After several years of working in the Diversity & Inclusion field, I have made some observations. One of the observations I have made is the topic of Diversity & Inclusion is usually centered around people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. Being that I belong to both of these people groups, this observation is somewhat positive. However, I also have a physical limitation. I’ve noticed that this area of diversity and inclusion is rarely mentioned. Very few people are asking the questions: How can we include individuals with limitation, give them a chance to demonstrate their gifts and provide for their own basic needs? This should be a huge question in the D&I field since anyone can become a part of this community at any time. One can’t change their sexuality, race and very rarely religious beliefs. However, at any time of the day, one can take a wrong step resulting in losing some of their abilities. If you review the progress of this country, you will see that the people with physical and intellectual limitations is still the most segregated community in the whole world. It seems that there is some justifiable excuse for overlooking this community in the D&I arena. What is that justifiable excuse? What is the preconceived notion we have about people with intellectual and physical limitations that makes us comfortably exclude them from the D&I field?
Diversity and Inclusion’s primary goal should be to afford everyone the opportunity to use their gifts in spite of their differences. It is easier to do this in the LGBT community and with people of color. It is challenging to do it for someone who may be living with a physical or intellectual limitation. This requires the organization to expand their social and work environment. People often become too comfortable in the workplace to make the necessary adjustments needed for an individual with limitations to become a vital part of their workplace. The decision not to do so is ableism. Society has subliminally used ableism, the discrimination of disabled people, to form a gap between people with physical and intellectual limitations and diversity.
Ableism begins with our approach towards someone with a physical and intellectual limitation. People are taught not to offend someone with a limitation by asking them to do a task that they physically or mentally may not be able do. However, it is a fine line between compassion and ignorance. That line is crossed when approaching a person with a limitation as if they are disabled or handicapped. Disabled or handicapped, no big deal… right? If you don’t mind being brainwashed into you thinking of a person with limitations.
No, I am not using the word subliminally lightly here. We have unconsciously embraced ableism into our society. 95% of a person’s worldview is brainwashed. From a very early age, our environment tells us what to say, do and think. Society’s response to individuals with limitations is conditioned. For example, let’s take the word “handicapped.” The term “handicapped” was originally used to describe a homeless person with a cap in his hand begging for small change. The homeless person labeled handicapped was such because they were dependent upon society for their well being. Society also believes that a person with limitations is in need of social services. Though they are not actually on the streets with their hands out, society still views them as someone dependent upon them for their well being. Therefore, people with physical and intellectual limitations is the same as handicapped. The word handicapped is not a physical condition; it is a mind-set. People with or without physical or intellectual challenges can take on this mind-set. It cannot be exclusive to a person with physical or intellectual limitations.
We have moved from the word handicapped to disabled. Unlike the Jeffersons this move is not a move up. We are using the word disabled to describe someone with a physical or intellectual limitation. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into this term. A car is disabled on the side of the road. If you don’t want something to function anymore, you disable it. We are interchanging disability with dysfunction. Disability is simply the limit of movements, senses or activities. While dysfunction is simply not operating properly. Do you see the subliminal message here? If we describe an individual with the word disabled we are naturally going to think that person is not able to function in society. When we use the word disabled we are saying that it is useless. People have subliminally embraced the idea that a person with a disability cannot be useful in society.
People with limitations need an environment that acknowledges their abilities and allows them to focus on those abilities and not their limitations. Someone with a physical and intellectual limitation can be just as successful, if not more so, than the individual without the limitation. That person with the limitation would prefer an opportunity to demonstrate his ability long before becoming dependent on someone else’s resources. People with limitations are often excited about the contributions they KNOW they can make to society. By no means is this a handicapped person who is dysfunctional. It’s not a persons physical limitations that makes that makes them dysfunctional, it’s societies response to their limitations that disables them and opens the door to a handicap mindset.
Can you walk on your knees for a mile without getting sore? Can you do algebra in your head without writing anything down? Can you see with your hands? Can you hear with your eyes? If not, in a room full of individuals with limitations you are actually the one who is limited. However, you will find that we will make a place for you at our table. We will accommodate to make sure you are able to use your abilities in our environment. Is it really too much to ask that you extend the same courtesy to us?