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What Does the A Mean in DEAI?

Why disability inclusion matters

10/25/2023 1:28:43 PM

The text

By: Tamara Sawyer, Minnesota Management and Budget

DEAI. We’ve all seen this acronym. It means Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion. Right? Well, not quite. The “A” in this case stands for Accessibility. Technically speaking, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Accessibility fall under two different sets of federal laws and regulations. Therefore, we do not see the two put together very often. So why have we chosen to include accessibility when discussing DEI ideas?  People with disabilities, like others, sometimes face discrimination and exclusion. As we strive to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive it is important to consider the needs of people with disabilities and the tremendous value and perspectives they bring to our organization, our communities, and society as a whole. Second, disabilities do not discriminate, and neither should we.

A quick look at the data

People from all statistical groups (race, religion, gender, national origin, etc.) may have one or more disabilities. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control  CDC, 27% (that’s 1 in 4) of the adults in the U.S. have some type of disability. Yet people with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate than other statistical groups. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (see table below), in September of 2023, people without disabilities had a 3.8 percent unemployment rate, while people with a disability had a 7.5 percent unemployment rate. That’s more than double the rate of those without disabilities. In addition, according to the Center on Disability website, in the United States, the median household income of people with a disability was $43,000 compared to $68,000 for a person without a disability. The point of the DEI movement within our state agencies is to foster a culture of inclusion and increase equity for people in marginalized communities. As the statistics show, the disability community is a marginalized group.

Employment status, sex, and age Persons with a disability Persons with no disability
Sept. 2022 Sept. 2023 Sept. 2022 Sept. 2023

TOTAL, 16 years and over


Civilian noninstitutional population

33,223 34,146 231,132 233,282

Civilian labor force

7,710 8,275 156,753 159,443

Participation rate

23.2 24.2 67.8 68.3


7,145 7,674 151,858 153,995

Employment-population ratio

21.5 22.5 65.7 66.0


565 601 4,894 5,447

Unemployment rate

7.7 7.4 3.6 3.8

Not in labor force

25,033 25,582 74,180 73,582

Disability models

There are multiple ways, or models, used to define a disability. In this article, we will look at the medical model and social model. 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the medical model is “perceived as an impairment in a body system or function that is inherently pathological.” The medical model uses very clinical language. This model basically translates that the body of the person with the disability is broken and needs to be fixed. It suggests it is not society’s fault a person cannot participate in everything others can. This model is used in the medical, mental health, and education fields. While the medical model sounds (and is) harsh, it has driven developments in health care to improve the lives of many. The downside of the medical model is that it puts the onus on the individual to change to fit into society.

By comparison, the APA states the social model of disability is “seen as one aspect of a person’s identity, much like race/ethnicity, gender, etc.” The author goes on to state, “… disability is believed to result from a mismatch between the disabled person and the environment (both physical and social).” The social model believes the environment is to blame for creating spaces that some people cannot function in. This model is used to build relationships and foster understanding. It holds that a disability should not stop someone from engaging in the same activities others get to enjoy, such as being gainfully employed in a field of their choosing.

By putting the “A” into DEAI, organizations make the conscious decision to include all people, including those with disabilities, in our efforts to provide a diverse and equitable workspace for everyone.

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