Fostering an environment that is inclusive and accepting for all generates a safer and more productive atmosphere for learning. Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique while inclusion refers to the behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome (Source: https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion). Diversity without inclusion does not work. If one does not create and maintain an equitable environment for all types of people, isolation, and exclusion occurs.
Before I came back to University to pursue my Ph.D. I was working in the industry for five years. I worked as a Human Factors analysis and we ran hundreds of studies to evaluate the usability of systems. Three years into my career I had a life-changing experience that changed me as a researcher. I was conducting a research study in Michigan with a coworker. We were halfway done running participants for our study. There comes a point after you run dozens of participants that the sessions become monotonous. You get into this pattern – a routine – and it becomes hard to break out of it. Right before our next session was set to start we received a call from the front desk that our next participant had arrived, and needed help getting out of his car. My coworker and I were confused so we both went to his car to help. When we arrived, Bob (not his real name) asked us to get his wheelchair out of the trunk and to physically lift him out of his car. He was a paraplegic who has paralysis in his lower body and limited motor capabilities in his left hand. We lifted the participant out of the car, into his wheelchair, and we headed to the testing room. The test was being conducted in a BUC, so we had to lift him out of his wheelchair into the BUC seat. He was required to use controls on the driver’s door during this study and he completed all tasks and provided us with excellent feedback. This was a life-changing moment for me because I feel like it woke me up as a researcher. Before meeting Bob, all the participants I had ever interviewed (I interviewed 1,500 different people at this point) did not have any type of physical disability and we (us researchers) considered them average users. I was so incredibly wrong, there is no such thing as an average user. We need to design and create systems to make interactions easy for any type of user. Especially as a Human Factors Engineer, it was my job to ensure I fixed these systems to be inclusive and accessible to all types of users. I felt like I failed, but it took me a few weeks to understand that I had to share this experience and ensure I continued to create systems that provide all people the opportunity to travel without barriers.
After this experience, I did a lot of research and began to take courses on Diversity and Inclusion. Over time and experience, I learned things to keep in mind to create an accepting environment. In order to create an inclusive atmosphere, several factors need to be considered. First is communication and the language you speak. Without communication, strategies for creating the most inclusive environment are not possible. However, the language we use makes a difference. For example, using people-first language. Make sure to put the person first, not the disability, so say “the person/child with a disability” not “disabled child”. Additionally, consider using words that are more inclusive of other people’s backgrounds. For example, instead of saying house, you can use house/apartment/where you call home, instead of Mom and Dad you can use parents/guardians/those who cared for you, and instead of a car you can use car/bus/train/means of transportation. Another factor is accessibility. Fun fact: revolving doors were made specifically for people who use a wheelchair, and currently it is so integrated into our everyday environment that the purpose is often unknown. One thing to keep in mind that many disabilities are hidden. One does not necessarily know what people go through and what they are comfortable sharing, so it is important to be proactive. Being proactive means checking that facilities are accessible, provide reasonable accommodations, and even when advertising for events or flyers ensure the information is clear, and easily understandable.