Episode one: When Rani met Sally
Real Inclusion Podcast : When Rani met Sally Transcript.
Lois: Hello and welcome to the first installment of the Real inclusion podcast , a podcast for employers who value inclusion and want to get it right . In this podcast we have Dr Sally Witcher OBE chair of the Scottish Commission on Social Security and Rani Mani head of employee advocacy at Adobe. They discuss disability in the workplace and beyond and share their experiences for others – we hope you enjoy this podcast
Sally: My career path has been a somewhat strange route. My first degree was in fine art, making mixed media installations and having exhibitions. I was CEO for child Poverty Action group, working around child poverty, I went into academia. I have been a senior civil servant in the Westminster government, a consultant, I have done a lot of work around wider equality issues and came into this role in 2013. At a point in time when inclusion Scotland consisted of 5 people. I have been a disabled person since early childhood but I clearly have been interested in a lot of things and have not allowed the fact that I am a disable person to define my identity, but that being said I am perfectly proud to identify as a disabled person and see no shame in that whatsoever.
Rani: I lead employee advocacy at Adobe my background is in psychology and I have a masters in international business and I would originally go down the non profit route of serving in different countries and in different capacities . I’ve just always known that to give is really what life is all about and I have a huge belief that the person who helps the most- wins, and so I always lead with the heart and I’ve had an incredible opportunity to go and serve in Calcutta India with Mother Teresa for a year and from doing that she told me not to. Not to think about serving solely without the business background as well, and so she chased me out of India and told me to go back to the States and finish my education and make as much money as possible and try to infect and influence in corporate American, so that is my calling in life and her biggest council to me is your heart and your mind are not mutually exclusive they both attached to the same body and so you can actually leverage both, I happen to be a disabled person as well, I was born with cerebral palsy but it happens to be one facet of many things that make me up
Sally: how you understand what it is that disables a person who has an impairment of some kind – you can take a stance which says what disables a person who has an impairment is the impairment. So for example somebody like me I use a wheelchair- is that the reason I can’t get into the building that has stairs up the front. Because I’m in a wheel chair, alternatively you could say why don’t they just stick a ramp in, because then I could get in and it’s a fact there isn’t a ramp that is what effectively disables me. because if the attitudes are right people aren’t making wrong assumptions about you because that can disable you, you don’t get a job because people have seen you can’t do it – you’re pretty disabled by that regardless of whether you can do the job. So in the workplace for example it may be quite possible for somebody who say has an impairment that means they have less energy in the morning perhaps it is completely unnecessary for that person to start at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, really doesn’t make any substantial different fto that that job or their ability to do it but you change the ways it’s organised and that person can do the job. The positive message of the social model is there are things that employees, in fact everyone can do to remove those barriers and stop people who have impairments from experiencing that disadvantage, because if can change the way you do things then that person is going to be able to operate on an equal basis
Rani: when I think of someone who is not born disabled like I was born disabled versus, someone who may have been injured or fall upon an illness as a society we tend to make all sorts of pivots for that, for the latter right and I think it absolutely fits this model that you’re talking about that we don’t we don’t see it as a model because it seems like the most natural and humane thing to do right to accommodate and to leverage that person’s true skill there temporarily challenged and So what do we as an environment in the society need to do to still bring forth the goodness that they bring right but somehow that narrative changes dramatically when a person is born with an impairment, society doesn’t look on it the same- like well why should I have to accommodate and you know you’re actually infringing on my rights and I I just think it’s fascinating how there’s such a completely different treatment plan whether the born disabled versus if you happen to fall into.
Sally: That’s very interesting never really thought about it as being different for somebody who was born with impairment to somebody who acquires one later on. One of the central points I think that you’re talking is absolutely right it’s, about Do you or does society expect people to fit in with it and the way it does things so it’s the person that needs to find ways of adjusting as best they can or is it about society thinking about what it can do change the way it operates and its cultural messages and so on as well, to accommodate much more people just as standard practice. And very often in the employment field it’s about quite creative thinking you know, somebody they may be able to do an extremely good job but they may do each in a very different way. My experience of discrimination , is most if not all of it, is never is not done on purpose. People don’t set out to build buildings I can’t get into. But if it’s not part of your life and if you’re just used to people being able to do things in one way sometimes you just don’t see it .From my personal experience if I can just quote that kind of example I experience as a disabled chief executive yeah I may be going to speak to a very senior person in government, I could be being examined by a committee in the parliament about something complex around Social Security legislation and then I’ll come out of the parliament and go to get into a taxi and the taxi driver won’t speak to me, they speech to my PA the person who supports me and ask where does she want to go?
