October 19, 2021
Amplify Inclusion Podcast
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.
Jourdan Saunders, CEO and Founder of The Resource Key, discusses her passion for inclusive impact branding and the power of communication. Listen now or view the full transcript below.
This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound with music courtesy of Nealle DiPaolo. This season is made possible thanks to generous contributions from First Bank of Highland Park and members of the Aspire community.
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare from Aspire. Thanks for joining us for real
stories and conversations about the power and importance of disability inclusion. Today
my guest is Jourdan Saunders, CEO and Founder of The Resource Key, a digital
agency supporting businesses to focus on inclusive marketing by ensuring people with
disabilities are included and making meaningful connections with brands. In 2020,
Jourdan was named among LinkedIn’s Top Voices for Equity in the Workplace. Jourdan
and I spoke recently to discuss her passion for inclusive impact branding and the power
of communication. Here’s our conversation…
Jourdan, thank you for being with me today.
Thank you for having me.
So, Jourdan, your business, The Resource Key focuses on inclusive branding to ensure
people with disabilities are included and making meaningful connections with brands.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what that means to you?
So The Resource Key, if you can think of marketing and making sure businesses are
being inclusive with the priority being people with disabilities and embedding diversity
equity and inclusion within marketing so that it’s not a separate component, it’s embedded into how businesses are marketing and making sure that DEI is aligning as well. So we do things from workshops, any type of community outreach, creative projects, so it could be an advertisement or campaign. And really the biggest thing is educating and going into the community and doing these different workshops and creative installations, or whatever the client is open to doing to be able to align where businesses are starting to do these different things, every day versus one-time event.
So you’re a licensed speech-language pathologist by training and you started your
career providing direct therapeutic services for people with disabilities.
Yes. So one of the biggest things though that I realized working directly in the school
setting or any setting that I was in, was the lack of any adults or children that I was
working with feeling included in the community. And the eye-opener was when I worked
at the school for the blind, because the school I was at was residential and we’re not
only just in the classroom. We did therapy and different environments. We were
collaborating with occupational therapists, physical therapists, doctors, orientation,
mobility and there’s a variety of different professionals I was working with as well, and
we’re going into the community, and that’s really where it connected in terms of what
adults and children that I work with over the years were saying because I saw it as well
first-hand. And it could be in the smallest ways or bigger ways. And from there I thought,
wow, this is really where I want to be able to utilize my background and my experience
and all the things that I’ve learned from each individual that I’ve worked with over the
years of how can we really bridge this? So that things are not isolated in one
environment, we’re seeing it from different environments and everything is
interconnected. And that’s where I wanted to start with social media, as to start,
because we use social media every day in different capacities, whether it’s through
educating ourselves on something or following an influencer that we like and I saw a lot
of room to be able to incorporate lived experiences of individuals with disabilities from
all different Industries, all different environments because when we look at anything,
nothing is ever isolated in one environment and when we start looking at things more
interconnected, that’s where I think we’re continuing to really push forward and make build for a better future. So, that’s how I started The Resource Key because I thought marketing would really play into that and social media is really embedded in a lot of
marketing as well.
What steps did you take first? When you made the decision that you wanted to kind of pivot from direct service to this more global focus on inclusion. Did you know where to start?
Well, I really didn’t know where to start, but I thought if I’m looking and really wanting to
align and ensure The Resource Key is exactly how I imagine it to be where, it’s
authentic representation, you have to go to the source. And so for me, the source was
reading different articles on people with different types of disabilities and in different
industries, doing different, incredible things, within the community and Leadership roles,
and all different spaces as well as data and research in different industries. So, for a
year, I would say, I not only was reading sharing articles, I would reach out too to
different disability leaders, different individuals with different types of disabilities. We
would talk and then now aligning with some of those same individuals because I think
it’s just as important in terms of for the educational piece for it also to come with
someone that has lived experience and can be able to share their point of view as well
as advanced and different areas and different Industries, because the leadership is not
just confined to one type of person, it can be anyone. And it doesn’t have to be
someone that’s been doing something for many, many years. There’s many different
leaders in spaces really. You can lead in small ways and big ways. So those were some
of the steps that I took is really just networking, building community, and now, you know,
continuing to share and work together with different individuals that I’ve met over this
past year and currently as well.
