As we celebrate the 31st anniversary of the ADA this week, it is imperative that disability awareness and education has a larger presence in the DEI movement at the corporate level, the community level, and within the education conversation. There is nothing but diversity among the disability community and making disability a cornerstone of DEI conversations is imperative to ensuring these conversations are more meaningful, educational and celebratory.

And disability easily fits into the DEI movement with, well, inclusion. Here’s how….

  • Be open to conversations about disability and listen to what the community has to say.
  • When presenting about DEI, be sure to include the disability community just as you would any other cultural minority, because we are one.
  • Be an ally by recognizing and speaking up when disability is not a part of diversity conversations.
  • People don’t know what they don’t know, so help educate others on the importance of recognizing the disability community in DEI efforts.

There is so much fear around the unknown, and that’s when discrimination creeps in. We have to make the unknown known, so that real change can begin through true understanding and collaboration.