Today’s article is a guest post from Alan Ford, a talented local writer.
When building a brand, public perception is everything. Your brand has to do much more than just have a solid product and great customer service. It also has to be seen as having true value to the world community, leaving the world a better place. Over the past 20 years, a lot of focus has been placed on brands treating all Canadians the same no matter who they are.
Brands in Canada talk a good talk when it comes to equal rights. We’re all about saying we’ll give the same opportunities to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, race, or religion. We say that people thin or fat, young or old, female or male, should be given the same chances at success, whatever success means to each of those people. And so they should.
While we talk a good talk about giving equal rights to people with disabilities as well, when it comes down to brass tacks, we find that those opportunities are few and far between. In fact, disabled Canadians own some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, regardless of the fact that most disabled individuals are eager to earn a decent living.
If the disabled are so eager to work, and brands (and people by extension) say they are so willing to work with them, why are so many unemployed? It is because the able-bodied people in charge of those brands can’t get past their narrow view of what those with disabilities can accomplish.
How does a deaf person communicate with other staff members? They lip read, speak, and write notes if needed. How does a blind person find the staff washroom? They ask for directions and use their cane to get around. How does a person in a wheelchair get up the stairs? They use a ramp.
If a deaf person were in charge, communication would occur visually – either with sign language or in writing. If a blind person were in charge, the door to the staff washroom, and all doors, would be labelled in Braille. If a person in a wheelchair were in charge, there’d never be stairs.
Currently, people in positions of power are willing to give those with disabilities opportunities, but only if the disabled person conforms to the thinking of the able bodied. The able bodied do not consider that, perhaps, it is they who should conform to the thinking of a disabled person. The gap is so difficult to bridge that it leaves the vast majority of disabled people on the outside looking in on employment opportunities.
The fact is that disabled people do most of things that the rest of us do every day, they just do it a bit differently. Blind people go downhill skiing. They use a guide who skis behind them and shouts directions. Deaf people go dancing and attend concerts. They feel the beat of the music the same as everyone else. People in wheelchairs play hockey. They use a sledge. There are countless examples of how the disabled accomplish things.
For the past twenty years, we’ve all talked a good talk about giving disabled people the same opportunities as everyone else. Now it’s time for us to actually make good on these statements. Make your brand the first to start thinking like a disabled person. Open your mind and consider the possibilities of what it could mean to work with a disabled person.
Alan Ford is the Communications Manager at Blindway Training & Consulting Services and a proponent of accessibility and equality for disabled persons.