So, in our past conversations together, you have expressed always having a strong
connection to the disability community. Can you share more about that and what that
means from your perspective?
Yes, so it goes back to shared experiences and for me, I am a non-disabled, Black
woman, so there is a layer of intersectionality. So if it’s workplace, okay, maybe I need
to not wear my hair natural and curly hair because I may already not have a chance.
Whereas, if I wear my hair straight it may be more professional, like…so that’s just one
example and through that I think, you know, for me, being passionate about disability
inclusion, it’s really being passionate about making sure that no one is left out. And so
much of DEI, diversity equity and inclusion, is not including people with disabilities and
they’re one of the largest minority groups. Anyone can become disabled or maybe, you
don’t know anyone that is disabled now, but maybe you may know someone tomorrow
that has a disability. So, I think there’s all of these different perspectives but at the end
of the day, everyone is a human being. So I push so hard for disability inclusion
because it’s what I would want anyways. I think, you know, in so many of my
experiences just as a Black woman. It’s like, pushing for this, pushes forward
everything. And so when I’m working with customers, it’s huge because it’s like, you’re
working with the founder that of this company that is a Black woman and that is
discussing disability, bringing disability to the conversation. So we’re tackling a lot of
different aspects here. And I think that’s what’s makes it even more important as well.
You know, I am invested in this and I think as we get more and more people talking and
being just as invested, it allows it to move forward even faster because none of this can
happen isolated or by yourself.
There are so many important points that you just made wrapped up in that answer and I
really appreciate you sharing that, your vulnerability in being open about those aspects.
And I think it’s important for folks to be thinking about those detailed layers that can
really impact how we think about ourselves and function and the pressures, especially
for marginalized populations and communities.
So, I want to come back to The Resource Key a bit and what’s interesting to me is that it
really sounds like The Resource Key is sort of the powerful result of all of your passions,
sort of finding an intersection point. So I was hoping you could explain from your
perspective, what’s the connection there, between communication and belonging?
Well, communication is something we use everyday. And so I think messaging
especially is really important. That is a layer of communication. So even though you
may not be verbally saying something, we’re communicating something through what
we’re posting or how we’re posting it and the tone that we’re posting it. So all of those
different things are really important now because so much of how we communicate now
is through texting or posting. And it has the capability to be positive negative
misinterpreted. So that’s what I would say in terms of messaging…take that extra
second to think about what we were posting. When I write articles, a lot of times I’m
collaborating with people of lived experiences with different types of disabilities. So
that’s another way I think of presenting authentic representation as well through how
you’re communicating. And the last one I would say would be like the accessibility and
let’s say, for instance, even this podcast, you know, you all provide a transcript. So
you’re providing different ways of being able to get the messaging. And one more thing
that came to mind was plain language, keeping the message very consistent and
straight to the point is very helpful.
You make an important point because regardless of what industry we’re in, we’re all
guilty of that from time to time. And I think it seems like a small thing, but what it
ultimately does is exclude people from wanting to join or having confidence in joining
the conversation or the movement because they’re thinking, I don’t know these terms, I
already feel like I’m an outsider.
Yeah. I definitely think it’s important to be able to have conversations like that because it
allows trust to build and also allows for you to feel that certain things are being taken
into consideration. I’m always working too to make sure that I’m aligning with what I’m
saying I’m doing and what I’m teaching, and so I think there’s also room to know that
you’re always going to be learning and there’s always room to be able to grow.
So one of the things that I do is on my questionnaire for the meeting, I ask if any
accommodations are needed to be able to have a successful call. That’s just
embedded. I am not sending it to someone that I assume they may need
accommodations or someone that you don’t, because you don’t know. And I think that is a great example of if you’re embedding different things into your business, it allows for whoever to need it to be able to take advantage and some of the people that you may have assumed may not take advantage of something that you’ve implemented may actually take advantage of it. So, what’s good for one person may be good for everyone.
And it points to Universal Accessibility, right? And how really when we apply those
things, people without disabilities benefit, other populations, you know benefit in
different ways. And so I want to talk about roadblocks for a moment because there’s
plenty out there when we look at making progress around disability inclusion, and I
wanted to get more of your thoughts on why you think that is.
