The Wheelchair Experience – a NEADS DEI Initiative

Every day in the workplace, individuals face challenges being their authentic selves. As leaders and colleagues, we each have a role to play in creating inclusive workplaces. Diverse perspectives enrich our workplaces and studies show that involving diverse voices improves performance, problem solving and decision making.

At NEADS, we are building a staff DEI education program with the goal to help build an inclusive workplace through raising awareness and understanding about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The program is designed as a self-exploration “journey,” where staff members decide how much or how little they want to learn. It is a “bottoms up” program, created by NEADS staff members, the “core DEI team,” for the organization. This team is fortunate to have an expert in the field who volunteers her time to provide guidance and support.

This fall, the DEI team is focusing on the topic of ableism. Ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. As an organization that serves and interacts with people of different disabilities, we want to make sure we are being inclusive and kind with our language and behaviors, as well as a better understanding of our clients’ experiences.

The DEI team came up with an interactive way for the NEADS staff to understand some of the difficulties some of our clients and other wheelchair users face: the Wheelchair Experience.

We provided a wheelchair and a set of obstacles that mimic challenges that wheelchair users face. These are some of the different challenges we tried:

  • CHALLENGE #1: Get in the wheelchair, go downstairs using the elevator, go into the parking lot, and make your way back upstairs
  • CHALLENGE #2: Get in the wheelchair, go downstairs using the elevator, go into the parking lot, and make your way back upstairs while having oven mitts on your hands. The oven mitts help replicate the poor dexterity some of our clients have.
  •  CHALLENGE #3: Get in the wheelchair, go downstairs using the elevator, go into the parking lot, and make your way back upstairs while having oven mitts on your hands and the chest strap around your chest and wheelchair. Some of our clients have poor range of motion and are unable to bend over or turn from their waist up without falling or becoming unbalanced.
  • CHALLENGE #4: Get in the wheelchair, grab a cup, fill the cup with water, and bring the cup of water across the room
  • CHALLENGE #5: Do any combination of the first four challenges!

Service Dog organization that we are, some of our staff tried the challenge to understand what, if any, additional difficulty maneuvering with a dog at your side would bring. Here, Apprentice Trainer Leah demonstrates Challenge #2 with Service Dog in Training Buckley.

 

REFLECTIONS. Our staff had 100% participation and gained a lot of perspective. Here are some of our staff’s reflections on the experience.

  • This was a great activity for perspective. We did a great job designing for accessibility. Even still, everything felt a little narrow, but I felt like I could independently navigate in and out of the building.
    There was a bump at the front entrance that was a little harder to get over with oven mitts on. Also it was tougher to push the buttons.
  • This challenge gave me a better appreciation for my health. Trying to pivot the wheelchair the right way to go toward the direction I wanted was a challenge.
  • The parking lot was also surprisingly uneven, which I didn’t notice when walking on it.
  • This made me wonder just how difficult things like this must be for someone with limited mobility.
  • This would be very scary in a fire drill.

For more NEADS staff DEI initiatives, visit dei.neads.org.