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Disability inclusion starts with us: How to raise awareness with an open dialogue

A few years ago, my then 5-yr old son and I were in the check-out line at a grocery store when he asked me why the person behind us was in a “chair with wheels on it.” It was one of those wheelchairs with a cart attached to the front of it and to my son, it seemed like the coolest thing ever. It was the first time I had to really talk to our young children about disabilities. I attempted to explain how each person is unique and different in some way -- and that everyone adapts to their own unique way of doing things.  

Over the years, we’ve had numerous conversations with our three elementary school children about why some of their friends go to a special reading class, others get extra time for homework, and why one of their closest friends uses a walker to get around. How we talk to our children about individuals with disabilities will shape their perceptions and their actions for years to come.  

In teaching my children, I have discovered that being truly inclusive is a continuous learning journey. Increasing education and self-awareness around ableism is critically important – whether it’s at school, in our workplaces, or in our communities at large.  As an example, when my daughter’s friend who uses a walker scattered his books on the floor, she immediately went to his assistance, making the assumption that he wasn’t capable of gathering his books himself. Many of us make similar false assumptions about those with a disability. Similar examples of unconscious ‘ableism’ are all around us. Subtle ableism can often become so ingrained in our language, our homes, our workplaces and in our daily lives that most of us are unaware of it. The more we learn, read, and talk to those experiencing a disability, the more self-aware we become and more we can recognize our actions, and those of others, that marginalize those with disabilities. 

In our workplaces, combating ableism and embracing disability inclusion starts with education and open dialogue to raise awareness.  In addition, workplaces need to design their systems, polices, virtual and physical work environments, product offerings and employee experiences to be inclusive of those with a disability.  

While much work remains ahead, at Conduent, we are making progress on this journey in a few ways. Designing our products for disability readiness, including digital accessibility (such as our Benepath Suite, which utilizes JAWS (Job Access with Speech) a popular screen reader), employing an open-source Web Accessibility Evaluation (WAVE) tool to conduct testing prior to every new product release and ensuring the digital accessibility of our websites are small steps. Asking about special needs and accommodations our part of our recruitment process, encouraging our associates to self-ID, providing physical accommodations and flexible scheduling where needed and, most importantly, creating a supportive work environment are other ways we are building a workplace that supports disability inclusion. I am proud of the work being done by our Disability Impact Group to build a sense of community and have open dialogue around topics such as autism and mental health, as well as promote learning and education around ableism and other topics that impact those living with a disability. This month we are hosting a panel discussion with the chairman of our Board, Scott Letier and our CEO Cliff Skelton around ‘Caring for a child with special needs’ – a topic that touches many of us. 

At the end of the day, the age-old golden rule always holds true: treat others how you want to be treated. Whether it’s in schools, at work, in our communities, or in larger systems, treating everyone with respect and empathy and embracing differences in a positive way paves the path to inclusion. I hope this month everyone takes the time to learn a little more on how to practice disability inclusion in your day-to-day life and commits to allyship with this vibrant and talented community.  
To learn more about Conduent and our inclusion journey, visit our DE&I page.  

About the Author

Remy is responsible for developing and executing company-wide diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and overseeing internal communications. In her role, she brings these areas together to foster an inclusive culture and shape our associate experience. A seasoned senior leader, Remy brings two decades of experience leading strategic communications at global organizations, particularly during periods of change and transformation. Her work, and passion, has focused on effectively leveraging leadership and the voices of associates to build cultures that encourage openness, collaboration, transparency and belonging. Her expertise includes the implementation of global communications strategies spanning associate engagement and alignment to a company’s vision and objectives, employee value proposition, diversity and inclusion and crisis communications.

Profile Photo of Remy Kaul, Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Internal Communications