Every year since 1992 the 3rd December is proclaimed by the United Nations General Secretary as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This year the theme is “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all”, which sounds dynamic, powerful and purposeful. But for the ordinary lay person they will probably be wondering what it actually means, and what difference it makes to the lives of persons with disabilities.
Putting aside the contemporary jargon of the theme, the overarching principle is based on the Sustainable Development Goal of ‘leave no one behind’. Therefore, one way of putting it into practice is by each one of us doing our part to ensure that everyone including those who are at risk, vulnerable or disadvantaged are provided with a fair opportunity in life, no matter who or where they are.
In my younger days, I worked with a manager who took great pleasure in belittling the employees. On a day to day basis he could be incredibly obnoxious, but he excelled himself and intensified his meanness in the lead up to doing staff performance appraisals.
You dared not share an idea about workplace improvements because to do so would result in a tirade. His usual response would be “when I want your opinion I will ask for it”, “why do the youth always think that they know everything, I’ve been on this earth longer than all of you”, “I’m in charge, keep your opinion to yourself” or his favourite – “when you become the boss I will listen to you, until then shut up and put up”. In other words, know your place and stay there.
His woefully poor leadership knew no boundaries. One of our colleagues looked after a child with physical and intellectual impairments and sometimes she would get to work just in the nick of time, but despite knowing her circumstances Mr Dragon Boss would berate her timekeeping, even if she offered to take a shorter lunch break. Mr Dragon Boss would shout and use disparaging language to the staff who had acute anxiety and the one with cognitive limitations, he often reduced them to tears. Needless to say morale was low and absenteeism was on the increase.
I eventually resigned, and at the exit interview with Mr Dragon Boss and his manager Question 4 on the form was “What was your relationship with your manager like”? Words can’t describe how elated I was to finally have a voice, and though it was at the tip of my tongue to say that “I despised the disgusting smelly man”, I respectfully referenced his dis-empowering management techniques. It took a lot of self-control to keep it professional and not mention that his lack of personal hygiene was an assault on the nasal receptors of the staff and customers.
Mr Dragon Boss had the nerve to defend his actions, implying that his involvement in the disability movement meant he was a good caring person, and that he was a good manager because that ‘those people’ (the disabled service users) at the disability organisation he used to run, accepted that he was in charge and never dared go against or challenge his word.
What you don’t know Mr Dragon Boss is that a few years ago I met a young man who volunteered at the organisation you ran. He said that one day you called him a ‘stupid foolish boy’ so he put an added ‘secret’ ingredient in your tea and the staff all laughed as you drank it.
Sadly, there are many others like Mr Dragon Boss, and to those managers, community leaders, and elders who neglect to nurture and support others, please try to take heed and leave no one behind. Instead, help to develop and empower the next generation of advocates and leaders, equip them with tools and frameworks, manage and motive them to excel, nurture and guide them, share your knowledge and experience, assist them in building resilience, and be willing to pass on the baton when the time comes.
All of us should commit to ‘leave no one behind’.
Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org