By July 9, 2021 Read More →

What do you mean, Diversity and Inclusion?

What is Diversity? Who does it include or not include? Today in 2021 it appears that diversity includes gender, sexual orientation, race, but not disability. COVID has been a very hard time for me being a person with disability. Working remotely I’ve deepened my understanding of the issues of diversity and gained new language to describe it. Being successful professionally requires an employer focused on diversity and inclusion, but an employer who is also willing to accommodate your individual needs as a person with disability.

Diversity is at its core for employers willing to hire people that are different. But diversity only gets you in the door. You’ve identified as “different” in some way and the employer is willing include you in the organization, so what now what?

Since your different you needs for accommodations are unique. I am legally blind with Ocular Albinism and can only speak definitively in that context. I’m also Metis but I’m currently unaware of necessary cultural accommodation.

My experience with accommodation is multi dimensional. As anyone who knows me I am indeed “different”.

Given my disability I require a number of technical accommodation. I’ve tried a number of approaches and technologies over the years.

First and foremost I manage and squeeze the most out of me. Through much trial and error and personal growth I’ve discovered that my day is governed by my physical well being, specifically, my visual budget, which is determined by:

The amount of pain I’m in:
I overwork my eyes, even with my technical accommodation I have about 2 to 4 hours of focused screen time a day. Time where I need to be focused on details in documents etc.
How fatigued I am:
How tired I am generally. The same as everyone else I have bad nights, I am stressed and from time to time I get sick.
I recently broke my foot badly, the injury has slowed me down both from the big boot I’m walking in and the pain of the injury itself.
How energized I am:
I am human I get frustrated and scared. I’ve been in jobs where no matter what I do its not enough, or the employer doesn’t really want you there. Or just the plain stress of doing a job and the companies business cycles.
During the pandemic it seems like all of us have been working at 150% I know there are a lot of tired people.
Your personal life and hobbies might be having issues causing stress.

All of these things together impact how much and for how long I can do detailed visual work during a day. I am seen as very high functioning and have a number of ways that I accommodate myself to get work done even without having to see. Its amazing actually how much you can see through the eyes of others and their description of events, things and ideas. I have a listening superpower that serves me. I see more through my ears than I do with my eyes.

The technology I use to work is:
A 55”4K TV, I need magnification in context. One reason I prefer Windows over the Mac is I can move the program menu bar to where I can read it.
Kurzweil 3000, for reading, reading on its own is the hardest thing to do and the most expensive. The value chain of technology needed to read is huge: Scanner, K3000, computer and all the other accommodation, reading essentially costs about $10,000 to setup.
A sit stand desk, sitting all the time is apparently very bad for your. I believe it..
A Maltron Keyboard, I’ve recently swished from Kinesis Keyboards which I can also recommend.
A Herman Miller Areon Chair, all of the ergonomic gear is because I lean forward when I type to see the screen. Its been very hard on my shoulders and hips. The ergonomic gear helps

This combination of technology enable me to perform the best that I can.

I require process accommodation, in most of the jobs I’ve had in my career I can do 99% of the work with my accommodations, except expense reports and time sheets. These two things are hard, time sheets, and expenses, impossible. For expense reports I need help. I left a job because the organization couldn’t figure out how to accommodate me and the regional manager refused to help.

As a leader at work I’ve provided accommodations to others for religious cultural and other differences people shared. Everyone has different needs the question is do those needs require specific accommodation. As a leader I’ve given vacation days and time with no declared need for accommodation to people who need the team to manage the events of life. We all need gentle eyes and accommodation from time to time.

I work differently. I’ve accommodate myself based on my intellectual talents. I need the context of the work the why and the impact. I’ve built many models and patterns that enable me to process the work and add value. I’m very cogitative, I’m one of those that get it sorted in my head then I can do it. I work best when my managers worry about the work and provide me with the why, but ignore the how of how I work. I’ve left many jobs because it freaked my managers out how I work.

There are downsides to accommodation. I am working through the process of accommodation with an organization that has officially a one size fits all approach to accommodation. If your needs as mine are, aren’t on the list, you / I won’t be accommodated. We are currently working through an exception process. I’m personally deciding do I stay or just go work somewhere else. I’m at the point of leaving this role, my experience is that it won’t end well me anyway.

Accommodation requires a willingness on those that need or request accommodation to teach and facilitate what they need from an organization. Accommodation also requires a willingness on our part to work or adapt differently to support the organization. My ability to work at my best is like a basketball balanced on the head of a pin, there is little to no room for variance on the how I work. It comes across like it my way or the highway, but its more fundamental than that its a choice. Either I work this way to enable high functioning or I don’t. Anything you do to me has a dramatic effect on my ability to work let alone work at my best. To me one size fits all accommodation is just institutionalized discrimination. Accommodation isn’t a demographic construct its an individual construct.

