Sesame Street continues to teach the world about authentic inclusion and true Diversity.
By Albert J. Rizzi, M.Ed.
Sweeping’ the clouds away,
On my way to where the air is sweet,
Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street….”
I was five years old when I first heard those lyrics when Sesame Street first aired in November 1969. The show introduced us to Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, and the rest of the Muppets. They introduced us to their human friends such as Gordon, Maria, and Mr. Hooper. For me and generations of kids since the show also taught us and continues to teach children many important things including our letters of the alphabet and how to count. (Did you just laugh like The Count? “AH, AH, AH!”)
What Sesame Street also taught then and teaches kids now are fundamental values, morals and acceptance of others, and character-building qualities such as empathy, kindness, teamwork, and sharing. When I was a principal for a Pre-K and Afterschool program in the South Bronx, I knew who the kids were in my neighborhood who knew how to get to Sesame Street. Usually, they were the ones that most often knew who Elmo was and practiced what Elmo and his other friends from Sesame Street taught us all.
The show was groundbreaking for its time and continues to be an inspiration for people of all ages and abilities. Sesame Street and its creators saw the power of television expressly for reaching the maximum number of children to educate and empower their growth as thinkers, individuals and as people in your neighborhood. For those of you who grew up on Sesame Street like I did, there is a new tell-all documentary titled “Street Gang, How We Got to Sesame Street”.
Sesame Street has now taken up the torch for authentic inclusion and is creating more and more characters of Ability alongside all the others from different Races, Genders, Orientations, and Religions. They absolutely live My Blind Spot’s our credo, #DontDisMyAbility!
Sesame Street has always been focused on diversity and true inclusion. But as of late, and most notably, Sesame Street has embraced reasonable accommodations and has made its neighborhood more accessible and inclusive for all. Evidence of this is readily apparent when they introduced viewers of the show to people and Muppets alike who just happen to have a disability or two. There are Muppets with a disability or “MWD” across the entire spectrum of Ability including Muppets who happen to be blind, deaf, living with mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair or crutches. There are even Muppets with organic dysfunction or cognitive delays such as Autism or Dyslexia. Sesame Street showed that people who have a disability are not “the other” to be feared, rather, (and I am sure Bob wouldn’t mind me singing his song) PWD or MWD “…are the people that you meet, when you’re walking down the street. They’re the people that you meet each day!” In short, they are, and always have been, the people in your neighborhood.
The execs at Sesame Workshop, recently announced the expansion of duties for exec Wanda Witherspoon, naming her as their first Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. Like many organizations, it recognized that DEI does not magically happen. There must be executive sponsorship and leadership at the top to ensure an organization does not merely mouth the words for good public relations. It must make sure that everything done from the mailroom to the boardroom is open and welcoming to people of all abilities.
Recently, Caroline Casey, a colleague and friend, was our guest on My Blind Spot’s podcast, AccessAbility Works. She created an organization that has made molehills into epic mountains of authentic inclusion, translating into social and corporate cultures that value, embrace, and empower PWD and MWD alike to take their rightful places in our neighborhoods. Her brainchild, The Valuable 500, is a group of global corporations that are committed and dedicated to the non-negotiable position that including PWD in both our social and corporate cultures is not just the right thing to do, but in fact, is the right thing for business. Like the Sesame Workshop espouses and promotes, these companies are leading the way on authentic inclusion for people of all abilities. They are teaching by example, yes, just like Susan or Alan would do on Sesame Street.
In March 2021, the Sesame Workshop shared with the neighborhood that it created the new position of Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer; the first position of its kind on Sesame Street. The exec taking the job, Wanda Witherspoon, is adding this job to the responsibilities that she already has. Time will tell if she can handle it effectively, but it’s a good start. Many times, corporations heap this responsibility onto an executive’s shoulders because they are already managing what is perceived as similarly important roles such as a compliance officer or as in this instance, a CIO.
So, if you grew up with Sesame Street as I did, why not notice how, to paraphrase the song, “One of these corporations are not like the other, one of these corporations does not belong, can you tell which corporation is not like the other, before we get to the end of this blog…” Is your corporation like the Sesame Workshop or the corporations from the Valuable 500? If not, WHY?
If you want to be like the others as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion, then march into upper management’s office, or be really bold and go straight to the top and ask the CEO if they could embrace the ideals about true inclusion like all our friends in the neighborhood living on Sesame Street.
So, if your boss is more like Oscar the Grouch, you may be just a little scared to speak with them about this. Remember, you have a friend in the neighborhood here at My Blind Spot and we can talk to them about all of this because we know how to work with people who are diagnosed as having anger management disorders. Over the years, My Blind Spot has helped organizations of all shapes and sizes address, holistically, how best to infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion into the DNA of their corporate cultures. Let us help you go on your way “to where the air is sweet”. Let us tell you how to get, how to get to Diversity Street… and make sure your neighborhood’s office culture is just like the creators of Sesame Street and other inclusive and visionary organizations.
I invite you to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.