As human being we have a tendency to judge people as soon as possible and, based on our judgment, pigeon hole them neatly. Categorizing people seems to be a favorite pastime that begins in childhood.
That kid is the jock, that one a nerd. The kid over there is artistic (and possibly gay), this kid is dumb (often referred to as the r****d).
Sadly, our willingness to be quick to judge carries over to adulthood. We judge based on race, ethnicity, vocal accent, height, weight, hair style or lack of hair and disability both known and perceived. It’s interesting that this categorizing carries over into classic cinema. Think about all the great movies about World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam; there was the southern farm boy (you can substitute Kansas farm boy), the streetwise, smart mouth Jewish or Italian kid from Brooklyn (you can substitute the Bronx or New Jersey, the bookish Midwestern kid with glasses…remember?
When it comes to disabilities the person with the disability is often portrayed as simple, trusting, dependent and helpless. Think Tiny Tim in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Think Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (OK, Helen wasn’t very trusting, but you get my point). Helen turned out to be quite the confident, accomplished individual, but there were still a lot of misconceptions about her.
What would you do if a now adult Tiny Tim (shall we just call him Tim?) came into your place of business? How would you treat him?
If you are like so many other business people you would first look around for his care provider, convinced he couldn’t possibly be there by himself.
And what if Helen came in? These days she might rely solely on a white cane for assistance, or perhaps a guide dog. Would you wonder where Anne Sullivan was? How would you communicate with Helen? Would you even try?
In the last year or two the Department of Justice came down hard on major banking institutions for failing to be accessible to people who were Deaf. Wells Fargo, one of the banks, would not do business with Deaf customers who called using relay services. Instead these customers were instructed to call using a TTY/TDD device and leave a message. Those messages were never answered. Wells Fargo was ordered to pay up to $16 million.
Wells Fargo, it seemed, pigeon holed Deaf customers as being unimportant and powerless and not worthy of finding good alternate means of communication. It cost them big dollars.
We are now 23 years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Businesses must look at customers who have disabilities much as they look at all other customers: as a revenue stream.
You do not reject people who have money to spend, you cultivate them, you nurture them and you work with them to accommodate them.
Here’s the funny thing: it usually costs little or no money to accomplish this. Amazing! You can pursue approximately 25% of the population and spend almost no additional money.
Yes, after 23 years the times they are a changin’. Change with them