IDEAL21 Recap: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility for Learning Conference

Hands in various skin tones grasping one another's wrists. Text reads, "Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility for Learning"
This post recaps highlights from TLDC's IDEAL21 conference: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility for Learning, which occurred on November 19, 2021.

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The Training, Learning, and Development Community (TLDC) keeps rolling out great content and fabulous events. If you missed Friday’s IDEAL21 conference—that’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility for Learning—you missed an amazing day of inspiring speakers.

Not to worry! I’ll recap the highlights in this post, and the incredible Luis Malbas at TLDC will be posting the recordings to the TLDC website and YouTube channel soon.

Overview of the Event

The IDEAL21 conference included six sessions:

  1. “L&D’s Role in Cultivating Racial Equity in the Workplace,” by Jessica Jackson and Megan Torrance from Torrance Learning
  2. “L&D As Catalyst for Real Change: An Appeal for L&D Professionals to Challenge Oppressive Systems,” by Farzin Farzad from Critical Equity Consulting
  3. “Who Is Your Diversity Program Leaving Out?” By Star Peterson from Stellar Diversity Training
  4. “Show Me the Numbers! Data-Informed DEI,” by Dezirae Choi
  5. “Reducing Barriers in L&D through Empathy Mapping and Universal Design for Learning (UDL),” by Dr. Michelle Bartlett and Dr. Suzanne Ehrlich
  6. “Multicultural Excellence: Diversity and Inclusion Starts with M.E.,” by Dr. Milo Dodson

A seventh session was scheduled but postponed due to technical difficulties. So, follow TLDC’s social media updates for an upcoming event with Delia Smola called “Unconscious Bias Awareness: Begin with You.”


It was hard to boil down all the wisdom and insights into one post. But here’s my best effort at unpacking the day into five key takeaways.

L&D Has a Critical Role in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility

Jessica Jackson and Megan Torrance began the day by talking about how we in L&D can take an equity perspective and apply it to everything we do.

Farzin Farzad continued that thread, encouraging L&D professionals to push for real inclusion and equity as opposed to performative actions. An example he gave of a performative action is putting pronouns into emails without working to dismantle oppressive systems. Are we giving lip service to DEI work, or are we working toward real change?

How do we do push for change? Here are some specific tips from the conference:

  • Avoid tokenism, stereotypes, and racist depictions. Representation is important, but how we do it matters. Don’t use imagery or examples that reinforce stereotypes.
  • Avoid centering whiteness. Megan Torrance shared an illustration of various female avatars. They seemed diverse at first, but on closer examination, all images featured similar hair textures, nose shapes, eyes, and lips. To paraphrase Jessica Jackson, it was like the illustrator took a white girl and gave her a tan. That’s not inclusion.
  • Make it a point to pronounce people’s names correctly. Don’t shorten someone’s name or call them something other than how they introduced themselves. As Heidi Kirby shared via chat, “If you can name characters from Game of Thrones—you can learn someone’s name.”
  • Be intentional about DEI training. Lead with inclusion and equity as organizational values. Put it into context, showing the seriousness of the topics. And give plenty of space and time to reflect on what is learned and unpack the concepts.

Inclusion Starts with Empathy

Dr. Milo Dodson reminded us that empathizing means centering the person who’s being marginalized. We need to actively listen. Really hear and understand what they’re saying, and support them—without jumping in with our own experiences. We don’t have to prove we can relate.

"Listen twice and speak once."

Creating a culture of compassion, inclusion, and belonging requires empathy. Along the same lines, Universal Design means considering the learning experiences we develop from multiple points of view.

Dr. Michelle Bartlett likened it to being a mystery shopper. We have to think about what it feels like to be a learner in our class. She and Dr. Suzanne Ehrlich shared an example of the empathy map they use. It considers what the learner thinks and feels, listens and shares, observes and perceives, and does. In addition, it considers the following questions about learners:

  • What motivates them? (engagement)
  • What ways to they learn? (representation)
  • How do they show what they know? (action and expression)

Michelle and Suzanne explained that empathy mapping helps us understand where there might be gaps or where we need to make adjustments. For example, Suzanne mentioned that infographics have gained great popularity, but they’re one of the most inaccessible ways to present information. So, in her organization, every time they create an infographic, they also create a text version. Learners don’t have to request it; offering an accessible version is simply part of the development process.

