The most powerful tool for inclusion: Self-awareness

During inclusion workshops, it is common to have HR and DEI managers, leaders and any corporate participant desperately clamor for tools to enable inclusion in their workplaces.

Photo of a woman holding her hands against a green glass surface with slats. Through the structure of the glass surface you can see only the silhouette of the woman.

What I have realized is that no tool is as powerful as self-awareness.

A couple of days ago I found myself being politely exclusionary despite living with visual disability myself.

For 33 years, we at Dialog in the Dark have been working around the world primarily with visually impaired people.

Today we have added digital experiences to our catalog of Dialogue experiences, and we have also decided that our team of facilitators will be made up of people living with different disabilities besides the visual one.

During an e-mail exchange to define strategies to find more facilitators with disabilities, we got to the point of talking about people with cognitive disabilities, my opinion was: "I think that including facilitators with cognitive disabilities to the team is an issue that can wait; we have never worked with this group, I personally have not received training on what their needs are and how to work better with them, and we have neither protocols nor internal processes to include them."

As I was hitting the send button, I realized that I was excluding people with cognitive disabilities. In a subtle, even polite, but exclusionary way. The same arguments I presented could very well serve a recruiter from any company I applied to: “we don't hire people with visual impairment at the moment, we are not qualified to receive you, the company does not have the necessary procedures to include you.”

How would I feel? Discriminated against, of course!

The next day I sent another email to my team confessing that I had realized my exclusionary behavior. I told them that indeed I felt inexperienced on how to communicate and collaborate with people with cognitive disabilities but I asked for my colleagues support to continue with our inclusive effort and find the best way to work with this group.

Being exclusionary has a clear solid background. We live in an ableist culture, where we are all valued and recognized solely on the basis of our production. Society unconsciously assumes that people with disabilities do not add productive value, so we are relegated to a subordinate level.

And even we ourselves, as people with disabilities, fall into the trap of ableism, discriminating against people with other diversities, or we discriminate against ourselves, making immeasurable efforts to be "normal", instead of demanding accessibility. For example, I would do my best, through apps and specialized software, to translate the content you send me via an image format, instead of inviting you to consider conveying your message in a way that is accessible to me.

The way forward is self-awareness: to become aware of these behaviors and to have a constant inclusive intention, and if we find ourselves being exclusionary, to recognize it and reverse it in any way we can, even if it is not the perfect or desirable way.

It is a clever idea to end a workshop with a big toolbox for inclusion. But no tool is useful until we become good at finding the right situations where an inclusion fix is needed.