As human beings we are social creatures and it’s important that we recognise our need for real human contact.
I have lots of close friends and I also love to meet new friends and contacts. Now that we are able to meet in person again I’m enjoying getting out to events and occasions both for work and socially.
Having said that, since lockdown mixing with people in-person for work has become the exception rather than the norm and it can bring challenges that are by-passed in the world of virtual meetings.
In this blog I give examples of two events that, although similar in some respects, were completely different experiences for me based on how they made me feel.
Earlier this year when I was invited to attend an awards ceremony. I was one of the judges and was looking forward to meeting the award winners, making new contacts and telling people about We Are All Disabled.
When I arrived with my PA I was greeted by the organisers who I had met previously and we had a quick chat at the drinks reception area before I went to sit at a table with the other judges and radio presenters.
I was not introduced to the other people on the table and although we did attempt to make conversation, the music in the room was so loud that it was hard to hear each other. Likewise, because of my disability I struggled to raise my voice over the background noise and it was difficult for people to understand what I was saying.
It seemed like the other people on the table felt uncomfortable and did not know how to engage with me or understood why I was there. I think there was a perception that my PA was the judge and I was her guest. I did try to speak to a few people but given the circumstances the situation became a little awkward and in the end it was easier just to give up.
If the music and the background noise had not been so loud and everyone on the table had been introduced to each other, I think we all would have felt more at ease and the event would have been more enjoyable and worthwhile.
In complete contrast, earlier this month I gave a keynote speech at a conference which was a far more positive experience. I was invited to speak at the event for my expertise in disability perceptions and to give an insight into my lived experience of disability and work with We Are All Disabled.
When I arrived at the event people knew who I was and what I was there for and I received a warm welcome. It was great to have the opportunity to speak to new people about my work; I was introduced to the other speakers and we chatted, delegates were keen to talk to me and I made a number of new contacts. It was a really enjoyable and positive experience which made me feel excited, valued and accepted.
Having had such different experiences at these events, it has made me think about the difficulties of creating space for people to feel comfortable and able to open up.
Of course the organisers of the awards had no intention of making guests feel awkward or uncomfortable but I think it’s given me pause for thought and could be helpful to anyone organising an event or meeting.
Through our ‘Disruptor’ training programme we are aiming to create safe and supportive spaces where people feel comfortable to be able to speak their truth and have their voices heard. Doing this isn’t always easy or comfortable, but by being more accepting and less judgemental, we can all potentially challenge our perceptions and learn something new.
Inclusion isn’t just about making sure that people have physical access to things but also about ensuring that they feel seen, heard, accepted and valued.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@timmossholder