Monday, January 10, 2005

The Axis of Inertia

In his public discourse concerning the war on terrorism, President George W. Bush has referred to our perceived enemies as The Axis of Evil. Regardless of one's political persuasion, it was a pretty clever technique for marketing his administration's world view and position.

If I can borrow his analogy, I would like to offer my own view of our "enemies" that impede social change and economic justice of people with disabilities. Individually, and collectively, these enemies immobilize organizations as they weigh the idea of making bold changes to promote the job placement and community inclusion of all adults with disabilities. I have named these five enemies The Axis of Inertia. The include fear, apathy, arrogance, ignorance, and low-voltage.

Fear says the following: "We can’t successfully provide job placement or obtain integrated employment outcomes for people with significant disabilities because....

  • our participants don’t have the skills or abilities.
  • our participants’ productivity is too low.
  • our participants are too vulnerable.
  • our participants need much closer training and supervision.
  • employers won’t accept the idea of hiring people with significant disabilities.
  • we just don't have the money.
  • we could never piece together the necessary transportation.
  • a lot of people we serve will lose their friends.
  • we wouldn't know what to do with our empty buildings.
  • gee, we could all lose our jobs!"

In summary, pick your flavor of the day. What fear is truly saying is....gulp, "What if we fail? It is far better to play it safe!"

Apathy attacks us from another direction: "Hey, this is somebody else’s job, it is surely not mine." Or, how about this one: " I am content and self-satisfied with the way we are doing things right now." Apathy is a false sense of security that says "If it ain’t broke, then we surely don’t need to fix it!"

Arrogance is a state of mind that communicates the following: "Look, I have these fancy degrees, 30 years of work experience, and I certainly know more about this subject than you do." Or how about this one: "You just don’t understand the challenges that are involved here!" In truth, arrogance cloaks a hidden defensive fear that screams: "How dare you question my motives or abilities!"

Ignorance immobilizes us through the following line of thinking: "I just don’t know how to do it!" Or perhaps, "I don’t even know what I don’t know, so how can you expect me to do this work any better or differently than the way I am doing it now?" Ignorance also fuels procrastination by saying: "I guess I would try to create better results if I knew what to do, but I really don’t have the knowledge, skills, or training to do my work any differently."

Low-voltage slows us down to inefficiency despite the best of intentions: "Look, I am way too busy with this work I am doing right now, so how can you expect me to find the time, energy, or resources to take on these new ideas or challenges?" Low-voltage contributes the insurance that organizational infrastructures are inadequate to get the job done in more effective ways. Try this one on for size: "Hey, this new idea sounds great but my boss won’t let me do it that way." And, of course, my all-time favorite: "Our program funding and policies won’t allow us to do this job in the way that we know it ought to be done."

As we work collectively to shape a better future in support of people with disabilities, we can ill-afford falling prey to The Axis of Inertia. In my judgment, each of us has a duty to be bold and offer our leadership to achieve better outcome results.

According to futurist Joel Barker, a leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you would not go alone. Yes, we need more people willing to lead to educate the public, help to improve public policies, and introduce service delivery changes for others to emulate.

National research studies continue to document the importance of integrated employment in the lives of people with disabilities. They also validate the abilities of people with significant disabilities to go to work in the community labor force when they have interested, willing employers and access to customized job support from a progressive service provider.

As we move forward with future policy and program improvements, we must never lose sight of this fact: Every organization will harvest the seeds it chooses to plant and nourish. We must become mission-driven organizations that fuel our defined purpose through a clearly articulated vision, performance goals, and defined course of action.

So what kind of organization or program will you choose to be? What fruits will be harvested from work you choose to do as an educator, employment specialist, or community rehabilitation professional? The future opportunities open to people with disabilities are only limited by the size of our imaginations and depths of our courage.

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