In the wake of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and its mission to raise awareness about disability employment issues I am reminded of a quote from Wayne W. Dyer - “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” It is in great consciousness that I say, we must change the way we view people with disabilities and work. People with disabilities face challenges to employment, not only because their disability MAY impact work but the truly debilitating barrier that people with disabilities face when it comes to work is the way employers and others view them and their perceptions about what people with disabilities can and can’t do. It is this reason that I say, no actually, not that I say but that I DECLARE we must change the way we view people with disabilities and work.
People with disabilities are people first. Having a disability is simply one attribute of a person’s overall character, it is NOT an identifier, and it is NOT a characterizer. Disability is like a hair style, it is one piece of a person’s overall appearance, and it does not describe or define the person wholly.
We need to change the way that we look at people with disabilities, if we stop looking at their limits, at the things that they cannot do, and instead look at the things they can do, perhaps the thing (people that we are looking at) changes. Instead of being the person who uses a wheelchair, they become the person who has a degree in astrophysics. Instead of being the person who can’t see, they become the person who produces amazing sculptures. Instead of being the person who has Autism, they become the person whose focus and dedication is unparalleled to others. If we choose to look at people through the lens of ability then the picture changes. It is this lens that we should all be looking through when considering work for anyone. We should look at strengths, not deficits for if the strengths (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities) are there the deficits can be addressed.
As someone who is personally touched by disability and one who works to accommodate oneself daily in work, whether that’s getting up and walking in circles every few minutes or who never works without music playing or who requests extra time to read long assignments due to struggles staying on task – I still have great knowledge and expertise to contribute and I know this. I choose not to see what my label is; I see what I have to offer and what I contribute. So I challenge you, the next time you encounter someone who experiences disability, try changing the way you look at them. Don’t think about their disability, think about their ability.