We recently had the privilege of hosting Sofiya Cheyenne, a disability advocate, for a talk and Q&A session focused around her personal experience as an individual with a disability, and what we can do to better support those with disabilities.


Read on for five of our biggest takeaways from Sofiya:

  1. Individuals with Disabilities Make Up the World’s Largest Minority Group

In the United States, 1 out of 4 individuals are challenged with a disability, that’s approximately 60 million Americans. These disabilities are both visible and invisible or non-apparent. In order to create equitable and accessible spaces for all, it is important to advocate for equity and build spaces where individuals with disabilities are not only invited but also provided with the tools needed to succeed. 

  1. Discrimination Against Those with Disabilities is Defined as Abelism 

Traditional workplace practices can be linked to various forms of discrimination. One way to combat discrimination against those with disabilities is by rethinking individuals ‘special needs’ and reframing that all individuals should have access to the tools that would support their success. 

When it comes to ableism, it is important to recognize microaggressions you may have engaged with in the past and move forward with better behaviors and impacts. Examples of microaggressions can include touching someone's mobility device (i.e. their wheelchair, cane, or service animal), making comments such as “no way you have that disability, you don’t look like it!”,  touching people's bodies (i.e. patting someone on the head), and more. 

  1. Appropriate language is constantly evolving.

Much of the traditional language that is used around disabilities comes from the ADA (American Disabilities Act). According to some disability activists and advocates the ADA’s language still perpetuates the medical model of disability. Appropriate language is constantly evolving and changing, so it’s always best to ask what people prefer. In order to be conscious of individuals with disabilities, it is important to use current language. 

For example, there are two ways to identify an individual with a disability, either person-first language or disability identity-first language, and if you are unsure what an individual prefers, avoid making assumptions and identify them with their name. If this is an individual you have developed rapport with, you may want to ask them their preferred language. 

In order to continually expand your knowledge of appropriate language, involve yourself in circles with people who do not look like you or think like you! Exist in non-biased spaces, and be part of the conversation.

  1. Providing accommodations is of the utmost importance

When it comes to building equitable in person environments, organizations must be mindful of all stages of the employee lifecycle, from the recruitment and interview process to the accessibility provided in the workplace.

Sofiya recommends that during the interview process, organizations invite the opportunity for candidates to request accommodations via language such as “we are happy to have a conversation about anything you may need during the process or as an employee of our organization.” 

When it comes to virtual spaces, Sofiya emphasizes the importance of providing live captions, whether this is done in real time, performed by an individual, or through a platform like rev.com. Getting into the habit of offering visual descriptions and providing access to certain materials ahead of time (i.e. sharing PowerPoint decks for meetings in advance, providing materials with larger print font, providing candidates an interview outline and questions in advance) can be incredibly impactful. Using Google Docs, which are accessible to individuals with low vision or who are blind, and removing time restraints where possible are also great practices. 

In physical spaces, Sofiya recommends ensuring that office environments have elevator access, restrooms with wheelchair accessibility, and push buttons on doors. Organizations should also be mindful of placing shared devices, such as printers, in accessible and convenient locations.

  1. Being an Ally is a multi-step process

The best way to become an active ally in the disability space is to start with what you know and continue to build and accumulate knowledge. Listen to stories of individuals impacted, and actively take in information to enhance your personal awareness and eliminate microaggressions. Use inclusive language, ‘call in’ those in your social circles with constructive feedback, and amplify important work.   

It is also important to create spaces of belonging. It may take years for an individual to disclose a disability, especially one that is non-apparent, but by building spaces for belonging those individuals will feel safer, invited, and welcome. 

Lastly, if you are in spaces where you hold privilege, use it for equity! 

Thank you to Sofiya for chatting with Holler and providing us with these meaningful takeaways, we hope you all learn something about building inclusive & equitable spaces and being an ally too!

If you want to learn more about Sofiya please visit her website: www.sofiyacheyenne.com

Or find her on social media @sofiyacheyenne