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Disability Action Center NW

Top Five Attitudinal Barriers to Inclusion

diversityInclusion is arguably one of the top priorities for a Center for Independent Living. Many community organizations and programs are stuck in their diversity mission because they do not know the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity is being invited to sit at a table that is already set; inclusion is being asked to partner with the host and help set the table.

True diversity can be measured by the level of engagement of the people who participate in a program. Inclusion is what happens when people with disabilities are allowed in on the planning. Having this level of involvement will result in a positive impact throughout the program, whether it’s at school, work, or extra-curricular activities.

1. Peer to Peer Counseling

This is a self-selecting process where a peer-leader guides the development of a consumer at his or her own pace. Trust and shared interests are important in this relationship. Often, working with a person who is less similar to you (out-of-group) is difficult because, unconsciously, you are more likely to be invested in someone’s success when you can see yourself in them (in-group). In this way you can give positive feedback from a ‘been there’ point of view.

2. Recovering from Mistakes

Studies have shown we have a greater tendency to blame external factors when in-group members make mistakes (for example – that report was late because the printer was broken). However, when out-of-group members make mistakes we often attribute that to personal flaws. This belief can decrease a person’s confidence and the ability to feel they can be fully independent. Sometimes we need to feel part of a team to be independent!


Harassment and abuse in the workplace, school, or even in social media are a few tactics bullies use to discriminate against people with disabilities. They target these vulnerable out-or-group members because they do not have allies. Having people with disabilities serving as team members in all parts of an organization, these peers can provide the strength a person needs to combat bullying.

Programs and organizations may not realize how changes to promote inclusion often requires tweaks to social traditions. Events that were once held sacred may have a negative impact on the person with a disability. It’s important to address these changes early on. Not doing so ultimately exposes organizations to lawsuits. Involve everyone in the planning. It is this diversity that adds a whole new dimension of talent to the program.

5. Perceived Underperformance

People are influenced to act based on their beliefs, which create perceptions, which – whether false or true – become reality. When you unconsciously believe that a person with a disability is less skilled, less qualified, or less talented simply because they have the disability, you consciously look for affirmation of these beliefs.

Training and other strategic action steps can move an organization in the right direction toward diversity and inclusion. Increased community involvement, improved reputation and personal engagement are just a few of the huge returns on the investment of time and resources.