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Nothing About Us Without Us: A Presentation

  • Posted on March 17, 2014 at 9:39 AM

The Legality Mentality

  • Posted on April 2, 2011 at 8:05 AM

Previously, I have published three short synopses—in blog post style—of chapters for the non-fiction book I’m working on, Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide.  First, I wrote a post introducing the neurodiverse workforce, and then I addressed the need to cope with the challenges of inclusion, and the possibility to capitalize on a diverse workforce.  My third post concerned business rhetoric, and now I explore the legal mentality.

The Law

In the United States, there is legislation that seeks to protect the interests of workers with disabilities.  In theory, these laws apply to both visible and invisible disabilities.  In theory, these laws protect the interests of workers with autism and Asperger’s.  In theory, these laws ensure that workers with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to perform the work should not be denied employment or excluded from consideration because of their disabilities.  In theory, workers whose disabilities interfere with their performance of work they are qualified to do should be provided with reasonable accommodations.  In practice, businesses’ responses to this legislation are inadequate to achieve these goals.

Compliance & The Inadequate Business Response

Ethically-managed businesses strive to comply with all applicable laws, including legislation that seeks to protect the interests of workers with disabilities.  However, laws evolve as they are interpreted, tested in court, and re-interpreted.  A compliance mentality leaves businesses vulnerable to the possibility that their attempts to comply will be found inadequate if their standards are challenged in court.  Considering compliance standards are rarely applied to individuals with invisible disabilities and rarely address subtle prejudicial business practices, the main thing preventing a much wider application of the law is that relatively few people seek to challenge employers’ interpretations.

Between Compliance & Inclusion

Émile Durkheim, the father of modern social science, is quoted as having said: “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”  The mores concerning workers with disabilities are insufficient in this society.  We can attempt to legislate equality, but we cannot enforce it; for those businesses run with insufficient mores, we are left with compliance.

Compliance, however, does not achieve the goal of inclusion, nor does it provide employers with the benefits of an inclusive working environment.  Most businesses accept that hiring disabled workers is a cost of doing business.  By focusing on compliance, they strive to attain the minimum necessary to meet legal standards.  By focusing on inclusion, employers can be assured that they not only meet legal standards, but they will also exceed current interpretations of the laws enforcing those standards.  Furthermore, they will attain the benefits only included workers can provide.

Inclusion vs. Rhetoric

  • Posted on March 5, 2011 at 12:43 AM

Previously, I have published to short synopses—in blog post style—of chapters for the non-fiction book I’m working on, Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide.  First, I wrote a post introducing the neurodiverse workforce, and then I addressed the need to cope with the challenges of inclusion, and the possibility to capitalize on a diverse workforce.  Here I will explore the rhetoric of business in contrast with the language of inclusion.

The Rhetoric of Business

One of the hallmark linguistic requirements of the contemporary business environment is the use of politically correct language.  The emphasis on an externally set linguistic standard betrays a vital fact that most seem quite unaware of, namely that respect is not dictated from the outside in.

Personally, I find that if you genuinely respect people, then respectful language will naturally flow through your use.  If, on the other hand, you are inclined to devalue people, then an externally enforced linguistic standard only seeks to cover up that disrespect.  While the purpose of politically correct language is to express tolerance, the reality is that an externally enforced standard does not breed tolerance, merely compliance.

By following the strictures of politically correct speech and further by attempting to enforce a distant, façade of respect through public and employee relations programs, business cultures convince themselves they practice tolerance.  And yet the problems of internalized prejudice continue.  In gender, race, and disability relations, equality is not attained despite our legislation and the enforcement of politically correct language.  The language used in businesses becomes empty rhetoric that is not played out in the culture of the business or in the everyday choices where prejudice holds its greatest power.

The Language of Inclusion

The language we choose to use can influence the way we think about the world and the way we perceive each other.  Choice is a significant factor, however.  Underlying the choices we make is the respects we hold.  I often refer to my children as children with autism, autistic children, autistic or even, though I try not to, Silly Willy.  According to political correctness, this is wrong; yet my regard for my children does not change.  Recently, Dave Hingsburger of Rolling Around in My Head wrote a post about the language we use.  There are some words and phrases that are truly offensive.  However, most terms can be used with respect.  Disability is not an ugly word, nor is it an ugly state of being.  It is only ugly when we have no respect for those who are disabled.

