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Redefining Disability

This week the world celebrated the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

So let me ask you a question. What does disabled mean to you?

If you say the word aloud, what comes to your mind? Wheelchairs, white sticks and hearing aids, maybe. Go a little deeper and you might think of less visible disabilities – autism, learning difficulties. I’ve heard disability described as a “long-term impairment that makes it hard to accomplish daily tasks.” If you think about it this way, then conditions as varied as depression, asthma or eating disorders might be described as disabilities.

How many people do you know that might be considered disabled in this sense? My guess is that that number is much greater than you might initially have thought.

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Disability and Technical Expertise from Cisco interns

December 2, 2011 at 7:51 am PST

“When I first got here, the [intern] orientation was talking about all business stuff…supply chain..and I’m a computer science major, and I was thinking, uh-oh, I’m in the wrong place.” Kelley Duran said as we settled down to talk about her internship here at Cisco.  Her classmate Samuel Sandoval had the same reaction: Honestly, I thought I was in [the] wrong group since I’m in IT [information technology]”

Internships are a great way for students to make the connection between their studies and the business world.  Combining education with practical application through internships means an easier transition into the workforce after college.  Even better is when education and personal expertise are both channeled into the right internship.

Kelley and Samuel are studying Computer Science and Information Technology respectively at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. I sat down with Kelley, Samuel and their Cisco mentor Shraddha Chaplot to get their thoughts on how to create a successful internship program for college students with hearing disabilities.


Samuel Sandoval, Shraddha Chaplot and Kelley Duran spell Cisco in American Sign Language at Cisco Headquarters

Internship Projects

Samuel and Kelley interned for 11 weeks in Cisco’s Software Engineering Accessibility team.  The Cisco Accessibility team is focused on ensuring Cisco products are accessible and usable by people with disabilities, whether by design or through compatible use with assistive technology.

Samuel worked as a lead developer for real time text chat on the Read More »

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Look Behind the Label

The life story of Caroline Casey, social entrepreneur, will make your heart beat faster.

It really did mine. Here she is in a TED Talk telling it with such passion I recommend you watch the video at least twice.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/caroline_casey_looking_past_limits.html

There are so many incredible things to convey about Casey. The utter self-belief she has. Her conviction she can achieve anything she wants to achieve so long as she truly believes. Her extensive fundraising through The Aisling Foundation. And her dogged promotion of the capacity and capability of people with disabilities. Casey’s mission in life is to get people to look behind the label, something she attributes to her father’s love of the Jonny Cash song ‘A boy named Sue’ and her parents decision not to label her when she was a young girl. You’ll have to watch the video to learn what the potential label was. Like Casey, I suspect had she been given it, she wouldn’t have become the believer and go-getter she is today. Casey is obviously a one-of-a-kind remarkable woman. But she’s determined that everyone else realises their capacity for being remarkable too. To paraphrase her a little, each of us needs to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t, work hard at being the very best of ourselves and take advantage of the fact we’re all extraordinary, different, wonderful people. And stop with the labels that hinder us.

Take 10 minutes from your next lunch break to watch Caroline Casey tell it so much better than me. The experience might just change how you see yourself and others.

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Deaf and a diplomat

It wasn’t something I’d ever considered before, disability in the diplomatic service, because I unfortunately, like most people, have quite entrenched images of what a diplomat looks like. So I marveled when I heard that a female diplomat who was deaf had risen through the ranks.

But unfortunately whilst the story starts there, it isn’t where it ends.

Jane Cordell worked in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from 2001 and in 2010 was offered the post of deputy head of mission in Kazakhstan, only to have the offer revoked when the FCO decided that making adjustments for her disability would be too expensive. They deemed the cost of her posting was beyond the “reasonable adjustments” which employers are obliged to make for disabled staff.

But I wonder if they’ve overlooked the value they’ll be missing out on, given the extra abilities and commitment Cordell’s disability generates.

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Inclusion and Diversity Best Practice: 1:1 Computer Training for handicapped people from Procap

 

One of the reasons why I enjoy working at Cisco is because of our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Recently, I have been helping to put together this year’s UK & Ireland CSR report and I have to say, I have been moved and truly touched by the dedication and enthusiasm of Cisco employees to give back and make meaningful change to our local communities. From mentoring young offenders to helping orphaned children in Africa, they are engaging the power of the human network to change the way the world works, lives, plays and learns for the better.

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