Rani: it’s true Sally and you bring up such interesting and pertinent points people don’t set out to disclude or discriminate or hurt feelings when you know better you do better right and and I feel like a lot of people may not have the exposure to disability in there there’s a discomfort and awkwardness and wanting to be politically correct people then overcompensate by being even more awkward when I first hired on at IBM it was a very much in the older white male setting right and so I remember gentlemen walking up to me and speaking very method methodically and slowly and annunciating his words because he just assumed that physical disability you know matched the fact that somehow you were slower in comprehension and so some who I was with found this startling but I found it so humorous and I just asked him if he was OK and we had a good laugh and an I was able to educate and we moved on from there right yeah so I taking those moments and just assuming good intent right the other though I wanted to bring up Sally was this notion of disabled people representing our lived experiences as you know as well there are no two disabilities that are like right I worry about disabled people representing all of disability there might be 100 people in this room with cerebral palsy and my experience might be very different from everybody else and I don’t feel qualified to speak on behalf of the entire community and so that’s why it’s neat to know that there’s so many of us in so many different voices but I think it wanted for Americans being disabled thats quite a huge population we could all bring something to the table but nothing we say is all encompassing
Sally: I think you’re right I think again that’s why a social mobile kind of approach can sometimes be quite helpful because it’s about drawing people’s attention too the kinds of barriers that can get in the way so say something like there not being a ramp so that wheel chair users can get if I could be pretty confident that not having a ramp is going to be an initial problem for a lot of wheelchair users, We all have different forms of impairments we have many many other characteristics as well and many different life experiences and roles and I think again that’s something which I sometimes find a little bit frustrating is I found in my career that somehow people expect that if I can talk about anything with authority it will be disability. So when I was a senior civil servant I would be in meetings with colleagues who didn’t know me and we may be talking about things like I don’t know programme management or organisational restructuring or those kinds of things and and you would see people’s faces when I started talking about things which weren’t disability and and it was generally a double take like just the mere fact that I was sat down in stead of stood up seemed to mean that they would stop talking to me but the people would ask the person I was with and I don’t think I ever experienced that before but it was so noticeable and I’ve seen how when I started using a wheelchair which I didn’t use for a long time how people’s attitudes towards me changed, it’s always about- if you have a disabled employee you don’t make assumptions, I wouldn’t make assumptions I’m the chief executive of an organisation which employs a lot of disabled people with all manner of different impairments, but I have some general kinds of approaches maybe I know more about the right questions to ask even if I don’t always know the answers
Rani: and you know it’s so fascinating to me Sally that you would mention the assumption that people have that you should be a foremost authority in the field of disability because if there’s something that I’m the least qualified to talk about and I mean that in the most sincere way just like I’m the least qualified to talk about being an Indian I often joke with my friend that I have the fakest Indian that you will ever come across right I happen to have Indian features and I have Indian parents but I was born and raised here in the US and I very much I define as an American not that I don’t love the Indian culture and the Indian food and language and everything else but I I’m embarrassingly unknowledgeable about India and in the way that people give me credit for it right similarly with disability because for whatever reason my approach to it has been it is one of many dimensions that make me up into being the multi passionate individual that I am but the other point I wanna make is this notion of accommodations for disability I I just wonder if we were to reframe that as differences actually engender innovation right whether being disability whether it be age right whether it be diversity and ethnicity you know sexual orientation whatever it is right the ode is differences tend to accelerate innovation so if we could somehow change the narrative so that employers can consider how can elevating the voices of all these underrepresented communities help us accelerate innovation which will ultimately improve our bottom line as opposed to how do I need to accommodate this individual so somebody who’s disabled who needs to work alone or not come into the office as much or as early that could be the case for any number of people right who have sleep apnea or whatever it is right or you’re working mom and you need to be able to bring your kids to school first or so why not think about it is flexable hours that would actually help us realise the potential of our entire workforce versus ‘oh here’s this one thing I’m doing for Sally and Ranni’
Sally: no I agree, In our language I suppose we talk about it as mainstreaming equality it means that you don’t feel singled out and it means inverted commas you don’t feel ‘kind of special’ and the other point here, that you made very well I thought. I completely agree it is about the value of diversity and I talked earlier on about you know people being able to do equally as good sometimes even better but do it in a different way and that is how you get creativity, that is how you breed innovation and if you think about it you have a problem and you have many different people with many different perspectives looking to solve it you’re going to get it looked at from all kinds of angles and come up with better solutions, because it’s been tested out and that’s how you breed innovation
Rani: we’ve got some designers within our access at Adobe group at Adobe so this is our employee network that looks at the needs of the employee community with disabilities both invisible and visible, and those designers are inclusive designers and they will say when they actually design with inclusion in mind and the perspective of different things, whether it be disability or anything, but in this case typically disability, how will they actually design superior products and research backed up right like if you actually with your workforce mirror the population that you’re serving then chances are you are going to have a built in focus group for what your market is desiring.
