diversity, equity & inclusion

Accommodations for People with Disabilities

Accommodations for people with disabilities are adjustments to the environment so that everyone gets equitable access and opportunity.

The interview process (and the workplace in general) can easily be more accessible by offering or asking for accommodations, such as:

  • A physically accessible location
  • Adjusted lighting
  • Specific seating arrangements
  • Scent free or reduced environments
  • A quiet place with less ambient noise
  • Flexible timing to suit when the person has the fewest disability-related barriers
  • Communication aids
  • Welcoming service animals, support workers or interpreters
  • Remote working
  • Getting the list of questions before the interview
  • Asking the person what they need

Inviting a Stutterer to Speak

I was recently invited to a speaking engagement. Armed with an overabundance of PowerPoint slides, I spoke about diversity, equity, and inclusion to a group of Swedish DEI experts.

I had done my very best to avoid public speaking since kindergarten when my stutter first surfaced. Speaking in public, being put on the spot, making phone calls, answering the phone, reading aloud – all things besides casual, comfortable conversion with friends came with generous helpings of anxiety. I spent many years trying to hide the stutter, interspersed with bouts of self-directed exposure therapy, like when I worked as a telemarketer and white-knuckled it through the intense anxiety. Which, spoiler alert, did not work at all.

And then I decided to open up about my stutter – right around the time Joe Biden, fellow stutterer, became president. The anxiety that had thrived in hiding and shame, wilted a little in the light.

So when I was asked to come and chat with the good folks at Add Gender, I said yes. Even though imposter syndrome shouted in my ear: What business does a stutterer have with any kind of public speaking? Never mind that, what business do I have? I don’t know anything!

But I didn’t listen to that jerk. Instead, I surprised myself and followed through. I spent far too long fussing with my PowerPoint slides, got help from a presentation expert, and on that morning, I legitimately enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the discussion afterwards even more. I never in a million years would have imagined myself doing something like that, let alone have a good time doing it.

Inclusion Matters

My presentation included a discussion about making the hiring process more accessible, and for the first time, I realized that not only did I fall into the category of people with disabilities (my imposter syndrome says that invisible disabilities don’t count), but I could have asked for accommodations.

In the last few years, I’ve been forced to make adjustments to my life to accommodate my chronic illness (hurrah for remote working!) but it still took me by surprise to understand that I could have made adjustments for my stutter all along. During my own presentation on the subject no less.

I wonder what my life would have been like if my grade school, university, and workplaces had been openly accommodating to people with stutters. What if disfluency wasn’t something I felt I had to hide or fix, but something had I accepted about myself and worked with instead?

I’m so happy that the public conversations about accessibility and inclusion are spreading and getting louder, and that so many people are advocating for these rights. Other people being open and authentic about themselves is what spurred me to do the same. And it’s made a world of difference. I hope writing about my own experiences here encourages someone else to ask for what they need.

Accommodating people with disabilities isn’t just policy, academic exercise, or social media content. It’s the lives of real people. It’s personal. We all have our own circumstances and challenges. If there are ways to make it a little easier to interact with the world, why wouldn’t we be kind to ourselves and each other, and make those adjustments?

“…all flourishing is mutual”

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
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