I have tried to help Autism Speaks staffers understand how destructive its messages have been to the psyches of autistic people. We do not like hearing that we are defective or diseased. We do not like hearing that we are part of an epidemic. We are not problems for our parents or society, or genes to be eliminated. We are people. -John E. Robinson
I have come across John E. Robinson’s resignation letter, and I am shocked by the lack of diversity and inclusion within Autism Speaks. This is a troubling issue because an organization that aims to do good for people with autism should foster diverse ideas to keep its pulse on the constituents they serve and maintain relevance. The disability rights movement was born from the misguided assumption that other people define our limits. Each of us has to define our own limits. Autism Speaks should strive to maintain relevance in their efforts and not shut out its most crucial group: autistic people.
In order to be productive in our work, the very people we aim to serve need to be included in the decision-making process. How can organizations do this? One way is by infusing diversity and cultural competence in your work.
Working with People From All Walks of Life
Here’s a known fact: we are all different. Even identical twins develop different personalities according to new studies. It is crucial that organizations begin nurturing a cultural competence and strong diversity management if they have not already. According to Business Week, this competence will help companies effectively draw upon talent, intellectual capital, and motivate more employees. What’s more, by infusing diversity into research and reporting about the needs, issues and concerns of the people you serve, you are more likely to connect with them.
So how exactly can diversity and cultural competence benefit your organization?
Partnerships Depend on Mutual Respect
As organizations like The Arc of the Unites States seek to increase its productivity and social impact, it is crucial to continue building bridges to culturally diverse organizations at the national, state, and local level. A critical component to working together is to nurture a capacity to understand the differences in people in order to get along. Projects and initiatives require numerous people working together, and you want to be able to switch cultural paradigms as needed to reduce alienating your partners. Would you want to work with an organization that does not treat you as a full and equal member? John Robinson felt this way and had to “bow out.”
People Gravitate Towards Likeness
The Girl Scouts of America learned first-hand the value of inclusion and respect for all people. The organization went through much hardship at a point in their history, so much that it was in danger of acquisition. Frances Hesselbein, upon becoming CEO, helped devise new mechanisms to recruit and involve representatives of diverse communities, like increasing their chapters’ capacity to translate information and resources into a wide array of languages. One of those mechanisms involved providing tools for chapters to assess their cultural competence and develop local action plans, including revamping their handbook “so every girl in the country who opened it could see themselves in it.” Today, Girl Scouts of America have 3.2 million Girl Scouts—2.3 million girl members and 890,000 adult members working primarily as volunteers.
Frances still champions to this day “the richness of diversity provides not a challenge but opportunities for relevance.” Let’s focus on understanding our differences and highlighting our individual abilities for better productivity in our work efforts and delivering results to our constituents.
Help Us Help You
During my time with the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities, I learned a lot about cultural competency and its effects on the organization’s capacity and productivity. We provided in-person training curricula at annual retreats, drafted workbooks, guides and other resources to support student chapters in becoming more diverse and culturally competent. Like Frances, I believe that despite our differences, we can all learn from one another and continue to do good work.
One of my goals in leading CCSD was to acquire information to guide our activities and increase CCSD’s relevance when representing over 9,000 students with disabilities. Just last week for 2013 International Day for people with Disabilities, I partnered with United Spinal Association to deliver a disability etiquette workshop at CUNY-City College to develop understanding of diversity and cultural competency for the student community.
It is not too late for Autism Speaks to re-assess the motto “nothing about us without us,” and start re-focusing itself around its personal motto, “it’s time to listen.”
What tips would you give others looking to infuse diversity and cultural competence in their organization?