DEI Toolkit: Physical & Mental Ability

a colorful illustration of people with varying abilities moving along a pathway

Definition of abilitiy

1 : the quality or state of being able especially: physical, mental, or legal

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Think about the people you admire: What traits draw you to those people? Chances are one or more of these is either a physical or mental ability. Examples of physical ability include strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and stamina. Mental ability has many different definitions, including the power to learn or retain knowledge, the ability to understand the facts and significance of your behavior, possession of the qualities (capacity, ability, power) required to get something done.

On the other hand, a physical disability is a condition that negatively affects a person’s stamina, dexterity, mobility and/or physical capacity. These conditions range from hearing impairments to cerebral palsy. A mental disability is when a person cannot develop cognitively at the same rate as most other people. A mental disability is not the same as a mental disorder.

This is the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects individuals with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination. That law applies to AAUW. We need to be sure our branches are inclusive of people with differing abilities — mental or physical. When we’re designing programs, events, meetings or activities, we have to be conscious of whether our spaces, the room set up, and materials are inclusive and accessible to all. If we’re not taking this into consideration, then we’re not being inclusive.

Diversity of all types helps strengthen an organization. Seeking members who may have different mental and/or physical traits helps identify a new talent pool that can benefit an organization. Accessing a new pool of individuals who want to be involved has far-reaching potential to help expand the capabilities of any branch or AAUW more generally. We all play a role in creating an environment where all are included, it’s up to us to ensure equity triumphs at AAUW.