To Be More Inclusive, Support a Spectrum of Abilities

Spectrum August 6, 2019 By: Emily Rabbitt, CAE

Evolving definitions of disability and advances in accessibility are likely to change how associations engage with people with disabilities. New ASAE Foundation research looks at the potential effects of these trends and how associations can prepare for them.

Historically, physical or mental conditions have kept potential workers out of the workplace or made work more complicated to navigate. But social and technological changes are creating possibilities for a larger, more inclusive workforce.

Ability and disability are increasingly understood as existing on a spectrum rather than as a binary, with greater acknowledgement that people’s physical, behavioral, and cognitive traits encompass a broad range. Increased understanding of neurodiversity has been pivotal in destigmatizing autism—which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now occurs at a rate of one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls.

At the same time, innovations such as artificial intelligence coaches, sensory enhancements, and robotic prostheses offer new ways to work around mental or physical conditions. People with mobility limitations are beginning to use virtual reality, and those with physical disabilities are increasingly able to use voice, gesture, and brain-computer interfaces.

The shift in perspective regarding disabilities is likely to broaden the definition of who may be defined as disabled, and advanced technology will make it possible for more people with disabilities to engage in the workforce. The “Towards a Spectrum of Abilities” action brief from ASAE ForesightWorks examines the effects of these changes for the world of work and for associations.

Association leaders will be challenged to consider how they serve members and employees with diverse conditions. There are several steps that proactive leaders can take to address this driver of change.

Seek expertise. Your meetings team has a wealth of experience related to ensuring that events are accessible and inclusive. Engage their expertise to identify opportunities to make your organization more accommodating. You can also look to organizations that have already acted on these issues, reach out to groups that represent persons with disabilities, or partner with universities.

12.8% The percentage of people with disabilities in the United States in 2016. The rate was 11.9 percent in 2010.

Source: 2017 Annual Report on People With Disabilities in America

Expect inclusion across your organization. Train human resource professionals and volunteer managers to support staff and volunteers with a spectrum of abilities. Ask potential vendors and service providers to explain how they will meet differing needs.

Stay abreast of legal developments. As the definition of disability evolves, local jurisdictions are likely to adopt protections for newly defined groups that may be broader than federal laws. Leaders should be aware of local laws where their association and their members do business.

Address potential tensions. Even as staff and volunteer leaders acknowledge that inclusion efforts are necessary to support constituent communities, organizations may still encounter resistance, particularly regarding the cost and practicality of accommodations. Define boundaries and policies to set roadmaps through these types of tensions—and then revisit those policies on an ongoing basis.

Emily Rabbitt, CAE

Emily Rabbitt, CAE, is a former manager of research content and knowledge resources for the ASAE Foundation.