Inclusion is NOT Just a Buzzword

I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, and a recent event that I personally experienced was the tipping point to finally doing it.

Here Goes It…

I am invited to countless events each year that span the globe. During the past couple of years I made a commitment to devote all of my time to Canada, specifically Toronto. I love participating in events, whether it be organizing, speaking, promoting or participating as an audience member. The more we learn as a community the better off we are.

One trend is that event organizers are trying to make events more accessible and inclusive to their target community. Personally, I have always had a policy for SocialHRCamp that complimentary tickets will always be offered to those in transition, and heavily discounted tickets to HR students. Other things include ensuring the gender diversity among the speaker group, offering the chance for people to participate remotely via online streaming, giving first-time speakers a chance to share their knowledge and the list goes on. Other events, specific to tech, have gone further to provide discounted tickets to specific groups like women and LGBTQA+, and a more rigorous assessment of speakers, offering captioning, interpreters, etc…

So What’s the Problem?

For the record, I am the first person to stand up and applaud any effort to make events more accessible and inclusive to everyone. But here’s the thing. If an event has promoted themselves as an openly inclusive and accessible event for everyone then you need to behave that way, for EVERYONE.

Case in Point

I will use myself as an example. I have a severe hearing loss in both ears. I self-identify as someone with a disability. I have done so since I was born and unless there’s a magical treatment to cure hearing loss I will be this way until the day I die. I recently expressed interest in attending an upcoming event in Toronto (I will NOT name the event) and came across a fantastic ticket promotion in my social feed. I believe the early bird ticket price, which is still effective, is priced around $500-$600. The promotion was specific to women. The price of a ticket would have been around $40-$60, which is heavily discounted. I think it’s absolutely fantastic that the event organizers are doing this. I contacted the organizers and asked if there are promotions for people with disabilities. Below was their response.

Needless to say, I had to read it twice. I have no fricking clue what the guy was talking about. All I asked was if they were offering ticket discounts for people with disabilities. He came back with what appeared to be a canned response to something I didn’t ask about. Not only that, but someone with a disability is required to go stand in a different line-up and bring proof of their disability? What for? So does that mean if I want to attend this conference I need to get a note from my ENT Doctor along with my audiogram? Maybe I should just bring my whole medical file with me and let them determine if I have a disability or not. He also talked about a personal assistant. Why would I need a personal assistant if I told him I have a hearing disability?

I didn’t even know where to start with his response. I let it sit for a few days before responding. I simply thanked him for his response and briefly mentioned that I thought it was really disappointing that they have promoted themselves as an inclusive event but are not offering ticket support to other marginalized groups and that his response clearly demonstrated his lack of awareness and understanding of what I was asking.

Here’s the Thing…

I have always believed that because I live every single day with a disability I need to be the one to lead the way in helping organizations be inclusive. How can you possibly expect someone who has never experienced hearing loss to have any idea of how to help someone who is hard of hearing? I can’t. It starts with me, and how I start this is by educating.

The other key take-away is that if you want to be inclusive you need to go all in. You can’t just target certain groups and call it a day. As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s fantastic that they’re offering support for women, but at the same time, they’re marginalizing and ignoring other groups such as people with disabilities. You can’t half-ass it. It doesn’t work that way.

This is a lesson for organizations, events and anything else that focuses on groups of people. You can’t be “sort of inclusive”. It’s either you are, or you are not. That’s it. So hopefully the organizers of this event learned something from my response to them, and will make some changes to how they include other people. Only time will tell.

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