The language of inclusion is less about the words we choose and more about what we mean when they use them.  If you think an autistic person is worthless, it does not matter that you use people-first language.  You can call autistics “people with autism” all you like, but if “autism” means “inferior” to you, then everything else you say and do is going to communicate your prejudice loudly and clearly no matter how politically correct you are.

The Transition

The language of inclusion is not about political correctness or the façade of tolerance.  It’s about genuine respect.  You can’t fake it.  But you can shape it by making new choices for new reasons.  It can be shaped within a culture by people who use words with respect.  In order to make this transition, you need to incorporate respect into the culture of your business.  It’s not just about the words you use, but the ideas and beliefs you express.  This respect must come from a force within that organization, and it must be disseminated throughout the organization.  Respect diverse workers.  Respect diverse partners, suppliers, and customers.  Respect the diverse world we live in.  Inclusive language will naturally follow.

Coping and Capitalizing

  • Posted on February 14, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Last month, I wrote a post about the first proposed chapter for my book, tentatively entitled “Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide.”  This post continues the process of summarizing the book I am writing.  The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the changes necessary to effectively and equitably include neurological diversity into an organization’s management strategies.

In the business world (and most of society), the focus concerning any form of disability is on the need to cope.  Individuals with disabilities need to cope with their differences, businesses need to cope with their need to accommodate, and co-workers and managers need to cope with the changes.  Little attention is given to the possibility to capitalize on a diverse workforce.  Often that attention, as little as it is, is misguided—the focus being on the public relations value of diversity instead of the value of the work that diverse workers contribute to their organizations.

The Hiring Problem

The hiring problem starts with the gatekeepers, i.e. the human resource professionals who are often trained to weed people out.  This is an exclusive process that can weed diversity out of the workforce of a particular firm.  Legislation has been passed here in the United States to hold businesses and organizations accountable for excluding people with disabilities from their workforce, and yet it continues to happen.  While getting a job is difficult for anyone in the current economic climate, the employment of individuals with disabilities has been far lower than their employability suggests.  Most people with disabilities can work, when given a chance.  Many have to fight to be given that chance—and by ‘chance’ I don’t mean charity, I mean a fair shot at getting past the gatekeepers and into a job they are qualified to do.

The Managing Problem

Once hired, the difficulties for neurodiverse individuals are far from over.  The managing process is often designed with set expectations that, by their nature, work best for a non-existent “average worker.”  Managers can be particularly rigid regarding their management styles; instead of a skill or a process, management style is perceived as a facet of the manager’s personality.  Developing the awareness to manage and capitalize on the unique strengths and weaknesses of the employees you manage requires more effort from you, the manager, than standard management practices do.  However, you also create better results—for yourself, your employees, and your organization.

The Solution: Inclusion

The solution to both the hiring problem and the managing problem is inclusion.  Inclusion is not a passive word.  Inclusion demands action.  It demands you correct exclusive practices and create inclusive ones.  It demands you use language that opens your doors to diversity, instead of closing your minds to other ideas and other methods.  It requires you get beyond the legal mentality, and think inclusively.  While the government tries to carrot-and-stick businesses into hiring diverse workers, the true benefits can only be attained if you use the diversity of your workforce to your benefit—and not just for the PR value.  An open interview process is required and an open organization is required.  You need to have room for people to be “weird” on the job; company-saving out-of-the-box thinking often comes from that “weirdness.”  Neurodiverse individuals don’t have to think out of the box—they are out of the box and often spend their careers trying to think themselves into the box simply to pass, in order to stay employed.

Teaching: New Zealand vs. Arizona

  • Posted on June 6, 2010 at 1:32 AM

Compare this:

In May 2009, the team decided he had met the goals of his plan. His family asked for a new review, but Bruno said school-district officials declined, saying Luke was fine.

In October, two months after Dr. Daniel Kessler of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center confirmed autism, it was clear Luke wasn't fine.

The kindergarten teacher complained repeatedly in e-mails to Bruno of Luke's misbehaviors - spitting, hitting, throwing sand at other children and defecating in the classroom.

The teacher also said Luke seemed "defiant" but she didn't believe it was because Luke had autism.

In March, Gentry confirmed autism. The education team created an IEP to address autism.

A week later, Luke's teacher wrote to Bruno, "I don't even want him in my classroom to be honest with you."

Bruno filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to investigate discrimination. The teacher was placed on temporary leave as punishment.

