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It’s about different, not less


As part of this week’s #AprilAngel campaign theme ‘be a messenger of compassion through conversation’, disability advocate Bill Gamack, CEO of EPIC Assist and parishioner of St Augustine’s, Hamilton, encourages us to see the person first and take the time to have a chat: “Where I work we see the person before we see the disability. We have a conversation, we listen and we discover the person’s unique determination, skills, talent, creativity and resourcefulness”

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We are fond of using phrases like: ‘the world is getting smaller’ or ‘it’s three degrees of separation now, not six’. Advancements in technology mean we can be ‘virtually’ anywhere with a mouse click and if we want to be somewhere physically, advancements in air travel mean we can be there with a minimum of time, fuss and dollars!

At the same time we seem to be more and more ‘tribal’ in our thinking and our behaviour, and more and more we view difference negatively. Have a look at any news service on any given day and you will see the unfortunate and sometimes shocking consequences of this.

What happened to treating people as human beings – with kindness and compassion? What happened to celebrating difference and all that comes with it? What happened to learning by understanding and appreciating difference?

Imagine how uninspiring it would be if were all the same – looked the same, thought the same way, had the same experiences, held the same opinions. It is through diverse life experiences that we get different and valuable perspectives.

It’s about thinking – ‘different, not less’ and ‘different, not bad’.

I am privileged to be the CEO of a not-for-profit organisation that assists people with disability into work or education. These people have often been missed and dismissed simply because of their disability.

All of us would be aware of the starkly different expectations that society has of people with disability. People with disability aren’t expected to achieve very highly. There is this unfortunate truth of low expectations whenever we think of people with disability.

Where I work at EPIC Assist, we see the person before we see the disability. We have a conversation, we listen and we discover the person’s unique determination, skills, talent, creativity and resourcefulness. We understand how they want to contribute and be part of society. It’s about abilities and strengths, not disability. Having a job doesn’t change everything, but it can fix a lot – it normalises things, enabling connection and independence.

We recently held an art exhibition where the artwork was created by artists with disability. For those visiting the gallery, it was about reflecting on the journey the artists had been on, the stories being told and about celebrating difference. As one of the artists said – through art they hope to “break down the stigma around mental illness, bring hope and be the voice for those who cannot be heard”. They want people with disability to not feel excluded, but be seen and known in this world.

So…next time you meet someone who is different from you – whether this is due to disability or something else – take the time to start a conversation. Listen to them and hear about their journey, and appreciate and celebrate the difference! You might even see an opportunity in your own world where this difference could be utilised for everyone’s benefit.

In our ever-shrinking, but volatile and uncertain world, there is one certainty – the list of complex issues to be resolved will continue to grow and challenge society everywhere. The expertise needed to solve them will not come from ‘the same’, but from the innovation and ways of thinking borne out of difference and diversity.

It’s about different, not less.


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