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Obstacles Become Allies: Managing With Disability Sharpens Trouble-Shooting Traits

Feb 26, 2016
Anna-Karina Tabuñar (guest author)

On February 2, 2016, The Conference Board of Canada was pleased to host the Toronto debut of a new documentary film, Talent Untapped, by Ottawa journalist Anna-Karina Tabunar. The film explores the journey of Anna-Karina herself and several other highly talented individuals with a range of disabilities as they navigate their own personal challenges and achievements. This 34-minute film packs a great deal of information about the myths and truths surrounding employment of people with disabilities. Storytelling is a powerful way to educate an audience, and the director leverages the medium well. Following is a thoughtful and visual article from Anna-Karina that illustrates the importance of focusing on peoples’ capability.

Ruth Wright, Director, Leadership and Human Resources Research
The Conference Board of Canada

It’s the morning rush and you’re racing to work. Cars and bicycles are buzzing by. People are jostling around you.

Now add this twist: You can’t see. Everything is a big blur.

That’s how Dave Brown perceives the world. He is legally blind. Dave has 10 per cent vision due to a congenital condition called albinism. His pink skin and white hair are also the effects of albinism.

What sets him apart is not so much the way he looks, but the way he works.

Dave employs a valuable skill honed not from schooling or professional training, but out of daily necessity. Like anyone with a disability, Dave navigates physical barriers every single day. A dip in the sidewalk can throw him off balance. An electric car he can’t hear can be a potential hazard. Just leaving home means mitigating risks.

“I need to be acutely aware of my surroundings all the time,” he explains. “Being legally blind, I need to be comfortable in my space. It is in my best interest to be there early, to meet people, to scope the space.”

Boot leather and public transit are Dave’s main source of transportation. Sidewalks and pathways are his lifelines. If one is closed because of construction or a snow bank, he needs a backup plan.

“Transportation is a huge deal. How and when I get around are a big part of my planning. Transportation can add hours to my day,” he says.

Dave works in a highly visual business. He is a television reporter with AMI-TV, Canada’s fully accessible television network. Most journalists rely on visual cues and the nuances of body language to conduct interviews. Dave doesn’t have that luxury. Preparation is his best ally.

“Before I do interviews, I plan ahead and choose a location that is extra quiet so I can screen out noise and distractions. I don’t have the luxury of a teleprompter or cue cards. I can’t use them. I do a lot of scripting work and tonnes of memorization. I have to be extra prepared. If I’m not, my work suffers,” Dave says.

“Having a disability, people can think of a bunch of reasons to dismiss me. I make sure than my output is better than anyone else’s.”

To put him ahead of the pack, Dave makes planning, anticipating, and trouble-shooting second nature.

Kent Kirkpatrick also knows that mode. Kent is the outgoing chief administrative officer for the City of Ottawa. He too navigates barriers in his motorized wheelchair. Kent lives with advanced multiple sclerosis.

As the highest-ranking manager for the City, he juggles complex issues and files. On top of that, he manages another imperative—his fatigue and limited mobility.

“I’m more self-aware now than before I had a disability. I have to plan for everything. It’s a function that goes on in the back of my head all the time,” Kent explains.

The way he communicates with his staff and colleagues takes extra thought and preparation.

“In the past, I could command a room with my physical stature. When your physical size is muted, you rely more on the quality of your thoughts and words to command an audience.”

When you have no choice but to circumvent mountains every day, challenges at work are merely molehills. When considering a job candidate who just happens to have a disability, focus on the capability. That individual comes equipped with innate problem-solving skills and ingenuity that will bring unique value to your organization.

Anna-Karina Tabuñar directed the documentary film Talent Untapped, which explores disability in the workforce and her own personal journey with disability. She hosts the weekly current affairs program “Canada in Perspective” on AMI-TV.

The views and/or opinions expressed in this article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect The Conference Board of Canada’s position. Responsibility for content accuracy also rests with the author(s).

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