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Disability Inclusion: Three Actions to Get Started

This post was written by Paradigm expert consultant Victoria Verlezza, PhD

July is Disability Pride month, a time to raise awareness of the disabled community, uplift and amplify disabled voices, and learn about disability history. 

While disability awareness has come a long way since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in July 1990, there is still a lot of work to do to create truly inclusive spaces for people with disabilities. Here are a few ways to get started: 

Understanding “Disability”  

We receive many questions about the word disability itself and there seems to be a sense of fear saying the word disabled — disability is not a dirty word. 

Disability is a visible or invisible barrier a person faces to operate in a world that disables them. For many years, people thought disability meant physically visible, but the definition reaches far beyond the visible. Disability extends to invisible disabilities including but not limited to learning disabilities, neurodiversity, chronic illnesses, and some mental health conditions. Disability is not simply something we see on someone else. 

When talking about disability, be mindful that there is a preference among certain communities for person- or identity- first language — saying “person with a disability” instead of “a disabled person.”

Recognizing Barriers to Disability Inclusion

To create more inclusive environments for people with disabilities, we first need to recognize the construct that is foundational to so many non-inclusive behaviors — our own internalized ableism. Ableism is  a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on socially constructed ideas of normal, intelligent, excellence, desire, and productivity (TL Lewis & Dustin Gibson).

Many of us have been taught and conditioned to ignore or hyperfixate on ability, and as organizations that desire to make our workplaces more inclusive, we need to begin to pay attention to the various elements of how environments and systems disable people.

  • Physical: perhaps the most recognized barrier, the way spaces are designed can disable a person or limit their ability to access a space. 
  • Language: it’s not only important to use the correct terminology for people with disabilities, we also need to recognize ableist words and idioms that are ingrained into our vernacular.     
  • Representation: historically, people with disabilities have not been well-represented in history books, mainstream entertainment, or advertisements. This representation is important to minimizing ableism. 

Creating More Inclusive Environments 

Overcoming these barriers to disability inclusion takes mindfulness, commitment, and the willingness to learn. Here are a few strategies you can use, based on Paradigm’s TIP framework:

  • Time: take the time to educate yourself on varying disabilities, especially if you are faced with an awareness gap.
  • Intention: be intentional about the language you use. Consider swapping words like “walk” with “move.” Avoid idioms that use ableist language, like “the blind leading the blind.” Instead, consider what you’re actually trying to say, be intentional about the wording, and consider alternatives.
  • Process: consider how your organization’s various processes may have barriers for those of us with disabilities, seen or unseen, disclosed or not. Examine the various processes in place in terms of hiring or even the words in a job description. Could they unintentionally be excluding people?

Continue Your Learning 

Ready to further educate yourself on disability? Here are a few things to watch, read, and listen to:




July 30, 2021

If you want to learn more about disability inclusion, contact us today!