I think that there’s a few different things. Companies really drive on a lot of data and
there’s a lot of data that is being left out. But more importantly, I think it’s just disability,
sometimes can be uncomfortable to people, and I think it goes back to messaging as
well and the way disability has been portrayed. Whatever industry it is, how is disability
being portrayed? Is it someone’s not capable of doing something? And if you have that
perception as a business, it’s not going to be on your agenda. And that’s why I think it
goes back to a lot of just continuing too to provide, be able to provide the data statistics,
and then also providing structures and implementation and partnerships to be able to
move things forward. So I think steps like that are huge in terms of working with
businesses and where I see the barriers are.
Great points. I definitely agree. And I, the fear aspect, and I think you referred to it as
kind of the discomfort around disability, I think is so common. Especially when we think
about even going back to childhood, right? Like, for most of us when we look at school
systems and we look at the way our communities are built up, there’s a lot of separation,
and when we don’t have experience with people with disabilities, there’s
misconceptions, there’s fear and we avoid things were scared of. So I think it all kind of
contributes to what you were getting to and speaking about in that disability isn’t seen
as a natural element of diversity, right? And so we leave it out by default. Anything you’d
want to add to that?
Yeah. Actually I was going to add that you brought up a good point. You mentioned
schools. I think that’s going to be important too, because that’s where a lot of times
perceptions, all of these different things come and play. Where were looking at
business, but I think there’s going to have to be at some point a link between the
schools and the businesses because a lot of the things that maybe are things that are
learned, either intentionally or unintentionally too sometimes in the schools, carry over
into the workplace and how things are perceived. Because the conversations have to
shift, you know, even when we talk about the language – I think ‘special needs’
necessarily is not a word that it always, it’s a word that’s frowned upon now, but it’s also
still used, you know, in the schools a lot. And so there’s a big disconnect sometimes and
that’s why I think we definitely have to continue to have these conversations and
continue to move forward because there’s these disconnects that happen and it goes
back to my point about everything is interconnected, but sometimes we treat it as it’s
Well, I’m hoping that you can share a couple pointers from your perspective. So when
thinking about the role that each of us play in creating inclusive, cultures, we know that
we have personal and professional roles. And I believe that all of us can contribute in in
some way. And so, I wondered if you have any ideas for action steps that people can
apply in their everyday lives, in terms of communication strategies to support inclusion.
Sure. Yeah, I would definitely say social media accessibility, we all use it. A great way is
if you’re posting pictures, let’s say, Instagram — Alternative Text, so ‘Alt Text’, adding
that to images is really important. Especially if someone uses a screen reader, so
someone that may use a screen reader could be a person that’s blind or low vision or
maybe dyslexia, or there’s a number of other different types of people that may use a
screen reader, but it’s also very beneficial as well as websites to increase your SEO. It’s
also, let’s say, if a picture doesn’t load properly, it’s going to be able to provide a
description of that picture.
Build in your process, where you’re not just asking and picking and choosing or waiting
for someone to ask for accommodations. You’re already including it in your process of
asking if someone needs accommodations and they can say yes or no.
And then I would say listening to someone outside of your comfort zone that you may
not usually be open to listening to. I think that’s huge and it could start with one person.
But I think starting there is really huge, because that’s a big component of DEI. It’s a big
component of communicating. A big component, I think, of building towards a more
inclusive future as well.
And finally, one reflective question, and this is a tricky one, but something that we can
ask ourselves to challenge our own ableist perceptions.
Hmmm, let’s see. Are my words and actions toward someone else representing the
person that I am or am becoming…and if not, what is one way I can shift this?
I love that, really powerful.
It just helps put things in perspective, for me.
I’ve so enjoyed chatting with you. It’s always a pleasure to see you. We’ve gotten a
chance to work together in different capacities, and I just think you’re doing really great
things, and so glad to have a chance to hear from you Jourdan.
Thank you so much for having me, and thank you for all the work that you’re doing and
just it’s — really, really means a lot.
I’d like to thank Jourdan for sharing her story and insights with us. Click the link in the episode description to learn more about The Resource Key. Join us next time for a talk with Sam Theriault and Ross Edelstein, both Museum professionals and self-advocates of the Autism Community. Until then, be a part of the inclusive movement by rating and subscribing to Amplify Inclusion and stay connected with us at AspireChicago.com. This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound. This season is made possible thanks to generous contributions from First Bank of Highland Park and members of the Aspire Community.
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