More often we consider ourselves inclusive without even thinking whether our actions and behaviors are truly inclusive. The reason being we don’t have experiences of living or working closely with people with disabilities. Hence with all genuine intentions of being inclusive we still fail to show it in action. My first experience of working with someone with disability during my initial years in IBM taught me, unless you understand the person, and assimilate him or her in larger group, you can’t claim to be inclusive.
One of my colleagues was training to be a facilitator and I volunteered to support him in this new role. The first time we interacted over the phone, I told him I hear too much background noise only to realize later it was his screen reader. I expected him to come prepared with content for the first class he was supposed to co-facilitate with me without even realizing he did not have a soft copy of the facilitator guide available and my frame of reference was a hardcopy facilitator guide which all of us used.
I gave my feedback that he spent more time with the introduction activity without even realizing he needed that extra time to get familiar with his audience as he cannot see, in order to be able to remember, let alone recollect their names and connect with them through the session. I expected him to explain the slides which had only images without realizing his screen reader does not read images.
The culture of Inclusiveness within IBM runs deep and the awareness created around diversity helped me understand a world I had no knowledge of and genuinely developed an interest to understand and support my colleague. It did not take much time to move from ignorance to awareness and with this awareness I became more understanding and with this understanding I was able to contribute to my colleague’s journey from being a facilitator to being a successful facilitator.
Today, to me diversity and inclusive practice is not a policy or a provision of service, but looking for ways to acknowledge and reflect diversity as part of our on-going practices and to support this, I have become more cautious when I create presentations with images, when I project slides, when I am speaking to diverse groups, when I conduct an activity which requires physical movement or even in simple things like selection of right communication channels – email, phone call or instant messaging.
To support social inclusion, we need to build communities and services that acknowledge and respect diversity and are free from discrimination. A value IBM truly understands as it continues to create this awareness amongst its employees. Diversity and Inclusion – the heart of IBM.