Turning EDI awareness into action and allyship

White text on a dark blue background reads Turning EDI awareness into action and allyship. There is a cartoon graphic which says Take Action!

Going beyond awareness into action is often the stumbling block for many people on their disability inclusion learning journey. What to do with the knowledge you’ve gained? How to act on the insight and skills you’ve built up? It remains one of the most popular questions I get when I speak about disability.

It’s also often where the fear kicks in. It’s like learning a new language in the safety of a classroom or app and then using it in the wild. And like using a new and unfamiliar language, it’s best to start small.

Focus on thankless tasks

Big initiatives and campaigns around disability inclusion can be great, but too often they generate a buzz without effecting change. Part of the reason for this is that working on something bold makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we are making a difference. We get to share it and say ‘I was a part of that’, oftentimes without the need for personal action. It’s easier, right? Campaigns, awards, LinkedIn likes, the warm glow of public and peer acknowledgement is a powerful drug.

But like most other areas of activism and allyship it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that often demonstrates effort to marginalised groups. It’s the bits no-one will publicly thank you for, the choices you make when no-one is looking over your shoulder. This is where to start to change awareness into action. I know I go on about accessibility and alt-text in particular, but it’s such a good example of inclusion in action. It might be unlikely anyone with a visual impairment will personally thank you for including alt text, or someone with hearing loss seeks you out to praise you for adding captions but adding them every time, until it becomes second nature is putting your disability awareness into action.

Expect disability

One in five people in the UK is disabled. I’ve uttered this fact countless times in training sessions yet, as we’re exploring, being aware of something and acting on it are two different things. It’s also a really hard to grasp statistic. Few of us are likely to think of ourselves in sets of five. Five friends, five colleagues, five family members. When I talk to people in workshops and public speaking gigs I often say the call is coming from inside the house. What I mean, is that disability is already in your world, you don’t need to be informed of it in order to accept it exists and that it should be accommodated for. Often, our default position is ‘I’m not personally aware of it so I don’t think about it’. It simply doesn’t occur to us to include disability unless we are specifically asked. By expecting, or assuming disability in our various social and professional circles we begin to approach everything through an inclusion-for-all lens. Assume disabled people and people with impairments are in your orbit and act accordingly.

Choose three things

We cannot do everything all at once, take what you know about disability inclusion and choose three things to do, and do well. If you’re stuck on what to opt for, here are some suggestions:

  1. Focus on online accessibility. Take steps to make your content inclusive, across all your platforms.
  2. Read books written by disabled authors.
  3. Listen to podcasts created by disabled folks
  4. Follow disability advocates, bloggers and influencers and journal about what you learn.
  5. Make disability part of everyday conversation. In a campaign meeting? Bring up disability inclusion. Is disability missing from your on-boarding processes or training schedule, advocate for it to be added. Watching something that’s a poor representation, or a good representation? Mention it, talk about it.
  6. Follow disability journalists and pay attention to what they’re covering.
  7. Set an alert for disability news, especially government announcements that affect the lives of disabled people.

The leap from awareness to action isn’t one big thing, but lots of little things. Small, everyday changes to your approach, your conversations and your attitude. We’re not looking for grand gestures but meaningful ones.