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Active and Authentic Allyship

Colorful Silhouettes of people holding hands are held up by a person’s nurturing hands.

Do you know the difference between active and performative allyship?

While the concept of allyship, and the act of being an ally have become popularized by trending social media posts and hashtags, in many cases, they have been mistaken for performative public declarations and empty gestures.

Céline Dazé, NIH’s Principal Strategist for the People with Disability Employment Portfolio, defines active allyship as, “…a persistent commitment to recognizing and addressing injustices faced by marginalized communities. Allyship is about recognizing that the fight for equality and social justice is everyone's responsibility.” As such, being an active and authentic ally takes the definition further by requiring those in positions of privilege to become hyperaware that intention is personal while impact is not.

The road to becoming an authentic and active ally is about consistency and learning from missteps to build trust and a lifelong commitment to promoting inclusion every day of the year. Here are a few suggestions to help you on your ongoing journey toward becoming a better ally.

  • Develop a fierce love of people and step outside your comfort zone. Allyship requires you to actively listen to voices from communities outside your own and seek solidarity in everyone’s uniqueness. It requires sacrifice through resources, time, or platform to amplify the voices and concerns of others. Authentic allyship requires you to transcend sympathy and act for the betterment of all people.
  • Learn to live by the phrase, “Nothing about us without us.” This motto, used by disability rights activists and organizations, serves as a call to the world that people with disabilities deserve a seat at the table and should never be an afterthought. Making assumptions about what any marginalized group needs or wants is almost just as bad as not considering them at all.
  • Question how people in marginalized communities are discussed, represented, or excluded from content. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the size of the disabled civilian workforce, ages 16 to 64, has increased by 10% since 2019. The graphics and imagery used in presentations and on websites should be reflective of our workforce, and people with disabilities should be seen in organic everyday situations and not objectified as “inspirational.”
  • Stay up to date on inclusive language and eliminate microaggressions from your vocabulary. As preferred terminology changes with societal norms, remain vigilant and aware of the modifications. You are not above being perceived as insincere by highlighting your collection of diverse friends. Be willing to go inward to identify your personal biases, which misconceptions you must unlearn, and what parts of your everyday speech or writing must evolve with the present day.
  • Use resources and guides to educate yourself on best practices. Ensuring that graphics are not blurry, PDFs are accessible, videos are captioned, text is legible, and colors have appropriate contrast that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ requirements adheres to legal mandates, but being an active ally requires you to go the extra mile to improve processes and accessibility to have a greater reach and connection with all audiences.

  • Speak out and with intention. Authenticate your support by reporting acts of discrimination or bias, and keenly identify potential barriers to inclusion and accessibility on websites, shared documents, and in work settings.

Be an active and authentic ally by putting forth a willingness to challenge opposing views to build people-oriented experiences with everyone in mind. It is not about pushing agendas or politics. It is about people and ensuring everyone can be heard, seen, and considered regardless of background or ability.

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