Disabilities: The Hidden Agenda?

Do you have the entrepreneur gene?-11

One morning as I stood in the crowded carriage I saw an expectant mother standing, so I gave her my seat. I was stunned when the next seat become available that a seemingly fit young man quickly grabbed it. Disapprovingly I thought, is this what we should expect of our young people? Then it occurred to me, had I made an assumption about him?

Later on, when we found ourselves together, he volunteered that he was disabled and unable to stand for any great length. For those people with hidden disabilities do they have to justify themselves when it appears that they have been disrespectful? Or is the onus on us not to make assumptions based on a cursory meeting?

Most people do not realise a person can have hindrances on the inside, that may not be visible on the outside*. Their restrictions may not be conspicuous at a glance, but their pain, limitations and inability to function normally can be debilitating.
Allan Appel, a disability columnist comments, “Think of a severe flu condition. All of your energy is sapped, and every muscle aches. You would just as soon jump off a bridge as get out of bed. Of course, most flu symptoms subside and disappear in a matter of days.”

When I worked in a large open plan office I frequently walked past the desk of a colleague who was sight impaired and had a guide dog. How long do you think it took me to say hello? I should mention, I have a history of developing Diversity and Inclusion training with colleagues who have a disability, which would then be delivered to teams within the organisation.

Embarrassingly it took me a year! Why did it take me so long you may ask? The truth is, I felt awkward as I could not make eye contact so found it difficult to interrupt her at her work. With other colleagues, our eyes would meet, or a smile would occur; this would give us the prompt to greet each other. How do you do that with someone who can not see you? In the end, I decided to be proactive and just introduce myself, we never looked back after this. It makes me wonder how many rich relationships we pass up on because of our awkwardness?

Breaking down barriers that create a safe and secure environment that support understanding of disability issues and creating the best customer experience for all customers has to be top of our agenda. For organisations to be truly inclusive employees need opportunities to understand and be confident when communicating with people with physical or sensory impairments. This is why it’s important that we are proactive about opening up the dialogue, creating safe places where we can talk about our fears, our perspective and our awkwardness.

* https://invisibledisabilities.org/ida-books-pamphlets/accessibleparking/dontjudgebyappearances/

Allison Rosenthal, AKD Associate

Allison is an AKD Associate specialising Diversity and Inclusion, Customer Experience, Conflict Resolution and Leadership and Development. Learn more about Allison here.