Systemic Barriers at a Glance

Published on
May 31, 2024
Time to read: 
Three individuals facing the systemic barrier of a fence, stopping them from watching the soccer game. The first shows them being treated the same. The second image shows them being treated equitably. The third image removes the systemic barrier.
I'm grateful to Wendy Harris for creating this image for me!

You may have heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Over the past decade I’ve been delivering Inclusion sessions, predominantly to human resources professionals. Over time, I’ve used a few different images created by others to illustrate systemic barriers, and the differences between treating people, equally and equitably.

The first time I saw an image with a visibly disabled person in it, I reached out to the creator and asked for their permission to use their image.

There were a few things that I kept wishing were slightly different. This year, I realized that I should simply tell someone what I was looking for, and ask them create an image for my presentations!

The picture accompanying this blog is the result.

What does this image symbolize?

Let me explain.

In each of the panels in this image, you’ll see 3 people attempting to watch a soccer game. In the image on the left, the 3 people are given exactly the same support, they are being treated equally. The intent behind the support is to help each of them watch the soccer game. The person on the left doesn't need to stand on something to see over the fence. The person in the middle is helped by the support, while those same supports don’t help the third person, who is in a wheel chair, at all.

In the center image, they are being treated equitably. The two people who require supports to see over the fence, are provided what will help them. The person on the left doesn’t need support, the person in the centre has blocks to stand on, and the person on the right has a wheelchair ramp.

When you look at the last panel, you’ll see that the systemic barrier of the fence has been taken away. This means that everybody is able to successfully watch the soccer game.

Every organization, no matter how well meaning, has systemic barriers. Being able to identify, and remediate your organization’s systemic barriers can go a long way towards attracting folks from under represented groups.

To learn more, book a chat with me using my online calendar. Let’s explore how we can create more inclusive, diverse, equitable, accessible, learning (IDEAL) workplaces together.