Empowerment. Inclusion. Access. These are 3 words that will no doubt resonate with Association leaders, staff and members as these have been values espoused as core to the services and functioning of Associations.
With the proliferation of digital engagement adopted by Associations since COVID-19 disrupted our traditional means of engagement and interaction, these 3 words have acquired a new level of importance.
The evolution of digital has been experienced as a key disrupter to Associations – it has challenged their traditional revenue sources and impacted on the organization and operations of events, educational programmes, publications, membership and HR. However, Associations have now started to see the benefits of digital as an enabler. The move towards digital which has proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic, has allowed Associations to broaden their networks, deepen their connections and most crucially it has facilitated accessibility of associations to previously under-served and under-represented communities – including those with disabilities.
According to the 2011 World Report on Disability by the World Health Organisation/World Bank, there are an estimated 1 billion persons with disabilities worldwide. That same report shows that whilst employment rates vary across countries, “the bottom line is that, all over the world, a person with a disability is less likely to be employed than a person without a disability, often much less so”.
Despite legislation on diversity in the workplace, people with disabilities still do not experience the same access to work opportunities as do their counterparts without disabilities.
The role and the responsibility of Associations here is clear. Inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of life-long learning opportunities for people with disabilities is fundamental. Without their full inclusion, efforts to achieve the societal transformation envisioned in the UN SDGs will stall. As industry representatives, associations are in a pivotal position to lead and stimulate the development of a more inclusive workforce.
So how can Associations help move the needle towards empowering those with disabilities? How can they contribute to a more inclusive and accessible workplace?
As a point for departure, Associations can start by identifying participation gaps within their existing networks and develop a clear strategy for both stimulating and supporting greater inclusion of people with disabilities across all their programme of activities- both offline and online.
Whilst seeking to understand and address the issues and challenges raised by those already within their networks who have disabilities, they also need to engage with those who remain on the outside of their networks and seek to understand what keeps them there.
Certainly, the inevitability of digital as a permanent feature of associations moving forward creates an opportunity to systemically embed accessibility within their operations. This will also require the supplier community from technology companies to exhibition centers to be ready to provide associations with the solutions they need in order to develop disability-inclusive responses to all their services and events moving forward.