The term “diversity” is not some nebulous concept to me. Diversity has always been a big part of my life, and I’m proud to be part of a group that encourages awareness of this important issue in all aspects of life – from gender, to race, to abilities, and many more.
My blog will take more of a personal approach. As honored as I am to be involved in the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin, my hope is that D&I Committees are eventually not needed – that diversity is just a part of the daily fabric of life in businesses, organizations, social groups, schools, etc.
We have a long way to go.
For this post, I’d like to focus on the differently-abled population. For as long as I can remember, I never understood why it was such a big deal when I would meet a person with special needs. We’re all just people right? We all have special needs and abilities. The first step to inclusion is removing that label of being different, or “challenged.”
Don’t get me wrong. I know that medically, having special needs can be a very big deal, and many people need extra care in order to survive & thrive. Families have to find a new normal to take care of their loved ones with special abilities. But when you REALLY get down to it, we’re all just people. Some of us are funny, some more serious, some athletic, artistic – each of us contributes to the rich tapestry of life.
Ever since college, I have volunteered with organizations that serve the special needs population, and I have learned more from these experiences than from any college course.
One of those lessons – don’t sweat the small stuff. We get so consumed by our daily problems, and wanting more. Sometimes we forget to just BE. This is a lesson I’ve learned from the special needs population. Sure, it’s human nature to vent and complain because life is hard at times. But if we lead lives that are based in patience, kindness, and acceptance, life’s challenges just might seem a little less daunting.
Those qualities of kindness and acceptance carry over to the workplace & professional organizations. It’s not a bold, new idea to say we need more people with special needs in the workplace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in 2017, 18.7% of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.7%.
The disparity between those numbers is staggering.
In some cases, a person physically can’t work. But in many other cases, these gifted, differently-abled citizens don’t get a chance to be hired and share their diverse talents with the rest of the workforce. Many can’t afford or access transportation, and if they do find jobs, they are minimum wage positions, in subpar working environments.
I encourage anyone who has even a little bit ot free time to check out local organizations that promote inclusion – Best Buddies, Easter Seals, Special Olympics, The Eisenhower Center. They are always looking for volunteers to help with events and programming. I think you’ll fine you’ll get more out of it than the people you’re assisting.
And next time you see someone with a disability, I challenge you to see them for what they CAN do… I bet you’ll be surprised!
PRSA Southeast Wisconsin Secretary
PR & Content Manager, Steinhafels