I always find it fascinating to read about trends in the industry I’ve been a professional at for 43 years! People assume I specialize in “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”, and of course, it’s in my “playbook”. The problem is while I appear to fit the demographic of a “person with a disability”, I am not a person with a disability. I was born without arms, so I believe it’s my “normal”. Yet, I’ve had a front row seat to the progress that has been made in accessibility and accommodation for people with special needs. This interest means that internet analytics feed me stories about the field, and I was a wee bit conflicted when I read a post from the “Forbes Communications Council” and author, Janet Best, VP Marketing at All American Entertainment Speakers Bureau. The headline is:

Six Corporate Events Trends to Watch In 2024”

(An excerpt from the list) “It isn’t enough to be inclusive if that means that your voice still isn’t heard, welcomed, or valued… Belonging is the next evolution in diversity, equity and inclusion. As these terms have become more polarized in recent years than intended, it’s time to focus on the end goal: belonging. Helping people feel valued, regardless of their differences, is where we need to be!”

Please do me a favour and read that again. Now, take a moment to contemplate the observation and consider how it makes you feel.

How I feel is an idealistic optimism, with a dose of doubt because I agree that this issue has become polarizing, but I don’t understand why. However, I completely understand the concept of “different”. I have involuntarily worn that label my whole life. And there was no acronym of DEIB or the programs to help me steer through the minefield of getting a good job.

I was very fortunate to have people like my parents, teachers, and my hometown have my back, but I also blazed my own trail in the employment market. I also learned at a very young age to teach people how to treat me so “they” would be more comfortable, not the other way around. So, I have had a very successful ride through my life adapting to my environment and doing what I need to do to make others comfortable with me and the results have usually made me feel like I “belong”.

But not the most extravagant crystal ball could never have predicted what would happen to me, or actually, “us”. The “politics” of DEIB takes on a completely different dimension when it hits home… literally.

Ever since we met in 1991, my wife and business partner, Darlene, has had hearing issues including tinnitus (look it up for a description). In 2019, Darlene was told by her hearing aid specialist that her hearing was degrading to the point she may need a “Cochlear Implant” (look that up too… it’s complicated). This is “not” a hearing aid. It’s a remarkably sophisticated device that is surgically implanted in a three-hour operation. It’s implanted in your head, just behind your ear and magnetized to allow an external microphone the size of a Canadian Loony coin to attach to your head and feeds information to the processor that’s surgically connected by wire to the Cochlear nerve.

Try something for me. Turn on your television or computer and put on a show and then silence the volume. Try it for twenty minutes and don’t cheat. This doesn’t even come close to what it’s really like to go completely deaf. And there’s millions of deaf and hard of hearing people amongst us. Imagine how they feel about “belonging”? I always tried to be sensitive and empathize, but having no hands and honestly, short toes, I can’t even learn to do sign language. I thought I could appreciate their challenges. Not even close.

So, after four long years wading through the health care system, we arrive at September 26, 2023… surgery day. This is a major medical procedure. I can’t imagine the stress on Darlene being the patient; it was one of the longest days of my life! But, Darlene came through with flying colours, albeit ten days of dizziness, nausea, and one more time for your imagination… total deafness. The procedure includes eliminating any remaining hearing in the Cochlear side and Darlene was already deaf in her right ear so complete silence in her ears but pounding tinnitus remained. It would be a while until the surgical site would be healed so the waiting was excruciating.

Being human can be cruel!

Fast forward to November 2nd when Darlene’s expert audiologist literally turned on her new device. It was a truly magical moment. From complete deafness to a mechanically produced sound. I have no way of knowing what the love of my life was feeling but the smile on her face brought tears to my eyes. She could hear!

In all my years doing telethons, I was always touched by the disabled children being completely able to relate to the challenges of being “different”. But what cut me to the core were their parents. Their extended family and friends.

For every disabled human being, there are the dominoes that fall for everyone who cares about the person facing the personal challenges their “condition” throws at them with a complete absence of compassion. Being disabled sucks! There’s also a huge difference between being “born” with a disability and “becoming” disabled.

This past week, Darlene and I went to see a “live” play at a downtown Calgary theatre. We have not been to a play, show, concert or even a movie for almost six years. Imagine that. We probably wouldn’t have gone to this play had it not been for a colleague and friend who is helping build our new website, Azadeh Yaraghi. Her sister, Bahareh Yaraghi, is starring in a hilarious comedy written by Steve Martin called “Meteor Shower” and she mentioned it coming to Calgary, so I bought tickets. It was on a special night focusing on “accommodation” for deaf, hard of hearing and blind people and included sign language interpreters, described audio available in provided hearing devices and a Bluetooth channel designated for hearing aids with the technology. We were also able to get front row seats so Darlene could not only hear the actors but use her Google translate App on her phone to catch anything her new hearing might have missed. It may have been our best “date night” in years! Profound thanks to Arts Common and the Max Bell Theatre for caring enough to help so many people and their loved ones enjoy a play! How hard was that?

The bottom line is all this “noise” about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging is about real life and real human beings, not a “political conspiracy”! In fact, all the opposition to this cause is actually incredibly insulting.

I never thought I’d say that or write it, but there it is!

When it doesn’t affect your life, why care? But when it is about someone in your life you love completely, how can you not care?