Kaizen literally translates to Kai (change) and Zen (good). It is a Japanese word that describes constant and never-ending improvement. Many business experts believe that it was this philosophy that pulled Japan up from the ashes and rubble of World War II to become an economic powerhouse within a generation. It means living with a mindset that whatever goal one wants to achieve, it can be done with daily mindfulness and incremental improvement, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
You’ll forgive me for sounding a little too much like a self-help guru or a snippet from the pages of Success magazine, but I believe that everyone can use a little kaizen. I also believe that it will especially help the disability community generally and people who have worked with their disabilities in everyday activities. In my daily conversations with evangelists, advocates, members of the disability community, and our allies I often hear words of anger, worry, frustration, and doubt about achieving goals. No goal in my mind seems more daunting than achieving authentic inclusion of Ability alongside Race, Gender, Orientation, and Religion in our corporate and social cultures. Specifically, gaining barrier-free access to and use of our global digital infrastructures.
I often find myself feeling like Sisyphus of Greek mythological fame. Fated to push a boulder up a hill for all of eternity, only to have it roll back down the hill forcing him to start all over again. I hope against hope that one day the damned boulder will remain atop the hill, that one day corporations and people around the world will start to build on a true foundation of true inclusion for people of ALL abilities.
Inclusion of Ability within our digital world seems like an insurmountable goal to achieve. However, while we have been to the mountaintop and kicked back down again, and again and again, our community has made significant progress over the last few decades. Technology has opened avenues to limitless possibilities for those of us reliant on assistive devices, without a doubt. Yet, we are still pushing boulders up hills and the hills seem to get higher and higher without an end in sight.
Would I like to get there sooner rather than later? Absolutely, but realistically speaking, we’ve been dealing with the marginalization of people in the disability community for literally thousands of years; correcting that won’t happen overnight. The last couple of decades are a blink when compared to millennia.
We can’t sit around and wait for others to do it for us. All of us need to push our own boulders to lay a solid foundation for authentic inclusion and digital equity. There are 62 million people in America who have a disability. Can you imagine the incredible change that would happen if even a small portion of us regularly did a little something to transform the status quo?
The more cynical citizens across our great nation will argue that this is another attempt at taking advantage of entitlement programs, to which I say, “Bullshit! Quite the opposite!” If our society were to commit to barrier-free access to digital communications and information for people of all abilities, we would steer people away from entitlement programs and public assistance. We would accomplish this by empowering them to seek out employment and education, to move towards true inclusion. For the tens of millions of people forced onto disability insurance programs with no obvious way of getting off, this could very well be the hand-up they need.
Then there will be those of us from the disability community who have been utterly frustrated, disenfranchised, and marginalized for decades who will argue nothing will change and you are running after a pipe dream that will never become reality. Why bother trying? Thomas Edison, a member of the disability community, once said, “You can’t realize your dreams unless you have one to begin with.” With the click of a mouse or a few keystrokes of code, we could move individuals away from being taxing dependents and instead allow them to become independent taxpayers. That is my dream.
My response to naysayers and frustrated malcontents:
- “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” Loosely interpreted, if we don’t try to do anything that seems to be impossible or insurmountable, there is a 100% chance that we never will achieve greatness or much else in our lives.
- “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” If we don’t work on correcting the wrongs of today our future will be doomed to repeat what is not working for us. To say nothing about those who came before us, it will cripple those who come after us. Working together we can absolutely minimize, and hopefully eliminate, frustrations for future generations that our forebears have suffered for two millennia.
- “The golden age is before us, not behind us.” Cry not over the spilled milk of yesterday but clean it up today so it does not have the chance to spoil tomorrow. As a community of people 1.4 billion strong, we must unify our collective voices to at least draw attention to and demand inclusion in the world’s societies. People of Ability have positively impacted the human condition for hundreds and hundreds of years, yet every day the regular Joes and Joannes are still relegated to being considered “less than” and undervalued as contributors to the mosaic that is America.
As Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said, “There is no way to happiness—happiness is the Way.” Even now The Mandalorian echoes this truth in my head, “This is the way.” “Happiness is the way” reminds me of gold medalist, Paralympian, author, advocate and now friend, Mallory Weggemann. Mallory joined the disability community 14 years ago when a medical procedure gone wrong resulted in paraplegia. Yet, in her words, she took it with grace. Mallory was always a swimmer. When people tried to tell her what limitations she would be living with for the rest of her life, she dove into the pool again. She swam her way to greatness despite what naysayers thought her life would become. Jonathan and I had the pleasure of interviewing Mallory on the MBS AccessAbility Works podcast which I urge you all to listen to. (Click here for that)
Like so many of us who lived through and overcame traumatic injuries, she made a choice to define her newfound abilities as opposed to being ‘dis’-labeled by others. Instead of becoming paralyzed, pun intended, she took a stand and defined her ability as she saw fit. Every day she did a little something mentally or physically to help her become the world-class person and Paralympian that she is today. She has become, or maybe always has been, the living embodiment of Kaizen.
“My life is not a consolation prize for what life could have been,” Mallory said. She instead looked inward and found that she wanted to live a life full of grace. Mallory reminded me, that grace isn’t just a prayer you say before a meal. It is a way of life. All emotions have their uses, grace can be used to temper and soften the anger and frustration we all feel when presented with seemingly insurmountable tasks.
Instead of looking back at injustices and how horrible things are for people who have disabilities, instead of shaking our fists in rage and screaming our frustrations into the void, let’s look at ways to fix things that need fixing and move on to fix other things. Let’s accept the world as it is, but at the same time work toward building the world that we want to live in. Let’s build on the things that work and if something doesn’t work, let’s try something new until it does. Before you know it, with almost 8 billion people habitually doing 8 billion seemingly small things, we will make substantial progress.
Christopher Reeve was right when he said, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”
At My Blind Spot, we are doing our part to make authentic inclusion possible, probable, and ultimately inevitable. Once we change the narrative from perceived and imposed limitations, we can assess people on their ability regardless of how they roll through life or view things from a different focus as it were. We believe that access equals ability and that people should not ‘dis’ ability!
Personally, I stand for and believe in true inclusion and said as much in a TEDx Talk I gave two years ago. (Click here for that). As a nonprofit, My Blind Spot helps governmental agencies, corporations of all types and sizes, and community-based organizations change their thinking, and hopefully the global narrative on Ability. The disability community is at the intersectionality of all other “minority” groups as well as the majority. If you are not a member of Team Disability, you are merely “temporarily-able” and will be aging into the disability community sooner or later. So, to those cynics who insist this is another attempt to take advantage of entitlement programs, I ask, “What are you to do when you yourself acquire a disability that limits any one of your senses or bodily functions to the point the world becomes disabled to you?”
That’s what I and countless others have been dealing with from our little corners of the world. Fighting to be included and valued for who we are and what we contribute as opposed to the label thrust upon us by those who are “temporarily-able.” If you are saying to yourself “I am so inspired”, I would ask how are you inspired? If you are so inspired, what will you do today to ensure you will not be ‘dis’ labeled when you join my club? Because trust me you will, and I hope you do something inspirational before you get here. Your life and billions of others are counting on that.
So, if you want to find your own boulder to push up that mountain to add to the foundation of true inclusion, I and many of my peers and colleagues will be there waiting for you. Remember, we are all members of one team, and “team” stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More”. In the spirit of kaizen, we can all work together to achieve more. If you would like to discuss things with me, feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com so we can achieve the inevitable together.
And remember. We must imagine Sisyphus as being happy!