July 28, 2017
John D. Kemp
Author Robert Fulghum’s bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten made a compelling case that life’s most important lessons are best learned through the eyes of a child. It could also be argued that his notion applies not only to individuals, but also to businesses.
Kindergarten—home to energetic, wide-eyed five-year-olds with open minds, vivid imaginations, and a zest for life—is a true think tank for the ideals needed to transform any workplace into an inclusive one. It’s a classic symbiotic community made up of children working together for the benefit of the whole group.
Kindergarteners possess the basic characteristics needed in today’s workforce to create diverse, inclusive settings that whole-heartedly welcome all people.
Kindergarteners don’t focus on differences. They just see people—not their age, gender, ethnicity or disability. Employers should similarly focus foremost on the talent and diversity people with disabilities bring to the team.
Kindergarteners have keen insight into human behavior. They sense emotion and fearlessly act accordingly. As people with disabilities, our emotional intelligence allows us to quickly access and understand others, manage frustrations and put things in perspective—attributes smart employers recognize and value.
Kindergarteners are aware of the changing world around them and adapt. If something doesn’t “fit in the box,” they are quick to adjust, learn new ways to approach it, or simply change the rules. Employers can and should do this, too. Creating accessible workplaces is often easier than one thinks.
Kindergarteners are naturally inquisitive and resourceful. This is easily seen through their endless “but why?” questions and their sharp negotiating skills. People with disabilities are inherent problem solvers. We have to be. We’re naturals at finding a way to work around and through challenges. What workplace couldn’t benefit from that form of thinking?
Most of all, kindergarteners teach by example. Watch them—they find a way to include everyone.
I grew up in and attended kindergarten in Bismarck, North Dakota, where winters were typified by single-digit temperatures, 50 inches of snow, and seemingly endless dark days. I saw daily how these winters bred a community culture built on helping one another and inclusivity. My use of four prostheses may not have made me the best player on the baseball team, but I was happily and naturally included.
Inclusion works in communities—and it works in the workplace. Act on the wisdom of youngsters. Build an inclusive workforce, one where we can all achieve our corporate and human goals.
John D. Kemp
President & CEO, The Viscardi Center
John is a renowned figure in the disability rights movement who has received international recognition for his leadership in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds. As a person with a disability who uses four prostheses, he hopes to inspire others to achieve the impossible.