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Inclusion and Diversity

Does the name Nick Vijucic mean anything to you?

I hadn’t heard about him until recently, when I came across this video called‘No Arms, No Legs,  No Worries.

Nick was born without limbs 29 years ago. His birth was described as a ‘disaster’ by doctors and family; people react with shock to his appearance; his childhood was riddled with stories of prejudice, bullying, depression, and, at times, thoughts of suicide.

I read the introduction, and clicked the link to watch a video with Nick, fully expecting to be moved to pity. Instead, the first thing I did was laugh.

Nick Vijucic is funny. Very funny. He is a handsome, fast-talking Melbourne-based business graduate, with a career that has spanned 24 countries and brought him into contact with 3 million people. He is a movie star, a musician, a preacher, and a conference stalwart. And he laughs. A lot.

Now Nick might seem an exception. Someone extraordinary who has overcome challenges and become an inspiration to those who meet him. And whilst I agree with that, watching Nick’s interview made me wonder about the many, many people affected by some kind of disability, whose true qualities–humor, intelligence, resilience, strength of character–are overlooked, because our attention is distracted by a physical impairment.

Last summer seven young people with, some form of impairment joined us for an internship. They faced challenges ranging from dyslexia, to more visible motor impairments. One of our students, Mohammad, uses a wheelchair. What made him stand out, wasn’t his impairment, but his appetite for new challenges – constantly seeking out additional work-experience in sales, finance and with marketing teams.

So why do we see few or no colleagues with physical impediments in the workplace? When for most of the activities we carry out at work our physical capabilities are as irrelevant as our accent, taste in music or our favourite soccer team.

This was really brought home to me recently by my son, who you may remember is an ardent sportsman.

Ben’s friend, Dan, is a keen footballer, however he had an operation that left him wheelchair-bound for a couple of months. My natural assumption was that his foot-balling days were suspended. Imagine my surprise when Ben told me he was off to play football with Dan and the rest of the team.

The boys didn’t see Dan’s wheelchair as a problem or an issue – they were too focused on having a good kick-about. And why not? All you need to enjoy a match is a sense of fun and willingness to play. Dan hadn’t lost any of that. The boys simply adapted their game to accommodate their friend.

Next time you meet someone who is living with some sort of impairment, challenge your judgments about their capabilities and focus on what is really interesting, important or relevant about him or her.

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