By the Editorial staff
Why speak about different abilities?
For me, it is very personal. I like the word skills because I think it is another matter of different backgrounds, varieties, opportunities, emotional richness.
What is my experience in this area?
COVID 19 has provided us with a unique opportunity to spend time with our thoughts, embracing a more introspective viewpoint of our life. In fact a new perspective on life altogether. I invested this time in my thoughts, reflecting how your normality can change in a second and how your normality can be very different from other normalities. My normality has been changing for a while, crossing into a phase where, like for many other people in the pandemic, my daily energy was challenged and my anxiety rose. Looking at that, I matured skills that are precious in my daily and professional life: resilience, significant empathy and understanding of people's struggles, courage, and emotional intensity. Is that an enrichment for me and around me? I believe it is. Thus, I believe we should appreciate the skills that a different life brings to us and embrace the opportunity of a new learning experience. But this requires us to challenge a lot of our usual ways of thinking.
What can we do differently in this area?
Let's start by challenging the culture of ableism. It is a problematic word with a hard meaning, hard historical examples of human behaviours, reflecting the traditional culture in which most of us grew up. COVID -19 has raised great attention to health matters, but I think we are still influenced by biases and stereotypes in judging situations of disabilities or health challenges. Ableism is not just a behavioural concept but also a social concept. There are social habits, practices, regulations and laws that assume disabled people are less capable overall. Many countries have adopted quota practices to ensure opportunities for people with "different abilities" to try to correct this inherent inequality. Simultaneously, local culture can still be a struggle, questioning the effectiveness of these practices. For example, my experience in Italy, where companies should comply with disability quotas, is that the tool alone is not enough. There is substantial activity required from institutions to educate, to create the channels and onboarding paths that companies can use, and to appreciate different abilities. Works councils and Unions play also an important role is educating and supporting Inclusion practices.
How can we expand our diversity and inclusion initiatives to include disabled people?
There are a lot of dimensions to consider. First, we should educate our behaviour by considering these situations more as an opportunity than a challenge. Based on Harvard research, “Do Your D&I Efforts Include People with Disabilities? March 19, 2020” “there are more than one billion people worldwide – around 15% of the population – living with a disability. As consumers, they represent a market the size of the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, and Indonesia combined and a disposable income of more than $8 trillion.” So, based on business logic alone this is an incredible and still-untapped opportunity. In addition, people with disabilities enrich with a the different background and viewpoint that can drive a better decision-making. Creating a path of change requires various skills to meet the many challenges in front of us: we need to think differently, think outside of the box and avoid conventional, standardized opinions. Secondly, we should reframe our language. We are often afraid to interact with people affected by disease or different abilities. We are nervous and awkward and adapt our language based on our stereotypes. Let's people feel themselves, with no prejudice or fears. Listen to them instead of feeling the obligation to talk, and embrace the opportunity to learn and mirror their expectations. Reframe the words that we use in everyday life and understand that not all is according to the dominant group; reflect, respect, and treat others how you yourself would like to be treated. Understand what motivates the other person, don't assume that your standard is the other person's standards. Companies can lead the journey and benefit from different abilities by enhancing D&I programs. According to the mentioned Harvard Research, only 4% of companies with D&I programs have active initiatives related to disability. There is still a massive gap in this area, most likely due to its complexity.
What can we do practically?
For example, we could rethink our practices, from hiring to workplace design. Do we use language in the job descriptions that discourages people with different abilities from applying to work for us? Is our workplace accessible and inclusive enough in terms of working space and technology? Do we have policies that support flexibility and adaptation that help integrating people with different abilities? Encourage Employee Resources groups that can be an essential source to ally, integrate, and provide support for people with different abilities. Work on a team's unconscious biases in the context of individuals with disabilities. Do we automatically assume that hiring a person with a disability will be too hard? Educate your organization. Our Konecranes branch in Brazil organized a few years ago a role play with a facilitator, simulating situations of different physical constraints for the local employees. By provoking this personal experience, they wanted to raise awareness of the biases and possible difficulties that people with physical limitations can encounter in the workplace.
What did I learn from this lesson?
I don’t pretend with these few tips provided we can sort out a topic that is human, social, very profound and sensitive, but I am personally committed to including different abilities and skills in our D&I initiatives and practices, and I believe that this is really a great opportunity for us; it is also where we can create an influence as a company. My big personal lesson learnt is that we can all become vulnerable in our life. Dante Alighieri said in the Divine Comedy, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” Think and reflect how you would like to be treated if you are in condition of physical vulnerability. Challenge your emotional comfort zone to embrace other skills and life experiences: you will also discover or develop new skills for yourself!