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Equity | November 28, 2022

Centering People Not Checklists

By Alexzia Plummer, Program Associate

Imagine you’ve invited your close friend or relative to your nonprofit’s upcoming community meeting. Your friend uses hearing aids. Your organization doesn’t usually use microphones for informal meetings, but you want your friend to be able to fully participate in the community dialogue. Before the event, you’re able to find a mic and the event goes well!

Even when your friend can’t attend, you continue to use the microphone at community meetings. And just like that, you’ve taken an important step in making your organization more accessible.

The Disability and Philanthropy Forum defines accessibility as “the concept of ensuring that places, products, and services are fully open to and usable by people with all types of disabilities.” According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 Americans has some form of disability. We can safely conclude that we’re already working with and serving people with disabilities even if they haven’t disclosed them to us.

How can we serve this community better? I’ve noticed a pattern when talking about accessibility with some nonprofit professionals. Sometimes the conversation will move away from centering people with disabilities and toward a compliance checklist. While lists are helpful, a journey to disability inclusion and accessibility requires an attitude shift.

First, centering people with disabilities helps everyone. There’s a concept called “The Curb-Cut Effect” based on those sidewalk slopes that were created to help people using wheelchairs cross the street. Although intended for wheelchair users, anyone using something with wheels benefits. It’s the same concept with closed captioning on TV.

Second, I found that thinking of a specific person can lead to incremental changes to a more accessible organization. Like the example at the beginning, accommodating one person can lead to positive changes of practice. When people are overwhelmed on where to start, I suggest “what would you change if your grandma had to navigate your website or your cousin with autism is coming to your event?”

Third, we must listen to and include people with disabilities in our decision-making and planning. There are way respectful ways to ask people what accommodations they need before events. Most importantly, we can be open to feedback to do better in the future.

At the Weitz Family Foundation, we are continuously learning more about accessibility and putting disability inclusion into practice. We are not experts, but we hope that you will join us on our journey to making our community more accessible for all.

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Multi-colored waves with text that reads, "Together, we can and we will achieve greater equity, justice, and peace for our community."

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