Diversity and the other “D word”

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I have been part of several startup communities around the world, from Portland to Tokyo, and along the way, I’ve encountered the usual host of startup characters. Hell, I am one of them!  Yes, we tend to be a geeky bunch with an overly affectionate relationship with caffeine, and some of us could write a dissertation on a properly hopped IPA.

A black and White Tactile Rubik's Cube

But, I am also an anomaly–I am blind. Literally.

In my experience, I have found startup communities to be quite welcoming in spirit But, inclusion is more than a line in a tech conference code of conduct that says everyone is welcome. Inclusion is more than attitude; it means accessibility, figuratively and literally. Sure, everyone is welcome, but does everyone *feel* like they are welcome?

True inclusion is easy to measure, it’s when everyone participating can say yes to the question: “Do you feel like you are able to contribute?”

When you’re mentally or physically handicapped, or disabled or a PWD (person with disability) the answer is usually not clear. It can mean that a host of tools or adaptations are needed to help one with their daily lives. For me, I have a computer that talks to me, and I use a Guide Dog to navigate. Someone with dyslexia or OCD may have an entirely different set of tools and adaptations to make their world more accessible.

No one likes to feel left out, but when we talk about mass produced goods and implanted policy, inclusion and accessibility tends to mostly an afterthought. But, what if inclusion was part of the initial design?  The seed for this movement is slowly sprouting. From product to policy, you can find examples of inclusive design like Apple and Voice Over on iOS since 2009, to the recent news of British Columbia banning door knobs. Plus, did you know that in Japan many canned products are sold embossed with Braille labels? However, inclusive design does not simply mean enabling accessibility – It means enabling a larger more diverse audience to use your service, purchase your product, visit your website, or attend your event.

When we discuss diversity, inclusion and adaptability are topics that are rarely thought of, but I believe it’s time for that to change. Portland traditionally has become a center for experimentation in the Northwest.  We have some of the best startup incubators. Portland has one of the largest Indie music scenes. And of course Portland has a vibrant independent artist scene. Let’s add to that list! Let’s make Portland a center for inclusive design and spark the conversation around disability and diversity.

And that’s why I would like to invite you to Startup Weekend Access; an inaugural StartUp Weekend designed to bring the non-disabled and disabled together to innovate and create inclusive startups and products together!  Our mission is to create an environment where truly anyone can come to together to brainstorm, build, launch, and kick ass!

I am proud to be on the organizing team for the event and hope you’ll join us.  Limited-time early bird tickets are on sale now at swaccess.co.

Cory Klatik is a developer, a marketer, an entrepreneur, and an advocate for inclusive design and accessibility. Currently Cory is a social media & community manager for Intel. Cory has lived, studied, and worked around the US, and in Asia. Cory is a co-organizer for Startup Weekend Access – the first Startup Weekend focused on people with disabilities. Cory was born blind and his partner in crime is Vine.