As a start to Making Work Work – The blog, it seems fitting to pose the question “So what do you do?” This is a loaded question that society deems so relevant in personal ‘worth’ and defining who we are. Within the first two minutes of meeting someone that question inevitably comes up. The answer is based on our education, the priorities and expectations set by our family and culture; who we know, how we got there and of course the hidden agenda of how much we get for doing what we do.
Suppose the paradigm was shifted to a society where “What do YOU do?” meant “What is at the heart of who you are and how do you offer it to others”? Is it possible to perceive that the person who welcomes others with an inaudible cheer, or the person who draws pictures for sick friends, or the person who persistently asks for clarification, is contributing something that we, in actual fact, need?
The innate capacity to welcome, the empathy of caring, or being challenged to say what we mean, is deep within the personalities of many of the people that we support with developmental disabilities. We need to feel welcomed, we need to know someone cares, and we need to know that we are understood. So how does this esoteric idealism relate to work?
For people with developmental disabilities, the concept and perception of work has often been out of reach, out of mind and certainly out of the realm of reality. For those placed in institutions, they were labeled un-employable and were regarded as burdens on society with behavioural ‘issues’ or simply as non-significant ‘wards’ of the state. Work was menial, repetitive, and non-productive and was used solely to fill up the empty hours of lost days. Anyone fortunate to stay at home with family was not fully accepted by the community at large and opportunities to do anything were minimal.
Fast forward to 2017; the last of the Ontario Institutions have been closed for almost 15 years. We moved from segregation to integration within supported workshops, which are also closing following the shadow cast by what was essentially un-paid labour for corporate accounts. The buzz words these days are diversity and inclusion, but what does a diverse and inclusive work force really look like and what actually defines who is employable?
So we re-visit these innate attributes of welcome, empathy and clarification. In corporate Canada, thousands of dollars would be invested in professional personality profiles to determine the qualities needed to build strong and effective teams. The core gifts of the people we support (and our own) do have a place and a value in the work place.
Creating opportunities by bringing people together is what grounds our conviction to our approach to finding and sustaining work. The person, who welcomes, works at a front desk or at an event registration table, the carer uses their empathy by volunteering at a senior’s community centre and the clarifier helps with policy development at a committee level.
The whole premise of Making Work Work is to reveal what these gifts are and the very real challenge is, to find where those gifts can contribute and impact the business bottom line, while at the same time in-advertently fostering some degree of transformation of attitudes to disability and work.