To this:

New Zealand schools should view autism as a learning preference, rather than a difficulty or disability, says UK educationalist Neil Mackay.

His comments come in response to Autism New Zealand’s statement that social stigma, intolerance and ignorance in the education system are holding back the development of children with autism and driving many parents to remove their children from mainstream learning environments.

Neil Mackay is in the country this week presenting training workshops to over a thousand teachers and principals on how to meet atypical learning needs without affecting the classroom experience of other students.

He says that with the growing numbers of autistic learners, teachers need to support their inclusion in the mainstream by understanding their learning preferences and employing practical tools and strategies to improve outcomes in the classroom.

“This means fine-tuning learning so students feel empowered and supported to achieve. For children on the autism spectrum, it’s about helping teachers to understand that these children often need detail, order and certainty in their learning environment and finding practical solutions so these students can operate comfortably and confidently in the classroom,” says Mackay.

Which “z” would you rather live in?

The (Un)Importance of Words

  • Posted on May 10, 2010 at 2:20 AM

Don’t get me wrong.  I love words.  I believe the words we use and the way we use them are very important.  But, when it comes to the issues of disabilities—acceptance, inclusion, empowerment, and accommodations—words are of secondary importance.

A new reader recently suggested that I’m a proponent of people-first language.  While this assertion is wholly understandable, it is not accurate.

As a writer, I find people-first language to be clumsy.  It interrupts the flow of the prose.  Yet, I would readily and easily sacrifice the flow of my prose for the sake of putting people first.

Except, people-first language doesn’t do that.

People-first language doesn’t put people first, conceptually speaking.  It’s a political device that puts politics first.  I have far too often heard others use people-first language in an ablistic, derogatory, people-last manner.

“My son is a child with autism.  It’s so horrible having a child with autism that I’ve considered taking him by the hand and jumping off a bridge.”

People-first language is only as good as the thinking of its user.  Disability-first language is only as bad as the thinking of its user.  When I say my children with autism or my autistic children, my language has changed but my thinking has not.  If I use auties, autists, or autistic, my language has changed but my thinking has not.  My children are always people first in my mind.  That’s how I conceptualize them.  They are people.  Facets of those people manifest themselves in behaviors psychologists (and, in turn, society) describe as autism.  Thus, they are people with autism.

People-first language does not change people’s thinking.  People-first language just changes their speaking.  To change people’s minds, their thinking needs to change.  Language can help.  People-first language can help.  But people-first language is not the solution; and it is often the smoke-screen that disguises the problem.

Yet…  Autism is somewhat unique in this respect.  While I do not see “blind people” as being blind first and people second regardless of the language I use, I also do not feel comfortable citing such a disability first and the person second.  I prefer, clunky as it is, to use “person with a visual impairment.”  Though I will gladly use whatever the individual prefers.  The same goes for other physical or mental/intellectual disabilities.

Part of the reason why I make this distinction is because Western culture has, for so very long, seen people with these kinds of disabilities as being not-whole, and therefore not valuable.  It’s so easy to see the disability first.  Yet, by putting the person first we can hope (however much in vain) that people will start seeing the people, regardless of their abilities/disabilities.

Yet…  The more my path crosses with other disability rights advocates—those not directly associated with neurodiversity—the more I see advocates re-claiming words like “crip.”  I try to respect and appreciate what they’re trying to do.  I try.  But the idea of calling another human being a “crip” makes me uncomfortable.  But, if that is their choice, who am I to say they’re wrong?

In short, I am an advocate of people-first thinking.  If we need people-first language to facilitate that thinking, then so be it.  Someday I hope people-first thinking will be so strongly ingrained in our societal make-up that we can talk with and about people with any disability without having to think about what to call them.

***

Now, on a different note, if you’re interested in exploring language in a poetic style, I would recommend checking out http://www.wordgathering.com/ .  The Inglis House Poetry Contest has two categories.  One is open to all.  The other is limited to writers with disabilities.  The subject of poems submitted to both categories is disabilities.  There’s no entry fee, but there is a prize.  So, if you like to play with words give it a try!  The deadline is June 1st, though, so you’ve got to be quick!

The True Meaning of Diversity

  • Posted on February 20, 2010 at 3:18 AM

“The true meaning of valuing diversity is to respect and enjoy a wide range of cultural and individual differences, thereby including everybody,” (The Fundamentals of Organizational Behavior, 4th ed., by Andrew J. DuBrin, 2007, pg. 381).

