…Honouring  Challenge and Invoking Mutual Inclusion

By Barton Cutter

Our workplace is our workshop. This is certainly proving true as we explore the Coaches Training Institute’s responsibility to make our programs open and accessible to people with disabilities.

As we work to provide accommodations, a larger exploration is opening up around how the presence of disability affects our experience of humanity.

As a consultant, I work, play, learn, and grow daily with my colleagues as we consider how disability itself is perceived, accommodated for, and integrated into the human experience.

Much of what we are finding reinforces my personal experience of living with a disability—that disability itself is based on perception.

Our conditioned thinking and unconscious biases distort our ability to recognize wholeness in others when the perception of disability is present. These ingrained perceptions—some biological, others cultural — reveal that on some level we equate these circumstances with a sense of brokenness or loss.

Yet when we are able to uncouple the perception of loss or brokenness from the situational experience of the person in front of us, what emerges is a new relationship between perceived challenge and wholeness.

At the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), we have developed the Co-Active Accessibility & Wholeness Project and have begun to cultivate a new language and terminology to reflect our understanding. We point to the perceptions that underlie disability and challenge rather than seeing them as empirical realities.

We are using the terms “unique ability,” “unique challenge,” and “perceived disability” interchangeably to explore the different ways in which wholeness is ever present and recognizable regardless of how it is expressed through the individual.

We recognize this might cause discomfort, and we specifically appreciate that there is a living paradox in many who identify with having a disability. In my own life, embracing this paradox of honouring my unique expression of wholeness amid a range of perceptions, external and internal, has become a lifelong practice.

This means, I suspect, that some may find it challenging to have their disability referred to as a perceived challenge. Nevertheless, we intend to provoke radical conversation, within the coach training and leadership development industries, toward the full inclusion of people with perceived disabilities. Our report is a first step where we suggest the following ideas:

3 Principles of Designing Inclusive Accommodations
In designing accessibility accommodations for people with unique challenges, we have identified three principles to help maintain the context of wholeness: address wholeness, honour challenge, and evoke mutual inclusion. These are not linear steps in a process for designing accessibility accommodations, but rather a series of lenses that provide the basis for deepening our inquiry about the nature of wholeness as we engage with people with unique challenges.

1) Address Wholeness

At CTI, we believe that wholeness exists beyond perception. Historically, though, ability and wholeness has been understood from a perspective of conditioned thinking and behaviour.

This means we need to be courageous and willing to engage in direct conversation with the person requesting accessibility accommodations about what we mean by wholeness and how they understand it.

Consider this breaking the ice. Once this is done, we might discover that the water is warm and fun to swim in.

2) Honour Challenge

By recognizing and valuing how someone’s challenge shapes their experience of self and the world, it is possible to help them develop trust, wholeness and natural leadership.

The metaphor of a mirror can be useful in understanding this principle because it is about reflecting both the reality of someone’s challenge, however the person perceives it, and the reality of wholeness, whether or not that person is yet ready to see it.

If a person identifies only with their challenge, they may see themselves as broken in one way or another. However, if others around them hold and reflect back not only their challenge but also their wholeness—talents, abilities, natural resourcefulness—they will eventually own their wholeness as reality and reinterpret their challenge as part of their own unique expression of humanity.

One way we can support this process is, paradoxically, by recognizing that the mirror of a perceived disability and the greater challenge it appears to present, as an invitation to examine our own challenges and limitations more keenly.

This requires us to examine our own unconscious bias—in short the attitudes and beliefs that form our behaviour around people with disabilities. For example, many people are nervous about their impact on people with unique challenges.

What we are learning is this nervousness can stem from an unconscious fear that they are looking into a mirror for those parts of themselves they have not fully accepted. In other words, beneath our conditioned thinking about what is whole lurk parts of our self that we still perceive as broken.

This fear commonly leads to responses that hinge on how robust our capacity for self-reflection is. Typically there are three responses:

1. We notice this fear, and it results in us avoiding interaction altogether.

2. We notice this fear and engage only superficially, believing we are engaging merely for the benefit of the person with the perceived disability. While well-meaning, this response can seem patronizing.

3. We notice this fear and engage with profound curiosity about how the other’s experience and our interaction might enrich both our lives—the very nature of Co-Active relationships.

If we experience one of the first two responses, it is an opportunity to get curious and acknowledge what is happening. The door then opens for us to examine the root of our unconscious bias or blind spots.

Indeed, simply naming them may be all it takes to dissolve the fear and its underlying bias.

3) Evoke Mutual Inclusion

The third principle, evoke mutual inclusion, is the alchemy that is possible when we align with the first two principles in relationship to people who have a perceived disability or other unique challenge. We look beyond the needs of a specific individual or accommodation and explore how honouring these needs can enhance and elevate the learning and experience of all.

To ensure that this alchemy is not momentary, this principle also suggests a practical step: the commitment to remain in discussion about our experience as the relationship grows.

In the Co-Active model, the idea of a “designed alliance” provides the foundation for making explicit a set of agreements, which can be adapted over time, about how both parties will continue to address wholeness without diminishing the reality of the unique challenge the person with a disability faces.

The request by a deaf student to have a sign language interpreter present for her classes led to new levels of embodiment and learning.

“Having a sign language interpreter not only supported the learning for our hearing impaired participant, it also helped deepen the learning for all participants by having the visual experience of watching the interpreter as they were learning through their customary channels of learning. I hadn’t realized how much interpreter’s express with their whole being when they sign, not just their hands. The interpreters face is wildly expressive! On occasion we’d ask the interpreter to pause and tell us how she was communicating key concepts. With a word like Fulfillment, she told us what signs she combined to be able to express the concept behind the word. The result was deeper understanding for all. There were several points where a collective “Ohhh!” would fill the room as the learning sunk in.”

Helen House, CTI Faculty & Front of Room Leader

Excerpted from the Co-Active Accessibility & Wellness Report from The Coaches Training Institute, co-authored by Barton Cutter, a leadership coach & inclusion expert. Barton combines his experience of living with cerebral palsy, uncompromising wit & professional background in leadership development.