When I was a student, I frequently asked myself, “What is the purpose of my education?” And as my capacity to communicate improved, I began to ask this question out loud to the educators and special education consultants in my life. I’m not sure whether they thought my question was insightful or annoying—maybe a bit of both. What I do know is that no one had an answer for me or seemed to have considered asking this question on my behalf.
One day I was visiting a large corporation where I had once delivered a presentation on inclusive leadership. The message of my presentation was that anyone can be a leader in creating accessible and inclusive workplaces and marketplaces: you don’t need to be the CEO of a corporation (although you certainly can be the CEO) to demonstrate leadership.
Today as I was sitting in a café enjoying a latte, my attention was caught by the conversation at the next table between an older man and a teenager I assumed were a grandfather and grandson. From their tone, it was obvious that there were differences in how each generation perceived whatever topic they were discussing. I detected passion, with a hint of humour.
Like many students, I kept a journal of my thoughts and experiences during my elementary school years. These books were filled with pictures, words and stories of my time at school. One particular event is captured in these pages.In grade two, my teacher entered our class in a community arts festival to recite a poem. Twelve other schools also entered their primary grades. Now, I do not talk, but that did not seem to matter to my teacher.
Today, Her Honour the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, will preside at a ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto where I will receive the David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility in the Role Model category. Foremost in my mind in this special moment will be the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” My “village” will be in my heart today, and with gratitude I will accept the award in your honour.
Every second of every day, we have an extraordinary opportunity to create inclusive workplaces that contribute to the success of our businesses, organizations and corporations. What we know for sure is inclusive workplaces don’t just happen. They are created by inclusive leaders. It’s a simple reality. It’s our choice to say “yes” – as it always has been.
Have you ever noticed that words can have a different connotation depending on the context in which they’re used? As a writer, I’m fascinated by the different ideas and feelings a word can generate along with its literal meaning. Take, for example, the word “buddy.” Depending on who is saying it and in what tone, this word can have either a positive or a negative connotation. So here are some things to keep in mind when you’re tempted to call someone “buddy.”
Let’s face it: Hollywood struggles with the way it depicts disability in TV shows and movies. Far too often in these productions the character who has a disability is portrayed as either a hero or a dependent victim. It’s also a well-known fact that most of the characters who have a disability are played by actors who do not have a disability. So when a TV comedy comes along that strives to be authentic in its dialogue on disability, it deserves our applause.
I have to admit there are days (usually Monday mornings before my coffee...) when, for a brief moment, I question whether it is possible to make our communities completely accessible and inclusive. I know I’m not alone. In the cynical and turbulent climate we live in, it’s easy to slip into being a “naysayer” and blame others for failing to lead the way to make the world a better place for everyone. I was having such a morning recently when I heard the story of the children at the Mabin School in downtown Toronto.
The influential scientist and Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein once remarked, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Research leads to an expansion of our knowledge, which informs our future actions. Every aspect of our lives – social, economic, cultural and environmental – has been influenced by research.
With all my heart, I believe that creating an accessible and inclusive community is rooted in the commitment of everyday ordinary people. By commitment, I’m not talking about a half-baked, politically correct buy-in. I’m talking about following through on a decision to bring about change that turns possibilities into reality.
A couple of months ago I received the following letter from a young student:
Thanks for coming to our school. I’ve been thinking about changing the world… not the whole world… just some of it. The halls at our school are a mess. Everybody leaves their shoes and mittens all over the place. It is dangerous for anybody who is pushing a stroller or in a wheelchair to get around.
I have decided to become the “Mitten Swooper”. Every morning I swoop up all of the mittens and shoes in the hallway and make a path. It is a big job so I got some friends to help. It’s going well.
Last year, after one of my presentations, an audience member came over to chat. He told me that once a year, he and the other members of his local service club go to the garden centre, pick out flowers and then head over on a Saturday morning to a home in his neighbourhood where several people with disabilities live, to plant the gardens for them...