Overcoming Mindsets: If I Were a Magician

“As much as things change, they still stay the same”!

For eighteen years, I’ve spoken to elementary and high school students throughout the four western provinces about what it’s like living with Cerebral Palsy and how to succeed regardless of the hand you’ve been dealt in life. Within each audience of students, there are usually four or more who have unique challenges. Notice I didn’t use the word ‘disability’ to describe these students, because I believe everyone is capable in their special way.

Besides the obvious reasons for delivering this speech, there are two subtle reason’s for talking to the students. The first is to educate our future generation of CEO’s, business owners, human resource managers, supervisors, and future workers to view people like me as an individual who can make a valuable contribution in the Canadian work force and society.

The second is to be an example of success for those students with challenges, by telling and showing them how I have triumphed over able-bodied populations lack of awareness, ignorance, old conditioned myths, and discriminatory actions to earn a living and live a fulfilled life.

The process of being triumphant over society’s negative responses, unproductive thoughts and misled views has been more difficult to deal with than conquering the Cerebral Palsy within me. While growing up, I’ve rebelled, advocated, lobbied, and done what people in our society thought was impossible.

My goal for following through with these initiatives was to make it easier for all those children who live with unique challenges to be able to fast track beyond most of the employment barriers I’d faced during my twenties and thirties.

As I said at the start, “As much as things change, they still stay the same”. A number of years ago I met a young boy with Cerebral Palsy who listened to me deliver my speech. Later that same week, his parents e-mailed and thanked me for inspiring him to believe he too could achieve his life-long dreams of working and doing the activities which made him happy.

Recently, I received a second e-mail from his parents which was very upsetting and discouraging. They explained how their son was forced to quit his vocational studies of becoming an auto mechanic due to harassment from the other students, instructors and the program coordinator. They went on to say his views on life had changed from being optimistic to pessimistic and they were having trouble dealing with his negative attitude.

These kind of e-mails frequently show up in my Outlook Express inbox, from parents whose children are encountering similar problems, barriers, or challenges regarding receiving education, accessing a job, or starting a career which will launch them towards their goals and dreams. Every time I’ve read a letter from a parent expressing their concern, frustration, and anger, I instantly start wondering if our society is really committed to developing and having a truly inclusive diverse work force for all Canadians?

While pondering this question, my mind usually begins thinking and imagining how fantastic it would be to possess the power of a magician. Imagine, waving a wand, saying a few tongue twisting words or throwing some special dust around to enable our society to embrace the skills, talents and abilities of the diversely abled with dignity.

Unfortunately, if magic were the answer, I would have figured out how to use it long ago to create a diverse workforce supported by a society that views and embraces people on the basis of their abilities and commonalities as opposed to their inabilities and differences.

Fortunately I was able to find five effective initiatives to help myself and others conquer such challenges.

Communication – Historically when people ask questions about my Cerebral Palsy and abilities which have integrity and are genuine, I feel valued,  respected, and optimistic as person. Communication allows us to remove the barriers of misunderstanding and create productive opportunities, which can become reality.

Invest Time – There is an old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”. Within every task, job, or activity I’ve ever participated in, there’s always been a defining moment where some one will approach me and say, “I didn’t think you could do that” or “There’s nothing wrong with your abilities”. By investing time, you’ll see the persons abilities first hand and could potentially discover others talents in them your company needs to reach higher levels of productivity and success.

Position For Success – Everyone likes to be put into a situation where they can succeed. So why do we continue putting people with unique challenges in situations where they are often doomed to fail? I wonder what would happen if corporations starting put people with unique challenge in a position where they can fully utilize their talents, skills, and knowledge to the fullest without having to battle through their limitations prior to performing the job they’ve been assigned?

Explore New Techniques – People who are involved with hiring people with unique challenges need to be open to exploring new, efficient, and effective ways of performing certain tasks or jobs. It is paramount to understand most people who are challenged due to birth defects or accidents have had to solve some extremely difficult problems throughout their lives to survive. Their problem solving abilities are an asset that should be allowed to flourish.

Eliminate Outside Peer Pressure – It is really hard to feel productive and valued when your co-workers are consistently make degrading comments and  actions towards you or your unique situation. Preventing these kind of scenario’s requires leadership from administrators, human resource managers and supervisors so that various forms of harassment, bullying, peer pressure, and discrimination don’t occur in the work place.

There is a thought and question I’d like you to contemplate after reading this article. Imagine waking up one day and your body is no longer able to function the way it did the day before. You’re now labeled by society as being disabled and are expected to earn a living with a body that doesn’t function right. What are YOU going to do to break down the barriers that remain?

By Michael Bortolotto (www.positiverebel.ca)




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