Diversity goes beyond recognizing that we are different in measurable ways.  Diversity goes beyond tolerance.  Diversity goes beyond offering assistance to excluded individuals.  Diversity is about inclusion.

In some sense, I have ignored those diagnosed with Asperger’s who object to being lumped into the same diagnostic category as my children.  Their words, their behavior—it’s beneath my contempt, it makes me angry, and it’s so hypocritical, so absurd that it really doesn’t warrant a response.  Except it does, because there are those who claim their words represent neurodiversity.  It got that response from people much more influential than I.

This post is not about them, though the words I write could apply.  This about what I consider the fundamentals of neurodiversity to be.

Consider the difference between cultural diversity and affirmative action.  Both seek to include people with different racial, ethnic, and national profiles in the workplace.  One does so by focusing on differences and disadvantages.  The other focuses on similarities and strengths.  One assumes that those who weren’t born white Americans need help getting a job.  The other assumes that everyone needs opportunities and can add value to a firm.

Neurodiversity is to cultural diversity what empowerment is to affirmative actionNeurodiversity and empowerment parallel each other in many respects; but, they are not synonyms, they are not the same.  Both have their place, but they are not the same.

Neurodiversity is not about services, accommodations, treatment methods, or any of the issues that are often in the forefront of our dialogues.  People who believe in neurodiversity do not share the same opinion about all of these things.  Those issues are not the essence of neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is about two things:

1) People are naturally and normally neurologically different.  Some of these natural, normal differences are labeled “abnormal,” “disorders,” “syndromes,” or other value-laden labels that interferes with our ability to understand the different subsets of human neurology.

2) Human beings are valuable, in all their diversity, in and of themselves.

This means:

1) You cannot claim to value diversity and claim to be superior.  Those two statements cannot be combined without the use of a logical fallacy.  It would not, however, invalidate a claim to value diversity if you are struggling with feelings of superiority.

2) You can claim to value diversity and yet desire assistance, accommodations, and/or medical treatments.  The use of assistance, accommodation, and/or medical treatments does not invalidate a claim of valuing diversity.

3) You cannot claim to value diversity and claim to be inferior.  Those two statements cannot be combined without the use of a logical fallacy.  It would not, however, invalidate a claim to value diversity if you are struggling with feelings of inferiority.

4) You can claim to value diversity and dislike specific people because of the things they say or do that are within their control.  For example, you can dislike someone who bullies you and still value diversity.

5) You cannot claim to value diversity and dislike individuals or groups based on traits beyond their control.  For example, you cannot dislike someone who embarrasses you by having a seizure in public and still value diversity.

6) You can support the research of human differences and still value diversity.  For example, you can support the research into the various causes of autism and still support neurodiversity.

7) You cannot support the forced eradication of a group based on an undesirable trait and still value diversity.  For example, you cannot support diversity and research a way to identify and eliminate autistic fetuses.

8) You can advocate techniques that minimize or “un-does” challenges and still value diversity.  For example, a person can support the inclusion of individuals with spinal cord injuries and support researching ways to correct damage to their spinal cords.  A person can also support the inclusion of individuals who cannot talk and support researching ways to give them access to speech.

9) You cannot advocate the “cure” of a diverse group and still value diversity.  For example, you cannot support racial diversity and try to cure “blackness.”  Neither can you support neurodiversity and try to cure autism or bi-polar or any other neurological subtype.

Neurodiversity is about recognizing that the human race has natural neurological variations, accepting the individuals with all those variations, and including them in society.  It is about giving people the power and the opportunity to achieve their own individual potential, not quantifying that potential and dismissing those who do not “measure up” from consideration.  A belief in neurodiversity does not preclude the experience of disability.  A belief in neurodiversity does not preclude the desire to overcome the experience of disability, either temporarily or permanently.  A belief in neurodiversity doesn’t even preclude a belief that the government has no business extending entitlements or “special rights” to disadvantaged groups.  A belief in neurodiversity does, however, preclude the belief that you are in any way superior to another on the basis of things beyond your or their control.  Being smarter doesn’t make you better.  Being more socially adaptable doesn’t make you better.  Being more emotionally stable doesn’t make you better.  If you want to feel “better,” then use your abilities (whatever they are) to help others.  Not only will you really feel better, but it’ll be a better feeling than any false sense of superiority could ever give you.