Welcome to my World
I have been a Special Olympics athlete for 37 years. I have won gold, silver, and bronze medals in both bocce and powerlifting. I have also been an employee at Special Olympics headquarters in Washington, DC for 25 years. My first job I worked on US Chapters, way before we had programs outside the United States. Currently, I am the Administrative Coordinator for the Marketing and Communications Department.
I contribute every day to the Movement. I have many duties like putting together the agenda for my Department’s weekly staff meetings, participating in Capitol Hill Day to get Members of Congress to support Special Olympics, making calls to donors to thank them for supporting our programs, and counting and distributing marketing supplies to other departments at headquarters. I love my job and I am good at it, but I am visually impaired, which sometimes makes my job hard.
I want people to understand what it is like to walk in my footsteps, so I asked my team to put blindfolds on for one of our weekly staff meetings. Everyone had to walk to and from the meeting with their blindfolds on, no cheating! I ran the meeting.
Since no one could see, it took one of my teammates three tries to dial the phone to connect other staff to the meeting. We did a roll-call so that everyone would know who was in the room. I had memorized the agenda, so I could share it with everyone. We all had to say our names before speaking and we had to take turns speaking. It was fun, and I was able to participate more in the meeting than I usually get to.
Here is what some of my colleagues learned:
Kirsten: “I found the experience extremely enlightening. It gave me a better appreciation of how much you need to prepare for a meeting to be able to discuss the topics. If I hadn’t been familiar with the read ahead, I would have found the discussion frustrating. It is also difficult when you don’t have the benefit of a PowerPoint or the materials in front of you to reference. I also found that the meeting was one of the most efficient meetings we have had. Without distractions of technology we were able to stay focused and truly listened to each other. We found that we didn’t need the entire hour to meet and still accomplished what we needed to accomplish. I also learned that our conference room is not the safest place if you cannot see. The cords and rolling chairs can offer a danger.”
Megan: “It was helpful to walk in Ben’s shoes for a moment. It was nice to understand where Ben comes from with some of his frustrations. I fully encourage others to try this out.”
Caroline: “Being blindfolded in the team meeting helped us all gain a new perspective on the things we take for granted. While it may have brought some serenity to our meeting (no one was talking over one another!), it showed how difficult it is to discuss topics while being unable to look at materials or even something that we think is so simple as dialing in to a conference line!”
I want other departments and teams to try having a meeting with blindfolds on, so that everyone can understand better how to be more aware of ways to act so that everyone can be included. Other things you can do to help is to make sure that everyone has the meeting agenda and reading materials well in advance of the meeting. Also, give clear directions about where the meeting room is and how to get there. And share the lay-out of the room and tell people where they should sit.
Remember that sometimes the best way to understand someone and be more inclusive is to walk in their footsteps!