CripFabulous and CripFail: Tech Inclusion New York Illustrated How Far We’ve Come and Our Miles Left to Roll. By Kieran O’Brien Kern
To borrow a word from a dear friend, Tech Inclusion NY was both CripFabulous and indeed a CripFail. After an energizing afternoon at the Career Fair, I was really looking forward to a day full of inclusion insights for everyone.
I rolled into the Metropolitan Pavilion and found a plethora of crips of all flavors. As a resident of the suburban crip desert I get really excited when I’m not the lone member of our diverse population in the room. There were accommodations everywhere: ramps, ASL interpreters, transcriptionists, and more.
What was missing?
Us, from most of the discourse. I rolled into the Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Panel and, while the insights were well thought out, well-spoken and thought provoking, we were missing until the Q&A when another woman and I raised our hands with more verbose versions of the question:
“What about us?”
The expert panel was on top of the topic with the passion that can only be equaled to that I exhibit when ripping open a new box of books or maybe the pink padfolio that I was taking notes in. They wanted to have answers but seemingly since we’re “new” to inclusion. the answer seemed to be we need to do more. Emily Ladau chimed in with an offer of resources from organizations that she works for. Which they all seemed interested in.
The next panel was both painful and positive. Measuring Inclusion felt like an updated version of every conversation I have ever had with an HR representative. The presenter's company had an open source inclusion survey to share. While it featured at least seven different ways to describe sexual identification; when it came to disability, words like “Differently Abled” and “Wheelchair bound” stood out like sore thumbs and hit my stomach like a healthy dose of ipecac. He meant well, but he didn’t know.
Victor Calise the Commissioner of The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities was a refreshing palette cleanser. He was frank and concise on the state of employment. Fingers flew over smart phones tweeting out his words from, “I am the Father of Dragons” to the dismal truth that, “4% of disabled New Yorkers are employed” When he corrected his panel predecessor’s inadvertent ableist language Calise brought the house down.
At first when I rolled into the eating area carrying an assortment of box lunches (the scooter basket makes me a popular and convenient dining companion) I fought that initial gnaw in my stomach as if I had walked into my elementary school cafeteria. The difference this time I was that I was not the lone crip. Alongside Emily Ladau and Xian Horn, our trio of wheels and walking sticks spotted a table with a free corner and chair and asked to sit down. Everyone talked and laughed and when the photographer found our table he snapped our pictures like we were supermodels. #AttractiveInclusion.
I had high hopes for the afternoon solo talk on building a business with a disability, but after the handler “couldn’t find” presenter John Fazzolari, he was left with an impossibly short amount of time to shoehorn in his talk.
What I learned from Tech Inclusion is that we are just now taking baby steps towards getting our place at the table. One voice is great, two is better but we need all of our voices raised together regardless of our types of disability to advocate for ourselves to secure a place at the table. Victor Calise said “We are the D in Diversity.” While there is an I in Inclusion, It’s going to take us working as a team to be a part of it.