Re-learning inclusivity – by SEDRA Foundation’s Renate Baur-Richter

Renate Baur-Richter from SEDRA Foundation, spoke at a recent event hosted by The Marketing Society Middle East on inclusivity

Unlearning needs courage, commitment and genuine interest in adopting new and (in the beginning) uncomfortable perspectives. Let’s look at inclusion through semantic lenses: “We as a community/company/ department/team come together to include ‘people of determination’.

What could go wrong with formulating such a compelling call to action? The short answer is: a lot. The more complex response requires us to acknowledge the explicit power dynamic in this appeal. We and them. Us and them. As long as there’s the perception that people of determination are part of the outsider group, our modus operandi is still that of the expired medical model towards disability, which prescribed that people had to be “fixed” to fit into an environment that “we” defined as “normal”. Being on eye-level with people of determination deprives “us” from being the do-gooders, but elevates us (society as whole) to a community where we can have a candid conversation about a rights-based approach, the socio-economic advantage of neuro-diverse teams and communities and the existing angst of unlearning and starting this inclusive journey as novices.

So, what practices can organisations adopt to cultivate a more inclusive corporate culture? Based on many years of consultancy and experience, here’s my Rubik’s Cube method (if you move one square, you disrupt the entire system):

1. Language – No filters, please
You know it by now; most advocates prefer a person-first language: “the candidate for social media marketing with a hearing impairment”, instead of “the hearing-impaired applicant”. Also, check for common associations, such as “the young man who suffers from Down Syndrome”. Down Syndrome does not hurt like a lesion; it is just a genetic condition.

Have you heard about the “bravePara-Olympic athlete who overcame her disability”? Even if she stands now on the winners’ podium, her impairment did not vanish. Yet, this gold-medal winner learned to manage it. Did you apply the adjective “brave” to honour a person of determination? That’s positive discrimination, but still discrimination. Also, praise for doing those mundane, every-day-life activities adds to that impression that people of determination, in general, are largely incapable, so the outlier has to be celebrated. You see the pattern: language acts as a filter of our perception.

2. Photos – the ‘hero’ proposition
Marketing and media professionals are the true social influencers of our time. Research has proven that marketing is a pertinent source for influencing societal norms and values. “Normality” is constantly formed by our everyday experience and surrounding. Given that 10 per cent of the world’s population lives with a disability, we can state a clear underrepresentation. SEDRA Foundation recommends developing an internal guideline for shooting and publishing photos and videos. Representing people of determination in photos and videos is a multi-dimensional endeavour and should reflect real diversity.

Consent and information: More often than not, we hear and experience that people of determination are chased up in a public event, and photographers put their camera lenses right in front of the faces of people with intellectual disabilities without explaining their role and the media they work for, or asking for consent. If in doubt, leave a business card, ask for contact details and follow up if you intend to publish the photo in the context of “disability” coverage. What if the person in the photo does not identify as a “person of determination with a cognitive disability”? What if the family would prefer not to disclose any specifics about a family member?

Positioning: As a rule of thumb, the person in the centre of a photo is the protagonist. Yet, how often do we see people of determination positioned there, just because they’re people of determination? When arranging groups for a photo, think about alternatives to the standard standing position. What about someone using a wheelchair?

Context: When using stock pictures, make an effort to find those with a more diverse and accurate representation of people of determination. There are more than the ubiquitous seven people with disabilities that we see everywhere.

3. Create an inclusive organisational culture
Develop a new “normal”, which includes accessibility and inclusivity, by taking deliberate steps that are aligned with your mission and vision. Nurturing an inclusive culture works best if it’s embedded within your mission. Inclusion is not an add-on; it’s an integral part of corporate culture and stretches beyond cultivating diverse teams.

Get started: Start preparing an “organisational scan” of your inclusivity and interests. A workshop with selected representatives from all levels of the organisation could dig up hidden topics that could be used as an inroad. Perhaps some of your employees have family members of determination, or volunteer with a recognised organisation? Or others have worked with people of determination in the past and developed inclusive services? You might even have a colleague of determination who could lead a focus group?

That’s what we at SEDRA call the 360-degree approach. And it should not end there; information of staff in supporting services from valet parking to the maintenance teams are crucial.

Are you ready to ready to re-learn inclusivity?