Answering the Biggest Misconceptions Employers Have About the Disabled
Editor's note: #TTISICon 2016 is right around the corner, and we wanted to give our distinguished guests an inside look and better understanding of our speakers.This year's theme centers on "The Business of Changing Lives," and each of our speakers will go into detail about what that means to them personally and professionally.
Dr. Richard Pimentel, a disability rights activist and advocate, will deliver the conference keynote address. Dr. Pimentel has developed a number of training materials aimed to help employers navigate the rules behind the Americans with Disabilities Act. Read more about him.
- As you know, our conference theme centers around, “The Business of Changing Lives.” What does this mean to you?
Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “Most people go to their graves with their music still inside them.”When asked to explain his observation, he said it's not that these people could not find their music, nor was it that they could not find an instrument to play it, nor was it that they could not find an audience.
It was that many people are raised to believe they have no music worth finding. The beginning of believing in yourself is first having someone believe in you. I believe every person has music inside them that is worth playing and listening to.
I think that what we really do is, not so much change lives, as assist people to realize what they have inside of them.
- What do you plan to share during your presentation?
I plan to share my journey in search of my music. I came back from Vietnam wounded and disabled, with little hope that I could accomplish my dreams.I found that my music was not only helping myself, but also helping others who were like me. I will share how I became a part of the Civil Rights movement for persons with disabilities.
- What will attendees be able to apply into their own businesses?
It is said that, for each of us to be successful, we must embrace the three B's — belong, believe, become.
Each of us needs to feel that we belong. Belong in work, belong in family and with friends.As we strive to belong, so should we help others to feel that they belong as well.
Each of us needs to feel that we believe. Believe that who we are is not just the sum of our parts but part of something grander and meaningful. How are we helping both ourselves and others to believe?
We all have a need to become. As long as we live, we are never done.We are becoming — new challenges, new goals and new purpose.
What your attendees do is more than manage a business. They are about belonging, believing and becoming. We are all more than the sum of our parts.
- How have attitudes changed over the years to better accommodate and welcome disabled people into the workplace?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, has done much to create a more accessible environment. While the Act represents a legal change, it does not represent an attitudinal change.These programs center on including persons with disabilities into corporate diversity programs that focus on valuing the differences that persons with disabilities bring into the group.
The most significant attitude change takes place when we realize that a disability does not reside in the individual; rather, an impairment resides within the individual, but the disability resides within the environment.
We diminish the disability by changing the environment. In many cases, this also means changing ourselves and how we perceive persons with disabilities.
- How can consultants, trainers, selection specialists and speakers help in creating a culture of inclusion?
Simply stated, by focusing not on what people have (the impairment), but on who the people are. Inclusion is a bit like the chicken and the egg question. Which comes first, the inclusion or the acceptance of inclusion?There are speakers, leaders and trainers who champion inclusion. None of these are as effective as having day-to-day contact with a person with a disability.
- As you travel the world and speak about the impact disabled people can have in the workplace, what type of reaction and reception do you receive?
I speak to groups that assemble to support the employment and inclusion of persons with disabilities. I rarely have any aggressive push back of my message.
What I do see too often, however, is passive aggressive pushback.I am told that this is a good idea, then told all the reasons that it will not work. This disappears when they do not focus on persons with disabilities as a group, but instead focus on an individual with a disability.Thus, my message is, "Do not look at what they have; look to see who they are."
- What misconceptions do employers and workers have about the disabled and how does that impact one’s ability to easily transition into a new job?
My mentor in college was Dr. Ben Padrow. When I told him that my “castle in the sky” (Henry David Thoreau) was to change people’s minds about persons with disabilities, he smiled.He then gave me the best advice I have ever received. He told me that I do not need to change their minds about persons with disabilities; rather, I need to change their minds about themselves.
The biggest misconception that employers have about persons with disabilities is not a lack of confidence about a person with disabilities ability to do a job; it is a lack of confidence in their own ability to work with and supervise them.
I found that giving employers confidence in their own abilities does more to open up opportunities for persons with disabilities than concentrating on persons with disabilities as a group.
- What impresses you most about changing attitudes on this important topic? What still bothers or offends you, and what further changes can be made on these fronts?
When I feel tired and wonder if all my work has amounted to anything, a young professional will come to me and tell me that they attended one of my trainings for teens with disabilities and was inspired to find their music.Often this person will share with me how well they are doing. To some degree, we knew we were not doing this work for ourselves, but rather for the next generation of young persons with disabilities.
You may be surprised to learn that I am not bothered or offended by employers who still cling to stereotypes, attitudes and fears that limit persons with disabilities from finding their music.
If anything, I am privileged to find a way to challenge an idea without challenging the person who holds it.