In today’s workplace, it’s not uncommon to work with people of different abilities or people traditionally known as disabled. Of all the differences that people have to navigate in the workplace; disability is one that can create confusion and discomfort, as many don’t know how to engage with disability positively. This is due to the fact that disabilities come in different forms and as a result, there can be many misconceptions.
Recently Kyla McKeon, the first Capitol Hill Lobbyist with Down syndrome was speaking on CNN and she referred to herself as “differently-abled”. This reference is so powerful that I am now using it more often when speaking about disability in the workplace.
People with disability already have many challenges to navigate in the workplace and the last thing they need is to be seen as not capable to perform. Part of being Different Together is creating a truly inclusive environment for people with disability/differently-abled in our teams. This means deliberately and intentionally appreciating and celebrating differently-abled team members.
So what are some of the things you can do practically to appreciate and celebrate differently abled workmates?
- Engage and Learn from Disabled Colleagues – Most people simply don’t know how to deal with different abilities and as a result, they retreat and keep their distance. Instead of going the other way, approach, engage and be willing to learn about your colleague’s disability. By engaging you can learn about their challenges and the amazing contributions they bring to your team. When we do this we learn what to do and not to do, and how to make the workplace more comfortable for our teammates.
- Give Visibility To and Celebrate Disability– Because of the history of stigma attached with disability, we tend to hide disabilities and accentuate ability. The result is that differently-abled people almost never see themselves reflected in their company’s marketing and communications. In the same way that women and people of colour need to be visibly represented, the same applies to disability.
Christa Couture proudly wears her flowery prosthetic leg and she recently went viral for posting her maternity photos of her pregnant self with her leg. Before this, she could not find maternity pictures of disabled people online so she decided to change it. Be intentional about representation of differently-abled staff visually and celebrate them on all platforms.
- Eliminate Barriers, Increase Accessibility – Spaces reflect what we value, who is expected and what is normal. For the longest time workplaces were limiting environments for people who are differently abled but that is changing. More workplaces are more considerate and include accessibility in their design. But this is not only about space it’s also about how we plan events, activities and all other aspects of work life. When we stop making disability an afterthought consideration, we truly create a more inclusive workplace of the future, today.
The future of work is an exciting place because we can all contribute our best by understanding how to be Different Together!
Our latest presentation and workshop is: Different Together – The power of understanding difference differently. Difference is one of the most important characteristics of successful teams in a world of constant change, growing complexity and globalisation. To succeed in the future leaders and teams need to be better equipped, not only navigate the challenges that difference bring but also leverage all of its many benefits. Difference comes in many forms, from gender, culture, religion, idelogy, ability, orientation, personality and workstyle, that creates complexity.
Contact the TomorrowToday Global team and ask for Buhle (author of today’s tip), or any of the TomorrowToday team to come around and discuss how to prepare for Tomorrow’s World Today, and Different Together.
Buhle will be in South Africa from the 18th September to the 12 October 2018 so this is a great opportunity to schedule in some time for him to come and work with your team over those dates. Do connect with us to get some time in his diary while he is here.
Absolutely – worth mentioning neuro-diversity too. The idea that certain neurological “disadvantages” should be used by business as an advantage. The ability to solve problems differently should be celebrated and harnessed.