This past Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that remains the most important law in providing people with disabilities equal rights and access outside the classroom.
Despite the triumphs of the ADA, disabled people remain more likely to live in poverty, face unemployment and be paid less than our able-bodied peers.
Brands frequently leave disability initiatives out of their diversity planning and social initiatives altogether, despite the group's growing purchasing power and influence. When organizations do recognize ADA Anniversary or another disability initiative, it's usually with vague language or by highlighting a token disabled person.
Brands may claim to champion people with disabilities, but their websites often don't have basic accessibility features. It's hard to authentically support the disabled while still being in violation of a major section of the ADA.
Brands make the same mistakes with disability rights that they do with the Black Lives Matter movement and Gay pride. While they claim solidarity, the executive teams and practices of the company often do not reflect their words.
Here are a few ways your brand can honor the ADA appropriately:
Commit to an existing disability initiative: The United Spinal Association recently launched the ADA Corporate Challenge, encouraging organizations to look at disability inclusion and make changes. Your organization can also pledge to achieving a score of 100 on the Disability Equality Index. Being publicly involved in these efforts will showcase your brand's leadership and encourage other organizations to follow.
Acknowledge shortcomings and commit to doing better: This is especially helpful to employees with disabilities and in creating a more inclusive workplace. Do you have people with disabilities on leadership teams? How accessible are your offices? Acknowledge where you can improve and tell your employees you're working to make changes.
Don't make it about you: Use this as an opportunity to educate your followers across social channels. Leave any mention of your brand out and instead explain to your followers why the ADA is important to everyone. Share quotes from famous disability rights activists or links to resources where they can learn more.
Next year, acknowledge the anniversary company-wide: The C-suite should get together and put out a mass company email explaining why the ADA anniversary is important to the organization and to its leadership. Include links to resources like ADAanniversary.org or Disability:IN.
At the end of the day, authenticity and connection are key. The disability movement isn't about a specific day, but is about a commitment to changing the future for the better and ending ableism.
Kristen Parisi is a writer and disability and media expert. You can reach her at http://kristenparisi.net.