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How the meetings industry can embrace inclusivity

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When Delia Henry Rodriguez and her husband learned that their son has Down’s Syndrome they began researching the opportunities that would be available to him throughout his life. However, Delia says the resources for inclusive education and employment were not very encouraging. That’s why they decided to create their own model for labor inclusion by founding the World Meetings Forum Foundation (WMF Foundation). This non-profit organisation promotes work opportunities in the MICE industry for people with disabilities. 

“I have personally learned through this journey that people are disabled by society not just their bodies,” said Delia. “These barriers can be overcome if governments, non-government organisations, professionals, and people with disabilities and their families work together.”

Since launching three years ago, the WMF Foundation has directly helped 1,000 people with disabilities and their families. More than 50 events have signed on participants to the programme by providing jobs in operations, hospitality, and registration.

“Events organisers have embraced our cause and recognise disability as a source of diversity, talent, and innovation.”

Inclusion empowers

Delia shared her story during the 2021 ICCA Mexico Summit. The session spotlighted several initiatives that are making Mexico’s meetings industry more inclusive. However, inclusivity for people with disabilities reaches beyond the borders of Mexico - it’s a global human rights issue.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated one billion people in the world have a disability. That’s 15% of the world's population. In fact, nearly everyone will be impacted by at least a temporary disability during their lifetime. People with disabilities are among the world’s most discriminated against, often experiencing violence, prejudice and denial of autonomy as well as barriers to care. They also have less access to education and work opportunities, and are more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability. 

Erick Maffassanti is an entrepreneur in Cancún, Mexico. He knows firsthand how inclusive learning and work can empower people. Today Erick owns nine restaurants, but not long ago he was struggling to overcome the barriers that keep people with disabilities from achieving their goals. During this time, a foundation in Cancun supported his therapy and education. Now, he’s paying it forward by launching the movement, Soy Capez de Todo (I am Capable of Everything). Through this initiative, people with disabilities and their families can receive advice and guidance. Erick helps people identify inclusive educational, training, and work opportunities so that they can gain financial independence. He partners with local companies to match people with disabilities to available jobs. 

“Work dignifies,” explained Erick. “It’s not just the work that they do, but that they get a new life.”

Erick also promotes technology that improves accessibility and helps ensure that laws protecting people with disabilities in Mexico are enforced. 

Accessibility is key

Employment is just one area that the meetings industry can improve inclusivity. A recent survey by Respectibility.org found that only 59 percent of event organisers say their events are always held in physically accessible spaces. Furthermore, before the pandemic, only 14% of the surveyed organisations used video captions to ensure people who are deaf or hard of hearing can use streamed content. Less than one-third said their organisations enable people with disabilities to request accommodations, such as sign language interpreters, on event registration forms.

Respectibility.org has a detailed guide for improving accessibility throughout every phase of an event. Even simple measures, such as having each person to say their name every time they begin speaking during a panel session, can make a big difference to people who are blind or have low vision, as well as individuals with cognitive disabilities. Association meetings are crucial platforms for knowledge sharing, professional development, and networking. Ensuring that events are accessible to everyone will enrich the industry through greater diversity and magnify global impact. 

The final speaker of the ICCA Mexico Summit was Adrian Dominguez Sandoval, a Special Olympics Mexico athlete. Adrian is a gold and silver Olympic medalist in swimming and floor hockey. He also has Asperger’s Syndrome. Adrian emphasised to delegates what people can achieve when their participation is prioritised. “The Special Olympics teaches the world that athletes with disabilities are deserving of respect and opportunities. The next time you meet someone with intellectual disabilities I hope that you see their skills.”

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