By Allie Burke, Diversability LA
I once had a boss — well, I have a boss — who believes that embracing diversity is the key to any great team’s success. He works for a company whose main mission is to honor its own humanity, so even though this is Corporate America, I am inclined to believe that he is not full of shit. He is likely the best boss I’ve ever had, and the best boss many would ever have, but his integrity as a leader is an entirely different, detailed matter.
Our blood plunged with the anxiety of change when we heard he was coming, but I think most of us, if not all, were pleasantly surprised. His first order of business was to bring us together.
“Every person here is made up of their own experience,” he told us, in a assured — yet compassionate — voice that demanded attention, “and we all bring those experiences here every day. Working together while recognizing that each and every one of us is different, and using those differences to our advantage is how we build a great team. How we build the best team.”
Little did he know, at the time, that someone on his team was so diverse that she was disabled. That person is me. My name is Allie Burke (hi) and I have schizophrenia. My mental illness qualifies me as a disabled person in today’s corporate environment, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at me. I don’t ‘look schizophrenic’, whatever that means. You don’t always know who has a disability and who doesn’t just by looking at them and that’s because disabilities are not really disabilities at all.
They are abilities.
My boss understands this concept by categorizing what we bring to a team environment as experience. I have experience with being a person with schizophrenia which allows me to write in a surreal style that not all writers can. The week after he addressed us with his leadership style, he took me for coffee. He asked me what I like to do and I told him I was an established writer. I am now writing many articles for the company’s publications even though I don’t work in that division. This is respect for a human with an ability. My experience is my ability and that experience is schizophrenia. I don’t personally know very many people with disabilities that they have disclosed to me, but I can tell you my schizophrenic friend Kevin draws pictures of a creative caliber I have never seen, and my autistic friend Adam is more intelligent than myself and everyone I know on Facebook, combined. They are able to do these things. Just because they might be unable to do other things, doesn’t make them disabled. I am not able to relate to people who are impartial to animals. That’s not because I have a disability; it’s because I love animals. There are lots of things I can’t do. It’s humanity, not disability.
Diversability is here to reimagine the way that our society thinks about disability and I am thankful that there are humans in our world, like my boss, who seem to get it. We all have something significant to bring to society; it’s just a matter of finding out what that is. That’s the hard part. Actually doing the thing you do best is easy.