A wrong logic about job inclusion of people with disabilities

We know that biases and prejudices are at the heart of the issue of job inclusion of people with disabilities (PwD). They are one of the reasons why this topic moves slowly forward.

Photo of several street signs showing: "No turn left", "Road closed", Wrong way" and "Detour"

However, it is still surprising and revealing when we encounter one of these biases, expressed with complete sincerity and innocuousness.

At DSE we conducted a trial workshop on diversity and inclusion. The participants were professionals from different sectors. During an exercise, I went from being the facilitator of the workshop to being one more member of the team. Our goal was to fulfill a task that had been assigned to us, while working on the inclusion of the new colleague with disability - that was, me. The task was totally visual and consisted of putting some images in order. In my team the task was accomplished, but the inclusion did not work. At first, I tried to include myself through questions, observations, and opinions, but at a certain point, the pressure to fulfill the task objective and the little time available absorbed the team and my role lost all relevance.

When we shared our reflections, a participant said - I paraphrase: "I think Pepe should be happy, because in the team we describe the images with great precision". I wanted to faint! But I had to keep my composure in my role as facilitator.

The truth is that I appreciate the comment for its sincerity, and because it was expressed in a way that was not intended to offend; it was the woman’s genuine thought. According to her logic, I should be happy because I was part of the team and because they accurately described what they were doing. Yet, this logic is an obstacle to genuine inclusion. Translated into a broad context, this logic would be something like: people with disabilities should be happy and grateful that they have a job in the company. In principle it does not sound bad; but if we demand that people with disabilities be happy just for that, and not for being an active part of their teams in the company, for belonging, for contributing to the result and for finding meaning through their work, then we are still a long way from the goal.

This logic perfectly reflects the focus on diversity that prevails in many companies: to fulfill the quota with plural and diverse presence in the teams. And it also reflects the prevailing softening of inclusion: even if they don't contribute anything, even if they are just there to meet the quota, they can ease their conscience, after all, they have a job and we can also have a clear conscience, because we employ people with disabilities.

It was a great workshop experience, and I am very grateful to the person who expressed herself so sincerely. The question is, how do we transform that logic into a more constructive and inclusive one?

Pepe Macías