This article was originally published in the first edition of the 2023 CFO South Africa Magazine. Read it here.
CFO Megan Pydigadu explains how she helped create awareness for people with disabilities in the workplace.
In a world that has come a far way towards inclusivity, people with impaired mobility still face numerous challenges, not all of which are obvious or apparent to those without disabilities. Many spaces are still not accessible to people with impaired mobility and, where there are accessible spaces, they may not always be well-maintained.
Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach that includes improving accessibility and fostering a more inclusive society with even fewer barriers. A helpful step towards dismantling those barriers is making them visible to more people without disabilities. One organisation doing excellent work in this regard is Little Eden.
Who is Little Eden?
Little Eden is a truly inspiring non-profit organisation that offers care to children and adults with profound intellectual disability. The people Little Eden takes into their care are given a lifelong home where they can feel safe, comfortable and valued.
This level of care is costly, however. So, every Intellectual Disability Awareness Month (March), the Little Eden Society extends a challenge to company executives to spend one work day in a wheelchair. The campaign hopes to raise funds to cover some of the care costs of the non-profit, and to raise awareness of the challenges faced by those who are reliant on wheelchairs and other assistive devices.
EOH takes on the challenge
This year, EOH CEO Stephan van Coller and myself took part in Little Eden’s sixth annual CEO Wheelchair Campaign, alongside executives from Sun International, Discovery, Barloworld Equipment, SBS Tanks, Meics Construction and Multotec.
The experience was fascinating and valuable.
I had a meeting on the first floor that day, for example, but I couldn’t join it physically with the rest of the team because there is no lift access available for wheelchairs. It’s interesting just how easy it is to feel excluded just because you can’t get to a specific meeting room. One of the members came and sat downstairs with me so I didn’t feel left out. That’s an experience that will stay with me.
I found that, when people saw me in a wheelchair, they looked at me differently. They saw the chair first, and me second. But what also became apparent was the kindness of the people who were helpful and wanted to help when I was battling to manoeuvre or get around.
As an organisation EOH is trying to build an inclusive culture, and including people with disabilities is a key part of this. We want to bring awareness and see how as an organisation we can include people in wheelchairs in our workforce. It’s been important to see that although our building is meant to be wheelchair- friendly on the ground floor, that doesn’t mean that doors are comfortably wide, or that wheelchair-accessible bathrooms are actually easy to enter.
As Stephen said, “It was great to get a touch of reality and to assist the Little Eden Society and the great work they do for people who have many more obstacles in their lives.”
Challenging other CFOs
A disability does not make someone less worthy of respect and consideration. When society is more accepting and understanding of disabilities, it can help to promote equal opportunities for people who live with them, and reduce stigma and discrimination.
Understanding and accepting disabilities promotes social integration and reduces social isolation, building of relationships and social connections. It can help to foster a more diverse and inclusive society overall. By embracing diversity and recognising the value of different perspectives and experiences, we can build a stronger, more resilient community that benefits everyone.
The goal for this year’s Wheelchair Campaign is to raise R1.5 million for the care of Little Eden residents.
I would also like to see other CFOs get into a wheelchair for a day and commit to Little Eden. And I encourage landlords and designers to be thoughtful when designing their buildings, to ensure that people who use wheelchairs are never excluded.
Sometimes you need to experience what someone else does to begin to understand what’s most important to them and what you might have overlooked – my day in a wheelchair was a valuable reminder of that.