Craig J. Hansen

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Encounter Difference


“Great to have you all here, our core group of managers and directors,” says the vice president.
Around the long rectangular table, the mostly men and a few women look back blankly.

“I have with us today Mary Miller from HR. As part of our diversity initiative, every quarter we hold a program where you can encounter difference. Remember last August when we ate tacos and tortillas? That was fun.”

The faces around the table are still mostly blank, although a couple of them nod. 

“Mary is here to introduce us to a different kind of difference. We are going to see what difference it makes to be visually different or, as we commonly say, blind.  Mary?”

“Thanks, Bob. I am very glad to be here today. I bet most of you didn’t know that we have three employees at our site who are either blind or have limited vision.”

“I saw a guy stumble on the steps in the parking ramp,” says one of the men.

“What would a blind person be doing in the parking ramp, parking his car?” says another and they all chuckle.

“Thanks,” says Mary, with a bright smile, “it’s great to share positive stories about diversity.

Bob interjects, “That reminds me. All this diversity is just the devil to understand. It’s like the blind man and the elephant. One guy thinks he’s touching the tree trunk, and this other blind man thinks he is holding a rope. And then this other guy has the trunk, and well, maybe he thinks it’s a vacuum cleaner. So none of these blind guys get the big picture, and as management, we need the big diversity picture.”

Then Mary says, “Thanks, Bob.  I have a special treat for you today. We are bringing in Lucinda, from Marketing Support. Lucinda is, as I understand it, pretty much blind and she will be here with her guide dog, Lumpy. She will lead us through a blind encounter exercise. Sharon, Lucinda is just outside, could you step out and bring her in?”

“Let’s say hello to Lucinda,” says the vice president as Lucinda enters the door, guided by a black Labrador retriever.

“Hello,” they all say.

“Hello,” says Lucinda.

Mary picks up a box. “What I have here are special, well, sunglasses I guess you would say. They fit tight around your eyes and do not let in any light. For you science nerds, you know that without light, you can’t see!”

The faces around the table look back doubtfully. 

“Sharon, could you give a pair of glasses to everyone?” says Mary.

“Even Bob?” says Sharon.

“Sure, what the heck,” says Bob. “It will be just like being in a cave.”

One of the men says, “I don’t like caves.”

“You’ll be fine,” says Mary, “the claustrophobia should pass quickly. Lucinda, can you introduce the exercise?”

Lucinda stands a bit askew from the rectangle and Mary gently positions her so that she faces the managers and directors.

“Well, okay,” says Lucinda, “so, put on those glasses and then we’ll do a couple of things.”

They all put on their glasses. Most examine them first and one woman carefully wipes off the nosepiece before she fits it on her face.

“Is everyone blind?” asks Mary.

“Now, no cheating everyone,” says Bob. He is tipping his glasses up to look at his phone.

“OK, so,” says Lucinda, “this is going to be, like, like you all came to a meeting and you are vision impaired or blind, like it is with those glasses. So, let’s call this meeting to order, or whatever it is that you say. This meeting,” Lucinda continues, “is about your budget for next year, so this is, like, an important meeting and you are here representing your unit.”

A couple of the people nod and several fiddle with their glasses. 

Sharon passes out sheets of paper. “So, check out this report. Any questions about your budget for next year?” says Lucinda.

One man clears his throat. “Well, as you know, we can’t see, so we can’t read the report,” he says.

“What?” Lucinda asks. “Didn’t you get this in advance in an accessible format? Don’t you have it on your tablet or phone or something?”

“No,” says a woman. “Were we supposed to?”

“That is a company policy, and also federal and state law,” says Lucinda. “And I’m sure you all comply with it. I bet every time you send out a memo or a report or whatever it is you send, I bet you have an accessible copy distributed, right?”

The people around the table shift in their seats, and a couple of them look annoyed.

“Now, those people on this side of the table, you can take off your glasses and read the report,” says Lucinda.  People all around the room start to take off their glasses.

“No, only this side,” says Lucinda.

“Which side?” asks someone.

“What side do you mean?” asks someone else.

“The left side,” says Lucinda.

“Your left or our left?” says another.

A couple of the people start to take off their glasses.

“My left,” says Lucinda. 

Nobody makes a move.

“It’s hard to figure this out without a reference point, isn’t it?  Let’s just say, instead, that all the women can take off their glasses. Everyone else, leave them on,” says Lucinda.

The women comply. Two of them squint and one of them massages the bridge of her nose. “I have a headache,” she says.

“So, like, check out the report,” says Lucinda.

There is a moment of silence, then one of the women looks up and says, “Bob, are these real numbers?”

“Maybe,” says Bob.

Another woman says, “Ed, you got cut like hugely,” and she chuckles.

“To make this all easier,” says Lucinda, “I have this on a slide so, Sharon or someone, can you put this up on the screen?” All of the people wearing the glasses tilt their heads in the direction of the screen.

“So,” says Lucinda, “here is an interesting number. $2,153,274. And here is an even more interesting number. $12,987,013.”

“What are you talking about?” someone asks.

“The report,” says Lucinda.

“Hey, come on guys, stop cheating,” says Bob.  A couple of them take their hands off their glasses.

“Can your dog help you with reports?” asks someone. “I know they are super trained and really smart. My dog could never do that.”

“My dog would be jumping all over the room,” says another person.

“So would mine. And farting. I have a basset hound, and he is always gassy,” says a man, laughing.

“Can we pet your dog when we’re done with all of this?” asks a woman. “I know it’s a service dog and all that, but it’s just the people in the room and we all know each other, so it’s not like we are a bunch of strangers or something.”

“No,” says Lucinda, “no petting Lumpy.”

“So, how do you find your way around? The dog does that for you, right?” Mary says.

“Well, not quite.  Unless it’s someplace we go a lot, Lumpy has no idea where we are going. Lumpy can keep me from falling down that open stairwell on the third floor and avoid some of the other traps you set for blind people,” Lucinda says. “He can navigate to places we go all the time, but otherwise, I have to keep it all in my head. He can’t help me find an office that I have not been to.  Or help me find the freaking women’s restroom in building G. Or figure out what is under the sneeze shield in the cafeteria.” Lucinda’s voice rises.  “Or help me get the equipment I need to do my job, like from HR…”

“Okay,” says Bob, “I think that about wraps it up. Great to have you here, Lucinda, but now we have some real work to do, right guys?”

“Now, can I pet your dog?” asks someone.

“Great, and thanks Lucinda,” says Mary, “If all works out, next quarter we’ll have a real Indian here with us and we can hear about life on the Rez. So put those glasses back in the box and let’s fill out these evaluations when you have a chance. Lucinda, there’s some coffee and rolls over there. Help yourself. No, not over there. Over there!”

Photo by Michael Fousert | Unsplash