Different ways of doing things

Historically, it was argued that ability was key to most jobs, therefore adults with impairments were somehow automatically excluded from the usual workplaces. Specialist workplaces followed, which catered particularly for what were seen as unusual differences that would not be tolerated outside a supportive, specialist network.

Now, that philosophy is dying, and there seems to be more recognition and acceptance that there are very many different ways of doing things, and that having multiple approaches to problem solving benefits everyone. There is no ‘one size fits all’.

Adults with impairments enhance workplaces and the social scene in many ways. They enlighten and remind us about our priorities, shake up our perspective and re-shuffle our thinking: why worry about what people may think of our budget brand of footwear when our work colleague who uses a walker and struggles to breathe, has to get up every morning at six to make the trek to work by public transport?

Noting people managing ‘in the public’ in a dozen different ways, opens our eyes to challenges that otherwise, we wouldn’t notice. How would we cope with stairs with no handrails, uneven pavements and crowds of commuters? Sometimes it takes a view from the edge to see how we can do things differently.

Conformity is over-rated, and I have come to accept that any organisation that insists on conformity in its employees is inherently weak and will eventually fail. Allowing people to play to their strengths and celebrating difference is actually a much more robust, healthy model to work with, that incentivises its people and encourages real team-work and collaboration.

And friendships with those outside our usual networks bring rewards that we would otherwise miss out on – a completely fresh world-view, perhaps an ironic sense of humour that can afford to be honest and unapologetic: when we have to work so hard to keep apace of what others take for granted, our speech probably loses a bit of its refinement…

Thanks for listening.

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