Sunday, March 06, 2005

Seeing Ability

Take a close look at the white box that I posted above. Now tell me, what do you see? C’mon, its easy! So what do you see?
Did you answer a black dot or a black circle? Be honest! If you did, then you are in the company of an overwhelming majority of people I ask this question of during my public presentations about customized employment.
Sorry, but this was not the answer I was looking for. If you reread my first paragraph again carefully, I told you exactly what you were looking at. I asked you to take a close look at the white box that I posted above, right?
Yep, it’s a white box!
What did you say? Oh yeah, there is indeed a black dot in the middle of the white box too. However, would you agree with me that this black dot is only a small part of the center of the white box? Perhaps, it is only 10% of the total object I presented to you, right? If you agree with me, then this means the white box represents about 90% of what you saw. Yet, in your mind's eye, you saw only about 10% of what I had presented to you. Why is this so?
I like to use this illustration to demonstrate a finer point. You see, the human mind has a way of organizing information rapidly for our senses. For the most part, this is very good thing. This enables people to receive information quickly about their environment so they interact with it efficiently and effectively. However, our senses can also deceive us by giving us information that is either inaccurate or incomplete. This rapid processing of information often causes people to prejudge what they are looking at. And when this occurs, we sometimes make discriminating decisions based on a very limited fund of information.
To illustrate my point, consider this example. When someone in a wheelchair rolls into a room, our eyes rapidly move away from the individual to the object....the wheelchair. Am I right? There is a natural tendency for us to focus on what is different about someone with a disability. This is our human nature.
Here's another example. If I asked you to tell me a word that you associate with a disability, what would it be? In almost all instances, people tend to associate a disability with something that is negative. This is a learned response by us conditioned over time. Through the lens of most people, a disability is associated with words like handicap, incapacity, loss, inability, dysfunction, pity, or similar terms. Rarely, if ever, is a disability associated with a word or circumstance that is positive.
Now I am not trying to minimize the functional limitations or dismiss the inconveniences that often accompany living with a significant disability. I am merely trying to point out that we do not give people with disabilities a real chance a majority of the time. Too often, people with disabilities are prejudged about their abilities and potential to contribute because we are so quick to decide. We judge instinctively without giving ourselves a real opportunity to see the abilities that people have. Instead, we allow a significant disability to overpower the limits of our senses and blur our perceptions. When this occurs, we lose the capacity to use our creativity and imagine what could be.
Yes, its very much like looking at the black dot. People who live with significant disabilities may have limitations, but they also have unique abilities. Like the color of the hair on their head, all people with disabilities are born with natural gifts and traits. However, they often need the support of people who know and love them, and others who guide them professionally, to recognize their interests and innate talents.
Sadly, national unemployment statistics document that far too few actually get the chance to use their talents for economic and social gain. And when this happens, everybody loses.
It is a fundamental goal of customized employment providers to help market the abilities and potential contributions of people who have hidden and unique abilities. And yes, when progressive employers recognize this potential and choose to become interested partners, unlimited job opportunities can unfold for unemployed people with disabilities. Really!
For these reasons, customized employment is within the reach of anyone who wants to work. However, we need to advance this idea of customizing employment beyond theory and into current practice, so more people have real opportunities to work and achieve workforce integration.
So the next time you encounter someone with a significant disability, I would ask that you pause and remember the lesson of the black dot. The next time, try give this person the benefit of your doubt. Do your very best to see his or her abilities.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then why is the graphic itself called blackdot.jpg? Clicking links to a larger picture - a black dot in your browser window.


3:21 PM  
Blogger Don Lavin said...

Ha! Great question! The answer is that my uploaded photo of the white screen was improperly named blackdot jpg. You are correct. It should have been named white screen.jpg. I did say that almost everyone sees the black dot, right?

You win the "seeing ability" award for the day. Thanks for writing Macewan!

3:38 PM  

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