How To Become An Accessibility Ally

One in four people in the United States has a disability. (Source: CDC, 2023)

We first started diving deep into accessibility in live entertainment when one of our clients posed the question, how can the live music industry welcome all fans?

We’ve all noticed the “accessible” seats scattered around music venues, movie theaters, and stadiums. What we didn’t know is that despite the 42 million Americans living with a disability, it’s an invisible topic to many brands (Source: Pew Research, 2023). Through the process we learned that few businesses know how to design for and cater to people with disabilities, so we wanted to share a few things we learned on the way.

For this project, we needed to unveil the challenges and perspectives of people with disabilities, so our team conducted ethnographic research with the disability community. We learned that, more than anything else, people with disabilities want visibility and acknowledgment; they want their unique experiences to be recognized and accurately represented.

So, how can brands and businesses better connect with the disability community?  Here are 5 learnings and resources we wanted to share to help others take action:

Educate yourself.

Too often, ‘disability’ is associated with having a physical handicap or using a wheelchair. However, disability covers a wide range of visible and invisible conditions, from cognitive to developmental disabilities. To better understand the diversity of the community, various resources have been developed by people with disabilities to aid in education, like The Invisible Disability Project, which aims to disrupt silence and make the ‘invisible’ seen.

Innovate intentionally.

Everyone with a disability is not the same, so accessibility solutions should not be one-size-fits-all. Create custom products, services, and experiences shaped based on real unmet needs to help the disabled community truly enjoy themselves. One best-in-class example we love is Coachella‘s Accessible Plus program, designed in partnership with BIPOC festival-goers in the disability community to provide the most accessible experience possible.

Show your work.

Through our research, we heard that some in the disability community feel there’s too much performative talk about accessibility and not enough real action. Accessibility is a time-intensive initiative. Lead with the actions you’ve already taken and offer tangible examples of how you’re walking the talk, like Microsoft, which is documenting how it’s using AI to enhance accessibility.

Ask for feedback.

Well-intended assumptions can harm more than help. To create effective solutions, get input early and often from voices in the community to help you shape your work. Getting feedback can be as simple as sending out a survey after an event or as dedicated as Alaska Airlines, which hosts a “Disability Advisory Board” of people with disabilities who offer accessibility recommendations.

Empower the audience.

Conversations about disability are often glossed over or sugar-coated. But it’s okay to talk about disability. However, use inclusive language and avoid terms like “differently-abled” that can be patronizing. Check out the ADA’s Guidelines for Writing About People With Disabilities for more information on disability awareness and language.


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