Did you know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month? This year marks the 75th year for the event as well as the 30th-anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This celebration provides a unique opportunity to educate, discuss, and celebrate the many contributions of American’s with disabilities. 

The theme for this year’s celebration is Increasing Access and Opportunity, and the Trilogie team is dedicated to looking beyond the standard of ADA compliance and creating opportunities for access to all individuals. 

At Trilogie we talk a lot about the importance of furniture as a tool to do so much more than provide a surface to write at or a place to sit. We believe that it can actually make a positive impact on positive team culture, employee engagement, workplace wellness, recruiting and retention efforts and it can foster innovation. All of these intangible parts of a business are directly affected by diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. 

Our Senior Designer, Megan Harris, said that “My favorite thing about space planning and design is having the ability to create an environment that focuses on human interaction. The American’s with Disabilities Act is so important because it requires all individuals to have the opportunity to interact and enjoy a space in a similar way, creating a space that every person can thrive in.” 

We could talk about the importance of designing a space, the compliance aspect, or why you should be a good person, but it means nothing coming from an able-bodied person. This month we are hoping to celebrate designing with intention and inclusion by hearing from local author, Rebekah G. Taussig, Ph.D. Author of Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body. 

“When someone’s difference scares you, that’s the precise moment to lean in, shut up, and listen.”

Rebekah earned her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk!) in Creative Nonfiction and Disability studies, currently living in Kansas City with her family, and teaches high school. I had the pleasure of speaking to Rebekah, an introduction made by Ability KC. When asked about her experiences with design, I was blown away by her response:

Literally everything that’s been built — every signpost and path out in nature, every building and bus in our cities, every doorknob and chair in your house — was made to accommodate somebody. We stop refining or expanding our accommodations only when we’re satisfied that those we want at the party can get there.” Her thoughts on accessibility fall in line with this same thought. “Accommodations for disabled people aren’t ‘special.’ At least, not any more special than the world of accommodations already surrounding us. It’s just that, typically, those who already have access haven’t had to think about who is still waiting to be included.” 

As an individual that is passionate about marginalized youth, I can only imagine the impact of growing up in a society that isn’t educated about disabilities, isn’t accessible, and the effects that has on an already trivial time in an individuals life. I realized this is a new form of privilege that I possess, and that is what fueled my desire to write this article. 

We know the best way to overcome biases and understand our privilege is to educate ourselves. In her book, Rebekah shares an experience that I found to be powerful:

“I understand that my city isn’t actively trying to send me the message that I’m unwanted. The businesses in this area aren’t forbidding me from spending money there. My community isn’t actively trying to make me move back in with my parents. That can’t be said for a lot of groups of people throughout history and even today. Instead, the message I hear the most is something more like, ‘We’re just not thinking about you at all’ — a sentiment that intends no harm even as it dismisses an entire population.”

While she remains resilient and positive, as designers, city planners, diversity and inclusion advocates, and citizens we have to do more. According to the Office of Disability Employment, here are some ways you can educate yourself and your teams to create a more inclusive environment:

  • Review your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies
  • Establish an Employee Resource Group
  • Train Supervisors and Educate Employees
  • Publish Articles (Thank you for reading mine!)
  • Publish Awareness on Social Media – Follow Resource Pages
  • Community Involvement 
  • Reading Lived Experiences – Include in your Book Club (Buy Rebekah’s Book!) 
  • Consult with Trilogie and Our Partners to Create an Inclusive Space 

This month and all year we celebrate individuals with disabilities in America and their great contribution to society. We are on our way to more inclusive design and spaces for all, and we shouldn’t let our foot off the gas during this revolution happening on our doorstep. We hope this commemorative year provides an opportunity to celebrate our uniqueness while remembering we have more in common as humans than differences. 

“Access is more than the moment one disabled body bumps into one accommodating object. Access is a way of life, a relationship between you and the world around you; it’s a posture, a belief about your role in your community, about the value of your presence.”

I encourage you to follow Rebekah on Instagram @sitting_pretty where she houses her mini memoirs. 

If you would like to purchase her book visit her website! https://rebekahtaussig.com/portfolio/sitting-pretty/

Resources:

Ideas for Employers and Employees. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2020, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/ndeam/employers

TAUSSIG, R. (2021). SITTING PRETTY: The view from my ordinary resilient disabled body. S.l.: HARPERONE.