Inclusive Conversations: The Arc Minnesota
Welcome to Inclusive Conversations! Once a month, we'll talk with our partners about the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in their organizations. In this blog post, meet The Arc Minnesota, an organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
What does it mean for The Arc to have a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
For The Arc Minnesota, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion aligns with our mission: to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), actively supporting them and their families in a lifetime of full inclusion and participation in their communities.
Our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion extends to include J for Justice (DEIJ). This commitment gained momentum in 2020, a pivotal year marked by the global impact of COVID-19 and the tragic murder of George Floyd. As we examined our advocacy efforts, our community members began discussing disability justice. This new wave of advocacy prompted us to integrate disability justice principles within the broader DEIJ framework.
The Arc Minnesota’s commitment to DEIJ demands that we address the unique challenges and experiences of disabled people. This means understanding the ways that disability intersects with various aspects of identity such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status, etc. We recognize that disability is not a monolith. We acknowledge the ways intersectionality shapes the perspectives we offer.
Disability justice recognizes and celebrates the diversity within the disability community, considering it our greatest strength. To effectively advocate for the most marginalized, we must view disabled people as whole individuals, acknowledging all the parts of our identities. This approach strengthens our organization and grassroots advocacy efforts.
Disability justice challenges the systemic barriers and injustices experienced by disabled people, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). We recognize that in every category—whether it's employment, housing, socio-economic status, education, access to healthcare, etc.—BIPOC individuals and disabled folks tend to be at the bottom. Therefore, equity, for us, is about working towards collective access to opportunities, resources, and accommodations in all areas of life.
Inclusion within disability justice means creating accessible and welcoming environments from the beginning. It involves making access a fundamental practice. It means that we consider the diverse needs and perspectives of our community in everything we do. We are very intentional to make sure we’re hiring people with disabilities, folks who identify as non-binary, or trans, or queer, etc.
For The Arc Minnesota, Justice means advocating for changes in policies, legal protections, and societal attitudes to recognize and support the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. Ableism is connected with all systems of oppression and creates an "other" group that is seen as less worthy. A disability justice framework recognizes that all bodies and minds have strengths and needs, disabled or not.
Describe how The Arc's work has been enhanced by a team of diverse people from diverse places and life experiences OR why is it important for The Arc's work to be done by and in partnership with diverse people from diverse places and life experiences?
Every aspect of our work has seen a significant transformation with the inclusion of DEIJ and the integration of disability justice principles. For example:
Grassroots Organizing: Last year, over 70% of those testifying on our bills had lived experiences. This made an impact during the legislative session, as we elevated the voices of those most affected. Sharing real-life stories during advocacy for legislative change had a powerful effect on legislators and lawmakers.
Personnel Policies: Our policies now provide a set amount of holiday paid time off that staff can use whenever they choose. This respects the diversity among our team and allows staff to plan their lives in ways that honor their individual beliefs and wholeness.
Accessibility Practices: We are intentional about creating access as a practice. We check in at meetings for any access needs, prioritizing events in accessible spaces, and budget for accommodations like ASL interpretation or language interpretation are all part of our commitment.
Leadership Inclusion: Centering the leadership of those most impacted by the systems we advocate to change is crucial. Putting individuals with lived experiences in leadership roles has transformed our advocacy efforts, rooting them in real-life experiences rather than paternalistic assumptions of “we know what's best.”
Tell us about one or two specific things that The Arc has done to promote diversity, equity and/or inclusion?
As an organization, we are committed to being anti-racist and anti-ableism. Our Board of Directors has an Equity and Justice committee to steer our DEIJ efforts. Our Board Equity and Justice committee is made up of people with disabilities, staff who work internally, members of the public, and members of our BOD. This year, we have been working on the following goals:
Co-create environments where all people are welcome, and their access needs are met
Learn from people who have diverse lived experiences in ways that value their expertise, time, and capacity
Use our platform to elevate the leadership of people with disabilities
Develop evaluative measures to monitor, track, and report progress towards our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Initiatives
Support disability and justice leaders by fighting for systems and social change through public policy, legislative and grassroots advocacy, and allyship in justice movements
The other key strategy we have implemented is to be led by those most impacted. Here are some examples:
We continue to recruit people with disabilities to join our work across the state.
We collaborate with self-advocates to co-host training sessions.
In 2023, over 70% of people who testified on Arc Minnesota led bills, had lived experience. These personal stories had a big impact on our advocacy efforts.
We collaborated with self-advocates on MA-EPD (Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities). The campaign was successful and got asset limits eliminated.
Our Board of Directors includes an Equity & Justice Advisory Committee. The committee is led by people with lived experience.
Our statewide Regional Advisory Councils (RAC's) shape and inform our programs and services. The Council includes disabled people, family members, trusted supporters, and diverse community partner representatives.
What is the biggest myth or misconception about DEI that you'd like to bust?
It's common for workplaces starting their DEI journey to initially focus on aspects like gender and race, and while these topics are crucial and must be part of our DEI efforts, disability is often overlooked. It's disheartening to see disability consistently left out, especially considering that one in five people in Minnesota has a disability.
Additionally, things like pandemics, wars, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, lack of access to healthcare, etc., create conditions that disable people. When we exclude disability from our DEIJ efforts, we miss out on a comprehensive approach, as disabled individuals make up the largest minority - globally. If diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts don't consistently include disability in every conversation and at every table, they cannot be truly inclusive.