I’ve commented before on how the pandemic and in particular the requirement for us to work from home has narrowed the gap between our ‘work’ and ‘personal’ lives. I was reminded of this yesterday when someone on LinkedIn reposted that famed television interview of Robert Kelly, a political science professor who was interrupted mid questioning by his young children walking into the room. Today, such an event would hardly seem newsworthy as so many of us have witnessed or been party to similar disturbances at home whilst on Zoom calls.
The reason why I raise the confluence of work and personal is that earlier this week I watched a brief video[i] – again on LinkedIn – that was significant to me and since then have been contemplating how I could – or indeed should – weave the clip into this post. The video is both very personal to me, but also raises questions about the workplace. The video features Sting singing a story that starts with an image of a baker hiring Simone, a woman who has Down syndrome. It continues with a lawyer seeing Simone at work and then we see that lawyer hiring John, a man who has Down syndrome. And so onwards, a dentist sees John and the dentist hires Sophia, who has Down syndrome. The implication is that these people are obviously capable of doing the job, so if you have a hiring need why wouldn’t you consider employing them? By seeing others do it, we are emboldened to give it a go.
The video is personal to me because my son has Down syndrome. As a recently turned 15-year-old, he is a few years off facing that moment of entering the world of employment, but he will very soon encounter decisions about education paths with a view to what he would like to do. The very fact that I am discussing what he might do is actually a huge step forward from even those brief 15 years since he was born. The prognosis for my son’s potential, as foretold by the doctor delivering the news of him having Down syndrome, was pretty grim: he won’t be able to do this, or that, or the other. As parents we have always challenged that, focusing instead on what he can do and thus far he has always delivered. The charity that we and a couple of other families formed 15 years ago[ii] has at its heart the ethos that people with Down syndrome should have access to the opportunities available to all others and for there to be no ceiling on what any of our children might achieve. I am pleased to see that this philosophy is increasingly being shared and accepted across society.
But as with any story about the need for inclusion and diversity, progress is never straightforward. Prejudices exist, negative or ‘can’t do’ attitudes prevail, so with Down Syndrome Awareness Week starting tomorrow,[iii] I am proud to promote the need for greater willingness to explore what can be done. We just need to think a little bit differently and be open to adapting how we work to accommodate people who might just have a slightly different way of doing things. When we do that, as my son’s first school did – having never before taught a child with Down syndrome – the results can be surprising, amazing and benefit not only the individual but also the broader team via the power of diversity.
[iii] including March 21st World Down Syndrome Day (selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome, which is what causes Down Syndrome)