Valuing Differences: The Importance of Understanding DisABILITIES

Originally Published via LinkedIn.

Disability; a word laced with both discomfort and curiosity. It is the last question on the job applications, and I’d like to think, the saved, best for last. Disability, or DisABILITY has many definitions. Defining it has led to lawsuits, and quite a bit of an uproar at times. Defining things is important. Not only to clarify, and understand, but also, to start the conversation. Conversation works. Communication is most often, the catalyst for change, and the key to success.

According to Webster, a disability is, “a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities; the condition of being unable to do things in the normal way.” For the record, I am not fond of the latter, as “normal” is relative. On the contrast, The Department of Labor defines a person with a disability as someone who, “(1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

October marks the observation of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a nationwide campaign that raises awareness of disability employment issues and celebrates the contribution of America’s workers with disabilities. The official theme for this year is “#InclusionWorks,” to reflect the importance of understanding the role disabilities play in workforce diversity. This year marks the 71st Anniversary of the observation, and the continuous efforts of spreading awareness and understanding of what disability means, and how to promote inclusivity and acceptance. Throughout the month, many organizations work to spread the message of the importance of diversity and to educate employees about disability employment issues and the need for an inclusive work culture.

I will be the first to say, understanding disabilities, and knowing how to adapt is not the easiest task. I am speaking from experience, as a person living and working with a disability that is not always evident. This October also marks my 26th year of life, and my 26th year of living with a disability. I was born prematurely at 2 lbs 12 oz, and diagnosed shortly after with Cerebral Palsy. Many times when I speak of living and working with a disability, I use the term “mild Cerebral Palsy,” but I have reached a point where I do not feel as though measuring my disability is important. It is important to talk about it, and to help educate others about what it means and how to handle it.

What Helps:

  1. Establish a culture of inclusivity and acceptance in the workplace by having programs to educate about disabilities
  2. Ensure that your employer’s materials are 508 Compliant and accessible to the disabled
  3. Be flexible and understanding when an employee shares their needs and concerns
  4. Provide accommodations to people with disabilities
  5. Be aware of barriers, try your best to eliminate them
  6. Understand that it is easier for the world to adapt to a person with disabilities than it is for a person with disabilities to adapt to the world
  7. Do not assume that a person with a physical disability also has a cognitive disability
  8. Speak to a person with a disability with respect. Do not be condescending, and do not assume that you understand their disability.
  9. Ask a person with a disability who appears to be in some sort of distress or struggle, before you help them.
  10. NEVER ASSUME. Always ask, and be open to communication.

Acceptance and understanding that people with disabilities are an asset to organizations is an important and progressive step. The disabled community is like any other marginalized and minority group, and can often feel looked over and disregarded. If we work together and acknowledge the differences of others as a key part of diversity and inclusion, we are one step closer to improving the quality of life for all. When in doubt, just know, #InclusionWorks

“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.” – Jacqueline Woodson

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