Maybe you’ve seen some of the article titles in magazines like Forbes and Inc. about the business case for diversity and the correlation between diversity and innovation. The Business community and the Human Resource community are becoming aware of ‘diversity benefits’ that many of us in the Disability Services community have seen in action for the last couple of decades. Divergent thinking leads to better problem solving. It’s a simple equation but sometimes difficult to illustrate.  There is also a degree of dissonance between our stated desire to be creative or innovative, and our aversion to risk, a dissonance known as creativity bias.

“How can disability possibly lead to innovation?” skeptics might ask. There are a number of responses to this question but the answer might be better watched in action than read, so I’m going to take some liberties with a wonderful historical drama called ‘Vikings.’ In one of the most recent episodes, the sons of Viking King Ragnar Lothbrook, invade England seeking revenge for the execution of their father. One of the sons, Ivar (also known as Ivar the Boneless), has been paraplegic since birth. Ivar is an actual historical figure and is documented as having led this invasion in 865 AD.

Ivar gets around by walking with his hands and dragging his lower body behind him. A lifetime of adaptive ambulation has taught Ivar that landscape can be used to one’s advantage. In this episode, that diversity of experience (due to disability) leads Ivar to question how the large English army they are about to face should be engaged, and what advantages might be found in the topography of the battlefield. The discussion between Ivar and his brother occurs at the 1:20 minute mark below:

The actual battle scene where these advantages are exploited can be found here.

People with disabilities have been solving problems their whole lives, problems the rest of us haven’t even had to think about. That lifelong experience with problem solving represents diversity of experience and increased potential for divergent thinking. This is the strength in disability; if your business isn’t leveraging these advantages you risk competing against those who do.

Sean McEwen

Program Manager at Calgary Alternative Employment Services
Sean is the Program Manager of Calgary Alternative Employment Services and has also chaired provincial and national boards dedicated to the promotion of workforce inclusion for people with barriers. For the past 16 years he has occupied multiple roles while engaged in the development and management of programs and initiatives to facilitate increased workforce inclusion for people with barriers to employment. Sean is passionate about continuing to learn from other professionals, the business community and job-seekers in order to improve employment inclusion for the people we serve.
Sean McEwen