Walmart’s Gayatri Agnew on Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Everyone Included

Originally published at corporate.walmart.com.  Senior Director, Global Culture, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Accessibility Center of Excellence at Walmart. Walmart ranked No. 26 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022. 

 

In 2018, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and became one of the millions of people who age with disability. As her primary caregiver, I was thrust into learning how to navigate a system I didn’t understand, learning about a condition I understood even less. Last year, as her mobility became more limited, we began to use a wheelchair to take her on walks outside. It was at this same time that I started my new role at Walmart to lead the newly created Accessibility Center of Excellence (ACE).

There are over 1 billion people with disabilities across the globe. Here in the U.S., approximately 1 in 4 Americans, or more than 60 million people, have a disability. Accessibility is the practice of ensuring physical and digital spaces are designed for everyone — including people with disabilities. Walmart was founded to meet the needs of all customers, and as a retailer with over 10,500 stores and clubs under 46 banners in 24 countries and eCommerce websites, the company has the unique opportunity to lead the way for omni-channel accessibility. This means how customers and associates experience Walmart in our physical stores and online channels.

The aspiration of ACE is to enable Walmart to be the most inclusive and accessible retail destination and employer for people with disabilities. We will do this by empowering teams to deliver experiences everyone can use. This effort started with taking stock of where we are and having honest conversations about areas in need of improvement, what’s working and where we need to lean in and do better. We’re committed to listening, learning and continuing to make progress.

The creation of ACE was announced one year ago, and since then, we’ve built a team of passionate subject matter experts to lead us forward. Early work has included a focus on partnering with our product and design teams to make our online experiences more accessible. We’ve created an Accessibility Leadership Council, comprised of senior executives across key segments of the business, who will champion disability inclusion, promote an accessibility-first culture and share best practices. We also continue to partner with inABLE, our associate resource group centered on accessibility and people with disabilities. As we head into the second year of ACE, we’re focused on three key areas: (1) Deepening our culture of awareness and action around accessibility; (2) Building the infrastructure needed to power accessibility across the organization; and (3) Creating leadership champions to engage associates to drive accessibility at scale.

As we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day, it is a reminder that advancing accessibility at Walmart is not just the work of one small team: It will take the collective action of all associates to foster inclusive design, drive a proactive approach and create partnerships across the business to achieve shared success.

These are the early steps of Walmart’s journey and my own journey. I spent decades in both the public and private sphere advocating for equity, and it has only been in the past year that I have had the privilege and opportunity to learn more deeply about advocating for equity for people with disabilities. The nervousness I once felt taking on this challenge has long faded away, and I’m filled with optimism upon seeing the depth of commitment across Walmart. It’s clear that the company is brave enough to learn and grow.

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