Labels Suck

Ok, so suck may not be a very technical term, but it just feels very apt sometimes.

I see a lot of discussion about the language we should use when discussing disability. Some people regularly tell me there’s nothing wrong with the term “disabled person”, other people say they don’t associate with that term and prefer “person with a disability” and others tell me they are far more comfortable being considered “differently abled”. The differences are often cultural, with strong feelings for and against one or the other term. There are also language barriers to contend with as the word disabled doesn’t translate well in to some languages and in others there is no direct translation at all.

One of the biggest challenge I see in the big wide world is that people in general want to use the right language, they don’t want to offend anyone and want to come across as educated. So how do they know what to say? Far too often this results in the conversation not starting at all.

Well here’s the thing, labels suck! I mean if you have to distinguish someone in a group then I say it’s fine to say the white man with the beard, the woman with the red hair, the guy using a wheelchair or the black lady in heels – those people may wait even longer for the drink they ordered if we didn’t. However, the only reason we have to have any form of label for people with disabilities (yes that’s my preferred term, I’m going with the UN on this) in general is because in 2021 many people are only just starting to consider disability inclusion. Not because they don’t care, or because they’re ignorant (ok I’ll admit some are), but because through their lives they haven’t knowingly been personally associated with someone with a disability and such awareness or confidence has never even entered their minds. So how do they start?

My advice is that as long as you are polite and have positive intent just get involved. If someone doesn’t like a term you use, I hope you’ve shown your genuine intent to the point they will let you know. For instance I’ve seen a lot of articles lately showing that people with autism prefer to be called autistic. I can understand this for sure, however as I’m unsure how an individual would feel about this I would personally go with the person first language and if they corrected me then of course I would change track.

The only reason I am labelling anyone at all is because I use their stories, successes and barriers in order to educate others and enable inclusion and accessibility. The aim is to change cultures, to make our societies more inclusive and then these conversations wouldn’t be so relevant or even needed.

I had a wonderful conversation this week with a lady who is a force to be reckoned with and also happens to have Down Syndrome. The reason we were speaking is that I am looking for speakers to help us dispel many of the myths associated with neurodiversity and I know she’d be great, but that does mean I’m asking people to basically be a poster person for their particular disability or condition. So what am I really doing, I’m labelling them. Fortunately for me, and many of us, there are people willing to open up and put their whole selves out there in order to make a difference.

So, yes I believe labels suck. However for now they also serve a purpose. Don’t get hung up on whether you are using the right language and if in doubt make the point that if anyone has any feedback you’d love to hear it. The only term I personally really dislike being used is “special needs”. I appreciate this is often a term used by schools, certainly in the UK, however no one’s needs are special, they’re simply human and may be different to yours or mine. I also find it quite patronising when relating to adults. I have come across some nationalities where this term is used regularly and I always advise that it doesn’t translate so well to English.

Please do not be concerned if you ever feel you have got it wrong, just accept any feedback and use it to move forward. Believe me we have all been there, in fact I could fill a few blog posts with my past blunders (thankfully none in the past few years). I don’t believe you can be fully comfortable with disability inclusion, until you’ve been uncomfortable.

I don’t currently have a disability, so I will close out by labelling myself as a lady with unruly lockdown hair (roll on hairdressers reopening).

Honesty is the best policy

There have been many times when it has either been noted that a solution is not fully accessible, or it has been specifically brought to the product owner’s attention; yet there has still been hesitance to be open and honest and to include accessibility in first level communications. Our founder, Jodie Greer, shares a short message about why it’s so important to be explicit.

A video transcript is also available.

Jodie Greer, Founder of Be #PeopleSmart shares her views on why it’s important to be up front with regards accessibility.

Asking for help is a strength

I hosted a webinar this morning on behalf of the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals), on the subject of Accessibility Expertise. It was a pleasure really, as it was a nice informal chat with one of my favourite fellow accessibility professionals – Neil Eustice from KPMG.

