Today is International Day of Persons with a Disability – a day to celebrate and to look towards the future and the creation of a world where a person is not defined by their disabilities, but by their abilities.
Disability is a strange concept even for me. I have a disability, but I don’t regard myself as disabled. For me it’s a term that labels people and I don’t want to be in a ‘box’ or ‘labelled’. This is the reason I didn’t declare my disability characteristic for about the first 20 years of working at MoJ. As a child, I wanted to be ‘normal’, what I meant by this was to have been born with two hands like most other people and to not be pitied or bullied as a result. I grew up in the 70’s with a TV show called Tomorrow’s World – a programme showing all the latest achievements in science. As an impressionable child I saw people having bionic arms fitted and was terrified when I made a hospital visit because I thought they were going to chop off my arm and give me one.
I am still learning to accept me for who I am and maybe I never fully will. What I do know is that I am me, I just happen to be different from you. You will be different to everyone else, we are all unique and that needs to be embraced. I may adapt the way I perform tasks, but I know I have abilities that you don’t. I sew, I make clothes, I have made teddies, quilts and make curtains etc. There are a lot of people who are envious of my talents.
Today is an important day and if you’re looking for ways to support, I’ve got three simple suggestions which can make a huge difference:
- Speak to people in your teams. You are probably working with people who may have a disability but might not want to disclose this. You cannot force someone to declare a disability, but you can give them a voice by actively listening.
- Be proud and declare any characteristic. 1 in 3 of the population see people with disabilities as being less productive. This isn’t exactly encouraging. Would it persuade you to declare a characteristic you were choosing to hide, if you thought other people would think less of you? Create an environment for your colleagues and teams where they can perform to the best of their abilities.
- Actively promote and celebrate an inclusive culture. Use the right language and challenge behaviour that might make people feel uncomfortable. We all have a vital role to play in identifying and addressing discrimination, marginalisation, exclusion and inaccessibility that many people living with disabilities face.
In Digital and Technology we value diversity and cherish the role we all play, regardless of our abilities and I encourage you to do the same in your teams and organisations.