Sunday, 4 January 2015

My date with disability

In all my life, I have spoken to him about this for not more than 60 seconds. He was affected by polio as a child and had to be carried from room to room. This man, who studied in a Malayalam medium school till class V, went on to become the Chief Executive of a “mainstream” conglomerate in India and the CEO of an American firm. At an age where people would choose to hang their boots up, he established his entrepreneurial venture. He leads a normal life – he goes on long walks, he drives, he swims, I’ve even seen him dance. This self-made man is my father.

I came to learn about the International Day for People with Disabilities a few months back. Close on the heels of this, I had the opportunity to participate in a recruitment drive for persons with disabilities. Most applicants to my company were polio affected. I was a little crestfallen, since I have never viewed polio as a disability! My father NEVER played the “disability” card either personally or professionally, consequently, my mind refuses to equate my dad’s condition with disability.   

This brought back an unpleasant experience that I had as a recruiter. I was with the hiring manager at an interview for a sales position, and a candidate walked in with a noticeable limp. After a short interview, the hiring manager seemed very dismissive of his candidature. He expressed considerable doubt regarding his ability to sell and blurted out an appalling statement – “What would a client think if we sent a person like him to represent out brand?” I was infuriated; he had touched a raw nerve. What was “person like him” even supposed to mean? I reported this incident, he was issued a verbal warning and I was asked to “orient” him towards dealing with “such” situations.

In my limited experience, I have found that people with disabilities do not want sympathy, they would be happy with some empathy. They do not want special privileges or leeway with rules. They would appreciate not being stared at. All they want is a fair chance to compete. And for heaven’s sake, they are “normal” people.

It is amazing how the corporate world does its bit – Diversity & Inclusion and the likes, but I think we must first address the biggest disability that the human race has to deal with – that of the mind. 

8 comments:

  1. That is such a true post, Aarthi. Seriously. I have an uncle affected by polio and he is a fabulous doctor. I have a friend affected by polio and he is better than me in everything he does. People who think it as a disability are sick. And it is not just the corporate world, there is no dearth of these sick judgmental people in the world.

    Brilliant post.

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    1. Thanks for your heartfelt comment Diptee. True, but sad that this is not just in the corporate world :(

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  2. Such an incisive post Aarthi. Diversity and inclusiveness truly begins in our mind. Tomorrow's world is being built on merit, performance, innovation, passion, collaboration. Can we look beyond physical abilities, gender, sexual orientation, race, region, religion, age to ideas, beliefs, values and philosophies that bind us together? Your post truly calls for action and I for one support you in this!

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    1. Thanks for your support Kenneth. As HR professionals, the onus is on us to bring about a change in thought & perception. We should do something on AYIL around this. What say?

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  3. True, your dad is an exemplary personality. I've seen him through during our schooling days.

    However, I doubt if the world was a better place before or will become a haven in the future.
    Everyone talks... Some shed tears looking at differently abled and some take oath to support. What happens next is a forgotten story. We all go back to daily chores.

    You rightly pointed out these people need empathy rather than sympathy. Many have the strong will power to succeed and others resort to menial ways for living.

    This reminds me of my own encounter with blind people. I'm always amazed with their super confidence. Tell me, can we walk or cross the rotten roads in Chennai with the same confidence as these men do. No!!!

    They learn to wade through all odds. Again, all we got to do is give them way and respect their nature and a smile.

    Nice Post.

    Friend.

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    1. Hi Friend,

      At school, we always used to have students from Little Flower Convent perform on several occasions. I was the SPOC for one of those events and I remember accompanying them from the gate to our auditorium on the third floor. Their sense of confidence at that age was amazing. The girl I "helped" did not want me to even hold her hand. She explained to me how her stick would suffice, and she walked all the way upto the third floor with little help. And I so clearly remember her speech after the event - "We do not want your sympathy". And to this day, it gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes.

      Btw, I am curious to know who you are :)

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  4. It's hard not to encounter people who dismiss others because of a visible disability. You're definitely on point with what you said that people with disabilites are in no way craving for anyone's sympathy. What's important is we give them respect and see them beyond their disability. Anyway, thanks for those amazing insights! All the best to you! :)

    Brad Post @ Jan Dils

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    1. Thanks for reading & taking the time out to leave a comment Brad!

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