24% of the French population, aged between 15 and 64, are living with disabilities. For the sake of comparison, there are 10% of blond people in France and 5% of redheads.
We all have a blond friend, a redhead friend. And, given the figures, we probably all have a friend with a handicap. But here’s the thing: 80% of disabilities are invisible. And there are as many disabilities as there are individuals, just as there are as many shades of blond and red in our friends’ hair.
So, how can we really and truly include this important segment of the population? How can we truly see them ? How can we better know what they need?
For questions that seem complicated often have the simplest answers: all we have to do is reach out to each other and admit to ourselves that deep down we are more alike than what separates us. It is enough to open dialogue, and to ask humble questions when we do not know the reality of what the other person is going through.
Inclusion through diversity & thrills
Bouncing back with sports and extreme activities
This is precisely the mission of the non-profit organisation Comme les Autres. Created nearly 10 years ago, it was born out of the story of Michael Jérémiasz, a young man athletic and fearless, who became a paraplegic at the age of 18 following a ski jumping challenge with his older brother.
Quickly, and also thanks to the support of his family and friends, he began to see his wheelchair as an ally to regain a sense of freedom. Very early on, he set himself both ambitious sports and self-confidence goals. A fan of tennis, he became French Champion of wheelchair tennis one year after his release from the rehabilitation centre. Five years later, he obtained the title of World Champion of the discipline.
Michael is aware of how lucky he was to be able to bounce back like this after his accident. In order to help others to help themselves in the reconstruction process, he launched a project with his wife and brother for people who have recently become disabled. The support provided is both social and sports-related, with the experience of extreme sensations at the heart of the programme.
The importance of bringing together people with disabilities and valid people
“The galvanising effect of strong sensations is key to re-appropriate one’s body, and this can be seen at the hormonal level” says Julie, head of the Ile-de-France branch. But the project doesn’t stop there, since in addition to the beneficiaries’ personal development, the association also has a real objective of changing the way people with disabilities are seen.
For instance, the activities offered in the region as well as the sports trips are systematically mixed and include both able-bodied and disabled people. “We enable able-bodied people to really share the intimacy of people with disabilities because the rooms are shared. And this leads to a rethinking of the support relationship: not imposing help, seeing what we can joke about,…”.
It also helps to rebalance the relationship between people with disabilities and able-bodied people because the latter also realise how much they have learned from people with disabilities. Julie confirms: “All the cultural and sports operators tell us that people with disabilities have taught them a thousand times more than they were able to teach them. And for the people we support, it’s really exciting to see that they too can be part of the transmission”.
Julie explains that they enjoy working with new service providers with this change of perspective. She adds that they often open handi sections after their stay with Comme les Autres. Indeed, the stays are not intended for people with reduced mobility. They sometimes require some minor adjustments, but the aim is also to show people who are newly disabled that they can continue to plan trips and activities with their loved ones without putting up any barriers.
Inclusion through advocacy and talent development
This is also the long-term work that Philippe Trotin has carried out to introduce the subject of inclusion of people with disabilities at Microsoft France which he recounts in the French Ticket For Change podcast “Vécus : Comment transformer le handicap en force pour son entreprise” (or How to turn disability into strength for your company). For him, digital accessibility represents “a new source of innovation that benefits the greatest number of people by relying on technology”.
Now a disability and digital accessibility referent, he is in charge of recruiting people with disabilities, adapting workstations and raising awareness among employees. Finally, he continues to work on ways in which technology can make it easier for Microsoft France’s customers to include people with disabilities in the company.
Finding the right words to convince
Philippe says: “The employees considered that at Microsoft, the issue of disability was a non-subject. In fact, when I became involved, only two people had declared themselves as disabled workers to the Human Resources department”.
So he began by negotiating to be able to work on this subject, which was important to him in his free time, and then for part of his working time before devoting himself to it entirely. This development was made possible thanks to a relentless awareness-raising campaign among his colleagues, but also thanks to strong arguments.
He gave the example of his colleagues working in sales, to whom he reminded the proportion of people with disabilities in the population and hence among their clients. He therefore made them aware of the opportunity offered by a digital accessibility service that they could pride themselves on using internally.
It also made it possible to broaden the prospects for diversity, inclusion or accessibility managers in the target companies with this new sales pitch.
Valuing talent and encouraging innovation
Philippe’s objective was also to “move from a quota logic to a talent logic”. To achieve this, he did not hesitate to make himself available to his colleagues to assist them in recruiting and adapting workstations for new or former employees with disabilities.
One of his first successes was the recruitment of a young wheelchair-bound saleswoman whose future assignments involved a great deal of travel, which worried the manager who made the job offer. “She was the best candidate, so I told him take her and we’ll find solutions”. This was followed by an awareness-raising meeting on the subject of disability so that his future colleagues could ask any questions they might have on the subject and thus better welcome him, as well as on the adaptation of his missions. A few months later, her manager was congratulated on his choice, as she was one of the best sales representatives of the year.
Inclusion by the peer community and change of perspective
The strength of coaching and community
The organisation H’up Entrepreneurs, for its part, started from the observation of the loneliness felt by self-employed workers & entrepreneurs with disabilities. Today, with a network of more than 1,000 members, the organisation created in 2008 offers various support programmes for budding and more experienced entrepreneurs. Certified coaches, trainers, mentors, everything is done to help its beneficiaries whatever the maturity of their business.
The organization also seeks to highlight the exceptional career paths of these entrepreneurs to inspire those who want to embark on the adventure. To this end, each year, they organize the awarding of 12 H’up Trophies Award in 5 categories.
And even after 13 years of activity, H’up continues to reinvent itself and it just launched a new programme for its entrepreneurs last September, in response to the health crisis. Rebond is a solid 6-month support programme dedicated to self-employed workers with disabilities who have been in business for more than 3 years.
A change of perspective
Lastly, the organization has a real vocation of activism and advocacy. In particular, it is the instigator of the Macron law of 2016, which allows companies to count subcontracting to disabled self-employed workers as Beneficiary Units. Aissatou, Support Project Manager for the Ile-de-France region confirms “Activism is not for one person. It’s for everyone”.
When we asked Eric, the organisation’s office manager, what he thinks about the distance that sometimes still exists between people with disabilities and able-bodied people, he explains “I think people are afraid of what they don’t know. They project themselves into a reality that frightens them and they prefer to distance themselves from it. However, encountering this difference has made me feel more comfortable. Before, I didn’t know how to approach them, now I naturally ask them if they need help”. And when asked what he feels is missing for a truly inclusive society, he replies: “Going towards others allows you to change your outlook and get to know yourself better. Reaching out to what is different from oneself is the most enriching thing, at all levels”.
Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.