And that leads me to my next takeaway…

Inclusion Means Not Having to Ask for Access

Imagine distributing party invitations to everyone in your office except one person. To that person, you say, “if you want to be invited, just ask.” How would that feel? They’d feel left out, right? Not wanted. Like they don’t belong.

Having to request accommodations is a bit like having to ask to be invited to a party. It’s not at all inclusive. People should not have to ask to be included.

"We never want to put the onus on employees to ask for accommodations."

About 25 percent of the population has at least one disability. But a large percentage of people go undiagnosed—especially neurodiverse people. Many don’t disclose their disabilities for various reasons, including fear of harmful effects to their career. And if you think you don’t have people with disabilities in your workplace or learner population, you are wrong.

We have to stop thinking about accommodations as “special treatment” and instead think about them as what people need to be successful.

Whether we’re talking about workplace accommodations or universal design for learning, it’s really about giving people access to the information and tools they need to do their jobs. 

Why wouldn’t we want to do that?

Language Evolves, and We Must Evolve with It

As Farzin Farzad pointed out, terminology is always evolving. For example, the term BIPOC—meaning Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color—has been applied so broadly that its meaning has become diluted. Using “BIPOC” indiscriminately does not recognize the differences between various groups of marginalized people.

As an essay in the Virginia Law Review discusses, “BIPOC begins with the premise that we should always center two particular racial groups—Black and Indigenous—within the people of color category, though these communities are not always at the center of the issue being discussed.”

Another example is the term “Latinx.” It was created as a gender-neutral alternative to “Latino” or “Latina.” But, as discussed in this essay, many Latinos don’t accept it because it’s an Anglicized term imposed by people outside the culture.

Farzin encouraged us to learn the concepts but also take time to “understand why terms from the past don’t describe our current reality.” We need to give space for this evolution of language.

Speaking of language evolution, here’s a term that should disappear from your vocabulary if it hasn’t already: being “politically correct.” Using the right words is not about politics. It’s about being accurate, while being sensitive to how our language affects other people with experiences different from our own.

Consider the following quote Farzin shared during his session:

“When you debate a person about something that affects them more than it affects you, remember that it will take a much greater emotional toll on them than on you. For you, it may feel like an academic exercise. For them, it feels like revealing their pain only to have you dismiss their experience and sometimes their humanity. The fact that you might remain more calm under these circumstances is a consequence of your privilege, not increased objectivity on your part.”

We All Have Multiple Social Identities

Several of the sessions discussed the social identities we have: gender identity, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical ability, mental health, age, religion, sexual orientation, and more. They also discussed intersectionality, which is a framework for understanding how our different identities affect us—whether they help or hinder our access in the world.

We are all multicultural beings.

Some identities have been historically centered or normalized, so there’s a certain amount of privilege, or access, that comes with those identities. Others have been marginalized, so those identities come with barriers.

Dezirae Choi compared our various identities to an ingredient list on a nutrition label. The first ingredient is the one we feel represents us the most—our strongest tie. That main ingredient is often the first thing other people notice about us.

Megan Torrance advised us to take another pass at learner personas we create, considering learners’ various social identities and these questions:

  • What might affect motivation?
  • What creates access or barriers?
  • What are we in L&D doing to address these things?

Dezirae Choi showed us how we could use data to develop learner personas and create a more inclusive learning experience with better representation of our audience.

"Look at who is actually being affected by what you're making, and see if you're reflecting them."


We all have a responsibility to push for inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in our workplaces and in the learning experiences we develop.

I will leave you with an exercise that Dr. Milo Dodson shared.

Write down five things that you love, focusing on what brings you joy.

Go ahead—I’ll wait.

Really, at least come up with a mental list.

Do you have your list?

Now I’ll ask the question Milo asked us:

If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take you to name yourself?

In exercising empathy and compassion, don’t forget to have some for yourself!

"Our value does NOT decrease based on someone's inability to see our worth."


Presenters and attendees shared the following links during the event:

I earn a small amount if you purchase a book from the links provided above. This does not affect the price you pay and helps to support this blog.

Related Posts

I love TLDC events so much that I regularly post recaps of them. Here are some from this year:

You can watch recordings of these events on TLDC’s website. If you’re not already a TLDC member, I encourage you to join. I don’t get any perks for this recommendation; I just really love the community.

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