A story about a class photo that I read this week tuned me into how crucial it is to cater to the unique needs of people—and not hand out cookie-cutter solutions.
It was an article on Yahoo! about Miles, a 2nd grader in a wheelchair who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
When the class portrait was sent home to his mother, she was mortified. Look at the photo above. You probably already noticed the issue at first glance, but as the article reads:
“Miles knows he’s different than the rest of the kids, but he still tries to fit in. So there he is, on the far side of the image, neck craning as far as he can to stretch into the frame with the rest of his friends. He’s beaming. It’s school picture day and he’s thrilled.
But the photo still broke [his mother’s] heart. The photo was a clear example of how set apart her son is from society. Instead of a big group hug photo with Miles at the center, and classmates and teachers all around, a fully inclusive image, he was stuffed off to the side, some 3 feet away. An after thought, it seems.”
If the photographer would have just gotten out of his or her “template” state of mind, the mistake would have been avoided. How hard would it have been to change the arrangement of the students so that Miles would not look like the oddball?
It’s this “cookie-cutter” mindset that makes some employees feel like outsiders, which can lead to them disengaging from the company or leaving altogether.
You’re going to work and interact with different kinds of people in your lifetime—all kinds of races, ages, personalities, backgrounds, and experiences—but you can’t think that one standard treatment will relate to all of them.
Maybe the introvert won’t do well at company parties, but will strive at a one-on-one lunch. Maybe a brainstorming meeting won’t spark conversation as well as a suggestion box will for some in your organization.
Yes, you need to push people outside of their comfort zones sometimes, but there’s a difference between helping an individual develop and inhibiting growth by not knowing the individual’s limits.
Okay… back to Miles. His parents voiced their concerns about the picture (and the story made national headlines), so the class portrait was retaken; and Miles fit in great with the other students.
All it takes is a little bit of consideration to each situation you encounter to make a big impact on every member in your organization.
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources
I’m so glad you covered this incident and related it to ecologies of work. I have a special needs child and these scenes break my heart and fuel my internal furnace for justice.
Obviously this was not about making him feel unwanted or discriminated against. It was that no one stopped to “think” that something just doesn’t feel, look, sound, etc right.
Yet, that’s the way school pictures have posed for centuries, so who are they to challenge tradition? Whether its a school pic, or cooperating with your staff at work, it’s everyone’s moral obligation to set the scene right!
Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience about the situation and for reposting it on your blog site! It’s always good to hear from other “16%” thinkers.
You are welcome and God bless you guys for preaching the positive word.
[…] earlier and it absolutely broke my heart. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the16percent, and as always they did a great job incorporating this event into positive teaching moment. […]