March 8th is International Women’s Day, where we will be promoting the hashtag, #BalanceForBetter. It’s a call for action to achieve gender balance across the world.
First and foremost, I am a woman. So, the importance of the #BalanceForBetter agenda resonates with me. But I’m also a woman with disabilities. I’m registered deafblind due to a rare condition called Usher Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects both my hearing and sight.
Despite working hard to maintain a positive outlook, I often wonder why I face adversity routinely within our society. Why should my condition stop me achieving in life? Society should not be allowed to build an infrastructure that creates attitudinal and physical barriers?
This imbalance occurs across education, employment, the right health care, sports, and social interaction. This limits opportunities for people like me, who just happen to fit outside the ‘norm’. And it makes me wonder.
Challenging the status quo
Overcoming these barriers cultivates my passion to challenge the status quo and drives forward my personal #BalanceForBetter. I want to build a world that celebrates different abilities, and offers evenly balanced opportunities to all. In this world there will be a diverse range of talent within organisations which helps them achieve better business outcomes.
As Accessibility Ninjas, you play an important role in creating my aspirational world. I wonder whether you acknowledge the positive impact that you will have in transforming the lives of people like me? Do you realise that you are key to my life story’s happy ending, as I overcome each obstacle that is placed before me? And when you look in the mirror each morning, do you recognise the person who has the knowledge and power to influence the necessary change and redirect society’s mindset from one that thinks ‘impossible’ to one that knows ‘I’m possible’?
Tomorrow’s history lesson
I truly believe that, thanks to your work, future generations will sit in class learning about the ‘Modern Day Industrial Revolution’ where a group of Accessibility Ninjas set out to change the world. You are all key players, creating an enabling world that empowers us all. You’re all working towards breaking down the barriers and building a more inclusive world.
You are building critical infrastructure that offers greater access to employment. By helping people with different abilities, you’re enabling them to wake up with a sense of pride and a can do attitude.
With all your work, you potentially soon will make the word ‘disabled’ an adjective of the past; and instead, we will live in a world that celebrates ‘diff-abilities’.
My personal journey
My personal journey to achieve #BalanceForBetter began in January 2016 when my world hit rock bottom; I had no energy to climb back up. I was genuinely frightened. Despite all my best efforts, I was convinced that I had lost my ongoing battle to prove that people with disabilities can add value to the workplace.
I didn’t know how to articulate these fears, so I put them in writing and shared with senior leaders. I expected the worst to happen. However, I was truly blessed, and they simply picked me up and reinforced the ‘can do’ attitude. Empowering me to seek the necessary change to build a more positive working environment.
I will never forget the words from my Chief Operating Officer: “Jo-Ann, I know you, I know your work. This situation is not your fault.”
Those words gave me hope. It was on this day that I adopted my personal motto, which I reinforce daily: “Life is like a battery. It can’t fully function without both the positive and negative”. And it was the beginning of my personal campaign to seek a positive outcome for continuous employment.
Today my world is a very different place. I still have blips as I manage my degenerative condition-which is to be expected. I continually retrain my brain to mitigate the impact of my deteriorating vision and hearing. However, with the inbuilt accessibility features within Windows 10, I’m able to live each day with confidence, holding my head up high, and walking tall with a sense of pride and purpose.
I love waking up each morning to do the job I do. I love all the new people I meet. And I am currently undertaking a Leadership Academy Programme, and am about to start studying for a MBA. Thinking back to the person I was in January 2016, and the person I am today, I often wonder if I could have achieved this if I didn’t have allies like you.
Yes, I often wonder
To conclude, I often wonder whether Accessibility Ninjas recognise the part you’ve played in helping me to achieve my personal #BalanceForBetter, offering me a reality where, rightly or wrongly, I now feel I have permission to succeed. And as my world is getting smaller, darker, and quieter, your work offers continual hope that my future is going to be bigger, brighter, and louder. To quote from your recent advertising campaign, I hope you recognise that through your work we all win.
I want to thank you for your life-changing work, because I and many others will be forever grateful for your ongoing efforts. And to quote, Helen Keller:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
About the Author
Jo-Ann works in the Diversity and Inclusion space within the Home Office, promoting her passion for an inclusive workplace that works for all, using the art of storytelling to build awareness of disability issues.
Jo-Ann doesn’t allow Usher Syndrome, a condition that affects both her hearing and sight, to stop her achieving. She has remained in full-time employment since the age of 16, starting at the bottom and working her way through the ranks. She has built skills within the corporate services environment including finance, audit, and learning and development.
When Jo-Ann is not working, you will find her embarking on many adventures with her dual-purpose assistance dog, Ike. She can be found travelling to catch-up with family and friends and indulging her passion for food and wine. For the latter, she loves her Office Lens as it helps her read the wine menu! Jo-Ann will need to reign in on her busy social life as she is about to start studying for a MBA at the end of April.
Jo-Ann was awarded a British Empire Medal for services to disabled people in the Public Sector in the Queens 2018 New Year’s Honours List.