One would think that as children of the proverbial rainbow nation we would have this whole diversity thing down pat. Not a flicker of a raised eyebrow or a tremor in our firm inviting voices when we engage with those that may, in some way, be different from us. The reality though is often somewhat different. If, for example, your entire workforce is made up of bright young things, there is often a fearfulness to engage with a slightly older, possibly more conservative (or so we think) individual. Our perceptions, often not based on reality but more on stereotypes and assumptions tend to rule our decision making processes.
But what do we miss? What do we lose when we ignore the opportunity to engage with those that might have a slightly different viewpoint to ourselves, or when we don’t engage purely because we don’t know how, because people are different?
This is especially true of disabled staff.
From the very first time that we are able to raise our hands, point at someone and, using our loudest possible voice, utter the words that will make our parents want to vanish into a conveniently man-sized pothole: “Mommy (or Daddy as the case may be), why is that lady sitting in a chair with wheels?”, we are taught to ‘shush’. We are taught to ‘not ask’ and we are taught that to stare is rude. Of course our well-meaning parents are trying to prevent people feeling uncomfortable, but the reality is that we are taught from the earliest possible time to look away. To not engage, to not ask questions, and this is at the root of our inability to feel comfortable with people who are, in some way or another, different to us.
According to the CSIR there are approximately 4-million South Africans with disabilities. That is an enormous number of people to be ignoring because one is simply uncomfortable! Am I suggesting that you march into the street and hire the first disabled person you see with nary a thought for their skills or experience? Of course not! Additionally it would be equally irresponsible to fill a quota for your HR department, throw a new person into the mix and just hope that the team works it out for themselves. So what is the answer?
At Avocado Vision we believe that disability awareness training is the way to go! In a politically correct world, we need to learn how to engage, because not engaging either through fear of offending, or through our own prejudices limits us as team members, and limits our team’s abilities to meld and be productive.
So what should you be looking for in effective disability awareness training?
- Awareness of disability and the related issues
- Management of one’s own attitudes
- Reduced barriers between team or unit members
- Exposure of any issues in the team and development of possible solutions
- Agreement on a set of new behaviours in the workplace
- Creative ways to effectively include all team members on a consistent basis
- The skills for confronting and having the difficult conversations
We are obligated to pull our resources from a wide pool of potential employees. Not just because we earn BEE points for hiring disabled people, but also from a moral and ethical standpoint. The days when we could afford to hire and manage our teams around our own prejudices are long gone and no matter how hard it is, we need to be looking at engaging with potential employees who may be different to us in multiple ways, but who have the potential to shift our perceptions and allow unique perspectives into our organisations.