Creating Disability Inclusive Organizations: Practical Tips for Accessibility and Equity

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Committed to fostering inclusivity for people with disabilities in your organization? This episode features Kimberly Tissot of Able South Carolina, who shares essential steps for enhancing accessibility and equity in workplaces. Learn how to optimize your website for visually impaired users, include disability representation in marketing, and comply with disability rights laws. Listen now for a valuable guide to implementing inclusivity and accessibility best practices in your organization.

Kimberly Tissot Bio.

Learn more about Able SC.

Transcript

Katy Smith: Kimberly Tissot is with us from Able South Carolina to talk about how do we create organizations, businesses, nonprofits, faith organizations that are truly, completely inclusive. So Kimberly, maybe you can just talk to us. When we think about employees, when we think about customers or guests, what would our, what would our organizations look like if we were really inclusive?

Kimberly Tissot: Yeah, absolutely. So right away you would be, your website would be accessible. So people who are blind would be able to go to your website and see everything on it. And the way that they see the information on your website is they use screen readers. Technology is amazing. So making sure that your websites are accessible for people who are blind.

Um, so blind people, the way that they access websites are through, um, their technology and a lot of times they have screen readers. And if your website is not made to be accessible, they’re not getting any information off of your website. And again, the population is really large and so that’s really important but also one of the responsibilities under disability rights legislation. And making your website’s accessible is relatively easy. Your web designer would obviously have to know. But it’s simple things is like making sure your PDFs – if you’re putting PDFs on your website – that those PDFs are made accessible before they’re uploaded.

A lot of times there’s already built-in programs. Um, Microsoft Word is an example. Um, you can actually run an accessibility check on any documents before you send them out to make them fully accessible, but also any images. So if your, um, website has images on the website, you would actually have a visual description on the back end.

So screen readers would pick up what that visual is. So that would be one way. And a lot of times people go to your website first or social media. Making your social media content accessible. And again, it’s really simple. A lot of social media sites have accessibility features in that you can add, um, that alt text, which will do that visual description of what you post.

Anybody can do this even, even people that have individual Facebook pages or, uh, Instagram, Twitter has the same feature built in. So those are just some simple steps. Making sure that your business is friendly with accommodations and some things again, uh, if you are a restaurant, let’s say. Your menu is accessible.

Do you have alternative formats? Do you have brailed menus? And we can help with that. So if anybody needs brailed menus, we can help with that. Uh, but making sure, you know, that technology on the back end is there. Making sure your physical building is, accessible. And again, there are specific accessibility standards that are on, um, websites such as the ada.gov that can walk you through, walk or roll you through the standards, um, so that you see there’s measurements for every single thing.

And there’s like a thousand pages.

Katy Smith: So it’s not a mystery.

Kimberly Tissot: Right. It’s not a mystery. All this information is right there and it’s very simple to follow. So that would be another step. But making sure that you have, disability representation. Think about your commercials that you’re doing. Think about the advertisements that you are doing.

Do they have disability representation? Are there people with disabilities in your advertisements? Because again, it’s really important to be able to go to a business and see you as a customer in, in advertisements or within your employees as well, and that’s the next step. Making sure that you’re hiring inclusively.

Again, hiring people with disabilities, really changes the culture of your environment. Really shows that you’re a diverse employer, diverse business, but also employers get really great benefits on the backend. And when I say benefits, there’s a lot of data to show that people with disabilities are more loyal.

There’s less call out. They’re more likely to stay. And in this environment that we’re in now where there’s a lot of transition within employers…

Katy Smith: That’s an important asset.

Kimberly Tissot: Yes. And hiring people with disabilities is a really untapped pipeline right now. And so that’s something that is really simple to do and, and accommodating employees with disabilities is really simple.

And if you think about accommodations in a way, you’re just evening out the playing field. It’s not special privileges. It’s making sure that your employees have the tools they need to perform the job successfully. And if we step back from this, isn’t that what we all want for all of our employees? And so really looking at it through that equitable lens.

And another step would just, you know, really be welcoming. Again, we don’t want special treatment. We want equitable access. And so making sure that you study up what ableism is and trying to be that anti ableist within your businesses. Um, making sure that you are not holding people with disabilities to a different level and you are not really truly having any implicit bias towards disability, and that does exist.

And that’s a lot of times that implicit bias is where pity comes from.

Katy Smith: Great points. Some of these things you mentioned are things that I have seen and have not really known what they were as I’m editing the back end of my own website, not very well because we have someone who does that. But if I get in there, I think, what exactly is that? This is so helpful because some of it is like, now that you know you can do it.

Kimberly Tissot: Yeah. Yeah.

Katy Smith: I hadn’t thought about some of these things. Are these things that your organization can help people with?

Kimberly Tissot: Absolutely. So yeah, Able South Carolina does have a web testing team, and this web testing team are mix of IT professionals, but also blind users so we can help identify any issues with your website. And just making it really more user friendly as well. And, our organization is definitely prepared to review any websites to make sure that they are fully inclusive.

And, and again, it’s, it’s really simple. Once you know how to make a website accessible, it gets into your regular practice.

Katy Smith: I’m sure. It’s just a matter of kind of changing one’s own habits because now you’re viewing the world through this lens in a different way.

Kimberly Tissot: And same with the document accessibility as well, like when you have you know, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and Excel having all these accessibility features already built in. Everybody goes to that spell check, but there’s also an accessibility check up there as well. And if you go, if we get in the habit of making sure that we’re doing that accessibility check, you’re really getting in the habit of making sure your documents are inclusive to everyone.

Katy Smith: If someone’s listening and they say “wow, okay. I wanna do this. I wanna be this kind of employer. I wanna be this kind of business owner.” How would someone start this journey?

Kimberly Tissot: Yeah, so I think for any businesses that want to start the journey of being more inclusive and, and I wanna say starting the journey, but also realizing that you have responsibilities under disability rights legislation. So it’s something that it’s not optional, right? Um,

Katy Smith: I was thinking about even my use of the word journey as like, “this is gonna be a fun quest.” Like, no, you should have been doing this for the last several decades.

Kimberly Tissot: Yep, yep. So it’s not an optional law, right? And so everyone has to follow it. So really learning your responsibilities and, you know, going to the ada.gov website, but you can also call Able South Carolina. We can really point you into the right directions. Again, our organization is not a legal organization.

We want to provide everyone with the tools to make our society the best that it can be for people with disabilities.

Katy Smith: Outstanding. Well, this has been really helpful to me. What else would you say to listeners as they think about this topic?

Kimberly Tissot: Thinking about being inclusive and equitable and including, you know, with the disability lens. It’s so simple to do. Once you get into the habit of doing it and really thinking this way of, you know, “how am I being inclusive to people who are deaf? How am I being inclusive to people with physical disabilities” and whatnot, you’ll be set to really have that best practice approach.

So it’s not difficult, it’s not rocket science to, uh, make sure that people, uh, with disabilities are included in an everyday society.

Katy Smith: That’s so great. Well, Kimberly, thanks so much for being here and for all that you do and I look forward to staying connected.

Kimberly Tissot: Great. We look forward to doing all we can with you and, and, and thank you so much for having me and sharing this really important topic that everyone needs to hear to make society the best that it can be.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of the Greenville Podcast Company.

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