In my work, I have the privilege of interacting not only with people across cultures but also with people with “disabilities”. A recent experience showed how its all a matter of perspective as to what you consider “disability”.
My friend who is visually impaired decided she is going to post a picture of hers on this social networking site (yes, she is incredibly IT savvy and totally “with it”!!!), even though she wont be able to see it. I saw the picture, in which she looked incredibly sexy and complimented her on her gorgeous looks. She called me soon after and said she was confused. She had got mixed reactions from people on the picture, with some saying that maybe it was “too sexy” and made her seem er… frivolous, which she is not. I disagreed (since she looked fantastic) but told her she could review it once more and put up something that was “more acceptable”, but she should do what makes her comfortable. I asked her how she would choose the right picture. She smiled and responded…she will have to choose the right person to make that judgement!!
That statement said so much. We assume that if one has a certain disability, one would also lose one’s sense of making the right judgement. I learnt on this call yesterday that our ways of making choices are different, but that’s the only difference.
In another discussion, this time with a sighted man, I was discussing the process of recruiting blind high potentials who would conduct workshops for senior business leaders. Firstly, he was intrigued that someone with disabilities could actually teach a thing or two to the best brains in business. When I explained to him that it wasnt about IQ, but about EQ, his first question was…”are there enough educated blind people for us to go on this recruitment drive?”. His question was baffling to me. Since I work closely with forums and platforms related to disabilities, I probably have a better idea of the ground realities, but his perception of the fact that if one has disabilities, one is also bound to be kept away from a decent form of education told me many things. Perceptions and practices that prevail in our society, and achaic laws that refuse to take cognizance of about 10% of the population.
In yet another interaction, I was pleasantly surprised to see employement agencies working to place people with disabilities in mainstream jobs. And these are not charities or NGOs. They are for-profit organisations running a successful business- just that they have found a niche that very few have any understanding about. Its all about perception!
I am looking forward to speaking at the US Business Leadership Network later this month where senior HR leaders of corporate America will discuss and find real-time examples of how they can bring more diversity into the workforce, and actually enhance productivity and employee engagement.