The intention of the webinar was to share thoughts and experience on the subject matter and to demonstrate how it plays a key role in being a Strategic Leader in Accessibility (SLiA). One of the “hats” I wear is the Chair of the taskforce designing a SLiA certification on behalf of the IAAP. It’s great working with a team of accessibility professionals (including Neil of course) from around the world, to develop a much needed accreditation for those who are leaders or specialists in accessibility.

The discussion did get me to thinking, do all organisations need an accessibility specialist? It’s particularly challenging achieving new roles or additional headcount in the current climate, therefore if an organisation doesn’t currently have such a role in their structure is it going to reach the top of their agenda any time soon?

My initial thought was – absolutely! All organisations, certainly the larger companies, should have someone dedicated to accessibility and long term I do believe that’s where we can all see the most value. However, in the mean time it is possible to develop current and future employees to ensure they are designing, delivering and procuring accessible solutions, workplaces and services, with some support from external experts.

Of course this is where I will say I believe Be #PeopleSmart is best placed to provide the required knowledge and to deliver learning to your teams; however this message isn’t really a marketing one it’s more around providing an alternative viewpoint to those who feel they have to either appoint a full time accessibility leader or not progress towards being truly inclusive and accessible.

If your home needed a new heating or cooling system would you install it yourself?
If it was a big enough building you may employ a Maintenance Manager.
However, for most of us we reach out to the experts and engage them to provide the services we need.

Progressing towards an inclusive and accessible workplace takes time, planning, experience and expertise; my advice is make use of those available.
The first step of committing to care about people, to enable staff and customers and to have a workplace where people want to be, is the first win. Sometimes we all need a little help to get to where we want to be.

Seniority is not Superiority

There is often talk of inclusion, of wanting people to feel confident to be themselves and to request any accessibility adjustments or accommodations they need. Of course, that’s just what we should be hearing. However actions speak louder than words and behaviours can sometimes stop exactly that from happening.

How many times have you heard someone say they couldn’t raise an issue because it would be challenging someone more senior?

Have you ever seen people waste time trying to perfect the formatting of a slide pack, to be used just one time, to provide an update to a senior leader? I know I have and many times people have actually become quite anxious in the lead up to the meeting.

I can even tell you that I have experienced people get in to quite a panic because a senior leader was coming to the office and they needed to give the right impression. I struggle with this, as surely you should be doing that every day no matter who’s in the office. It should be about delivery and quality of that delivery, rather than how many folders are on your desk at one time or if you are wearing a tie.

These highly hierarchical cultures can make true inclusion very difficult to achieve and from my own experience do not enable effective progress and innovation. I truly believe to get the best out of everyone and to enable business success we need a more even playing field.

I am not suggesting we scrap hierarchy, we need accountability for decision making. However, I am suggesting we put more human centricity in to the work place with a big helping of humility. Those in senior positions should be proud of their own achievements, however they should also recognise those who enabled them to get there. Practicing active listening, with open door policies, can go a long way to building an inclusive culture.

A wise man once told me that it wasn’t until he stopped thinking his ideas were always the best and stopped recruiting carbon copies of himself, he started seeing better ideas and more progress. He also told me that job grade doesn’t define the quality of those ideas and it takes a whole organisation to make it successful. After all, if it didn’t, some of those roles wouldn’t exist.

My personal opinion is that I am neither more superior nor inferior to anyone else. The level of respect I afford people isn’t based on any job grade or personal attribute, but on their behaviour and whether I believe they also afford me the same courtesy. I also feel strongly that someone’s current job grade doesn’t define their capabilities; they may be starting out, getting back in to the work place, in a role that enables them to manage their personal commitments or wellbeing, or simply in a role they enjoy.

Let’s all make efforts to ensure all of our colleagues know they are appreciated and respected. Culture can take time to change, however a kind word and listening can start today.

Feeling positive about 2021

Not even a week into the new year; one that is starting just as challenging, if not more so, than the last ended and yet I’m smiling.

I haven’t won the lottery, well not literally, and it’s not gin induced so what’s it all about?

It’s about feeling like I’m at the start of something important. Something that can pave the way to make companies more successful. Something that will enable more people to simply be themselves and use their strengths, their skills and their education, to add value to their professional lives and their community. Something that will ultimately enable people to simply go about their business day to day.