The greatest accommodation you can have is a boss advocate, if you have a strong leadership advocate the sky is the limit no matter the ignorance of the organization.

The absolute worst response and I’ve run into this twice now. Is an organization that won’t let me use the accommodations that I provide myself. I had one organization tell me that with the vision I have I wouldn’t get any benefit from the tech I use to accommodate myself. The other organization is adamant that if the accommodation aren’t on their list I can’t use them. I’m talking the point of view that like a mechanic or carpenter I bring my own tools to do my work. Easier to not ask for anything for accommodation from the employer.

We are all human, having cool technology like a large monitor or fancy keyboard can and does induce penis envy. Sometimes I’ve been told that if the organization gives me a big screen they’ll have to give one to everyone. There is a fear from many organizations that since your work on a TV your watching TV. Many times I’ve had the comment, “well come watch the big game on your screen”. Process accommodation have been refused because that function is a perk of a more senior role than I’m in. I’ve been denied accommodation because it would cause ego issues for my bosses boss..

Recently for the first time and now a few times I’ve run into employee experience issues. I’ve spent my career on the Microsoft solution stack. Recently I tried to work for a company that uses Mac and Goggle. I was a total fish out of water. I had to do some learning on the cool work they were doing but the impact of the end user experience was too much. Having to relearn and reestablish my work flows and learn what the company was up to was too much. Was best for me to leave. Also because of the pandemic and working from home everyone wants to use multi factor authentication. I’m going to write about this separately because its such a “mess”. By the time I fumble and get a code and enter it the code has changed, access denied.

I have to accommodate sighted people continually. People still haven’t figured out or don’t care what a white cane is. I carry a note pad and pen and display them prominently to show sighted people that I’m paying attention in meetings. Was required by one of my managers to do so. I look at you when I talk to you. I share my video when I’m working remotely. I haven’t seen faces of others since the pandemic and all of this remote work, I’m sorry I find it disturbing. When I had a guide dog he was attacked in the office because the notion of a service dog has beens so diluted that any animal can be a service animal.

Inclusion is the hardest one. Your in the door and you can work since your accommodated. Now will anyone work with you. Its like being the new kid in the sandbox, will they include you or will they take your shinny toy and leave you on the corner to watch. There are many challenges with inclusion:

Imagination is huge, people have to get past the differences in each other and accept that if they couldn’t do the job they wouldn’t be there. Many many times I’ve given up on people and organizations and left jobs moving on because of people’s lack of imagination. Oh that Blind Bergum can’t do that, if I can’t do it he can’t do it. The other one is pity, people looking at me like I’m some kind of broken is so demoralizing.

Language can be an issue with inclusion. Every organization has a unique dialect about how they do business, learning the dialect is necessary. But different cultures and different primary languages can be an issue as well. I’ve had successful engagements where I’m the only English speaker and I’ve had some engagements that didn’t go as well. Remember my super power is listening, most of the time listening can get me through almost anything. I love people because each one gives me a view on the world that I don’t have.

Timezones and culture can also have impact on inclusion. Even within the same country Geo-location can have a profound impact on perception and priorities. Factor in global teams and the issues are compounded.

I will admit some of the inclusion items I share with everyone. Which is great!, diversity and inclusion is a complex construct and its good to know that other people with their lovely unique difference experience similar issues. I know I’m not unique and special we all have our thing our own unique needs. I identify with people of color and woman as both groups experience similar issues with diversity and inclusion. In some ways I can operate in stealth mode. I don’t look blind and my Metis heritage doesn’t present itself obviously. There are times I get a break.

Given all the buzz these days about Diversity and Inclusion I have to ask what are they talking about exactly. I was going to share a list of jobs and where the employment relationship ended, most of them are at technical / process accommodation. Personally I don’t waste a lot of time on ignorant people innocently ignorant or otherwise. I’m not going to let small mindedness define or limit me.

So when we are talking about diversity and inclusion what do you mean exactly. You have a room full of different people, different colors, different abilities or disability, now what. Its a very hard question to answer and its not good enough to have your display of diverse people. You have to include them or they’ll all find someone else who will. We all just want to have impact and live. Me too.

About the Author:

Kyle has ocular albinism and has been legally blind since birth. Kyle leads a very active live and is besides his professional career involved in many projects for persons who are different.

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