Sally: I’m not sure that all employers or in fact society, necessarily see it in that way- there’s quite a gap perhaps to go between the kinds of approaches you’re talking about and I’ve been talking about with you, when you’ve got a culture that perhaps stills see’s disabled people as kind of objects of pity, poor things who need to be looked that can’t do things for themselves and possibly sometimes of inspiration, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Maybe if I can just draw on another person anecdote- I had some stranger come up to me on the train going to a meeting, I was sitting there minding my own business and this woman came up to me and said ‘I just want you to know, I think you’re very brave’ I was just like why? I’m just sat here on the train going to work. It was really telling me more about her low expectations of what somebody like me could do. Than the fact I’d done something extraordinary and it actually felt very uncomfortable for me and and I don’t know if you’ve come across this term that gets used in our world which is an inspiration porn. Where people actually kind of feel good about themselves because the people being objects of pity and pity. We are just normal people just trying to get on with our lives like everybody else. I know these people are so well intentioned.
Rani: I I know these poeple are so well intentioned right, they see it as giving you compliments and so when I come across that, I take it for the compliment that it is- but then I do try to use that time to educate. ‘if you think me sitting on a train is inspirational, come to my home with my four children’ you’ll se things that will just blow your mind!
Sally: It’s not about people getting told off if they get it wrong, it absolutely isn’t about that. It’s about supporting people, people feeling safe to ask questions and maybe to kind of, you know, not to feel embarrassed you know if they’ve got it a bit wrong. You’ve got to get people to engage first off, whether they engage in a good way or a bad way it’s the beginning of a conversation potentially Nobody wants to get it wrong and sometimes it’s the fear of that that stops people from even trying. And that’s what you‘ve somehow got to try and diffuse wants to get it wrong and sometimes that’s for fear of that but stop simple from even trying and and that’s what we’ve somehow got to try and diffuse exactly right and I
Rani: that’s exactly right and I so much rather have somebody try and get it wrong than not try it all, because a lot of people are apathetic right because they’re so paralysed with fear they don’t even act. So to employers I would say, my personal thing is the first thing that you do is actually um interview or or source from a community that is inclusive of disabled people, because I find that’s where it starts going wrong really wrong is you have job openings but then the places that you go, to actually source candidates are not at all inclusive of any sort of disability so you’re not even casting a net in an ocean that is representative of disabled people, then you’re not going to get diversity, so that that’s where the approach needs to be different, in that you have diverse hiring practises right. and then as a colleague I will say- in your well intentioned desires right to be my buddy and colleagues do not take choice away from me, right so when we go into a conference room don’t assume I want to take that first seat because it’s closest to the door and then awkwardly suggest I sit there, afford me choice.
Sally: I would say whether it’s employers, policy makers, strangers on the train, whoever it happens to be- I’m forming a bit of a formula here which goes something along the lines of- don’t assume, listen, learn and then act – because if you’re trying to make policy that work that works for everybody that applies if you are an employer that applies and it is probably again a good formula not just when you are acting with a visibly disabled person but actually with anyone we are all very different, we all have very different things that are visible and things that are not visible and the things which are visible may or may not tell you about who that person is it is about giving the person the right to define their own needs and aspirations. And then theres one other thing, is about understanding how this is going to lead this approach to better business, better products and better policy.
Rani: one other parting thought that I want to leave here with is, I am so convinced that the way you think about yourself and project yourself is just everything right, people take a cue from your own sense of yourself and you know when I walk into a room I own that room right ,I genuinely believe I’m unstoppable and so therefore people well, woe is them should they try to speak down to me. I think it’s true for anyone right, it’s not just just a matter of disability, it is just as true for anyone. I just find that any individual who has confidence and walks in owning who they are- your juts treated differently.
Sally: people aren’t necessarily vulnerable intrinsically but they can be rendered vulnerable by things not accommodating them by services not being there that they need but it’s not inevitable that people are vulnerable is not inevitable that people who have impairments aren’t experienced disability and inequality because there are changes that could be made to the way the way the world works by the way people attitudes environment that means that people can have an impairment but not experience inequality and disability because of it but can just be part and parcel of the mainstream and and there’s a real appreciation that we are normal people as normal and as varied and diverse as everybody else and that that is a good positive creative thing
Rani: I I think of innovation creativity I think of resilience and grit and strength I I do think of unreasonableness right from the standpoint of the George Bernard Shaw quote right about the reasonable man adapts himself to the world the unreasonable man demands that the world adapt to them, this notion of demanding whats needed right and unreasonableness in the strongest boldest sense
Sally: I’d like to get to a point where it is about discussing disability because actually there’s nothing to discuss because we will just part and parcel of it of everything and it is all understood and the people aren’t making assumptions and is just standard practise that you cheque in with people and that those barriers are removed just as standards practice.