In May 2020 I decided it was my time, my time to get out in the big wide world to make a difference for a wider audience. Although I’d spent the past 13 years in an organisation with more than 100,000 staff and contractors, one company still means a limited audience (although reaching the masses in a large organisation can be very challenging) and I am determined to do everything in my power to make disability inclusion and accessibility a reality.

Be #PeopleSmart was launched on 1 January 2021 and my real first day at work was on 4 January. I have had so many messages of encouragement and confidence, which have been very appreciated and have also reinforced my own confidence.

If I’m honest, I expected to have some feelings of doubt as 2020 drew to a close; however, I can honestly say those feelings never came. I feel so passionate about my new venture and everything Be #PeopleSmart stands for and therefore believe the future is bright.

Some people have told me it’s brave to start a new business in the middle of a pandemic, however one legacy of our non-friend COVID is that it has raised the bar for so many when it comes to awareness of exclusion and having a workplace that doesn’t meet their needs, resulting in more interest in disability inclusion and accessibility than I have ever previously witnessed. It’s nice to know something good can come out of these very trying (to say the least) times we’ve all been experiencing.

So, as I continue with my strategic planning and personally returning the calls of those who have already submitted their enquiries (for which I send thanks) I plan to keep hold of this smile.

Thank you for reading my update and I hope you also have plenty to smile about in 2021

Proud to Present Be #PeopleSmart Ltd

I am so excited to be writing this first blog as the Founder of Be #PeopleSmart Ltd. My name is Jodie Greer and I appreciate you taking the time to find out more about me and where Be #PeopleSmart came from.

When disability inclusion and accessibility are your passion, it’s exciting enough to get to drive the agenda for one global organisation, however to take the leap to launch a dedicated company to support many organisations is like an extra Christmas – and I really love Christmas.

I have felt very strongly about disability inclusion for as long as I can remember. I don’t have a disability myself, however even as a child it was evident to me that many people weren’t given fair chances just because people saw them as different. That didn’t make any sense to me then and as time moves on it makes even less sense as an adult.

I can remember being about 7 years old and always sitting beside a boy in my class at school who had a speech impairment, as the teacher always said he didn’t understand him. I just thought the teacher was a bit lazy, as I understood him perfectly well and I was a child, not the local translator. In fact that same boy had a mother with the same impairment and I didn’t have an issue understanding her either, she was one of the nicest adults I knew, it just took a little more of my attention.

There was another boy, who lived in my road, whose disability resulted in having no mobility control and being completely non-communicative. I always noticed that as his mother pushed his wheelchair people would ask her “how’s Ben?” and never did they say hello to Ben himself. I understood he couldn’t answer for himself, however to me not even addressing him directly was just rude. I always said hello to Ben before I even said hello to his mum, he was more my age anyway, and his mother mentioned the fact to me when I was a bit older which surprised me as I expected she was just used to how people interacted with the pair of them.

Over the years there were many instances when I recognised exclusion and as I got older I always wondered how I could take this passion in to the workplace. I found my first channel at Shell, where for more than a decade I was a key driver of disability inclusion and chaired the enABLE Network at Shell for several years. My persistence paid off with a centralised process developed to request and deliver adjustments and I then got the opportunity to take on a brand new role within the organisation, of IT Accessibility Lead, in 2017. I found myself in a global role driving accessibility and inclusion for digital solutions, hardware/equipment, communication and service delivery and I loved it.

Getting the opportunity to influence senior leaders – I’m definitely not shy about inclusion – and driving awareness across the world to improve ways of working, made me realise how I wanted my career to develop. Disability Inclusion and Accessibility Specialist is my profession, it may not be on those drop down lists (yet!), however that’s how I define myself. From networking externally I can see there is a big need for expertise like mine to help set other companies up for success and so here I am taking that leap to help others start their journeys.

How many organisations will I support in my career? I have no idea, however I am really looking forward to finding out. All I hope is that those who want the best workforce, a respectful workplace, increased custom and customer loyalty will have the courage to take the first step – we all have to start somewhere and together we can achieve a great deal.

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