Finding the Ability in Disability: Diversity Awareness in School and the Workplace

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When you first consider diversity, individuals with disabilities don’t necessarily come to mind. Yet the United States is home to more than 40 million people living with disabilities, making them the country’s largest minority. These individuals face challenges every day at home, in school, and in the workplace, and many of those challenges – from isolation to depression – can be combatted simply by taking a closer look at the way in which we interact with one another.

At Daniel’s Music Foundation, the Diversity Awareness through Music Initiative uses the universal language of music to build a bridge between individuals with disabilities and the general public through storytelling, engaging conversation, videos, and music.

“We may be using disability as a lens for diversity,” says DMF Marketing & Diversity Awareness Director Carla Sullivan. “But our message resonates with everyone: to really just be kind and get to know people and understand their challenges.”

The result is a mindset of understanding, mutual respect, and appreciation. Rather than using labels or unintentionally putting people into boxes, diversity awareness teaches us to recognize individuality and embrace unique character traits. In that way, we begin to explore our differences, build respect for one another, and nurture healthy relationships.

“It’s important to learn about a certain disability, as it helps give an understanding for some of the characteristics that someone may possess,” says Daniel’s father, DMF Co-founder Ken Trush. “But we believe it is more important to just call someone by their name, as everyone is an individual.”

“And we find that when people have the opportunity to celebrate the joy of music together,” adds Carla. “the differences seem to disappear.” 

In schools, the impact on children as young as three has been indescribable, as they are naturally inquisitive. So, as they grow older and have more opportunities to interact with people with disabilities, we have given them the foundation to be aware of how they treat others.

And the effects on adults have been even more profound. During their lifetime, they may have unintentionally let out a sigh when a person in a wheelchair boards a bus, or absentmindedly steered a child away from a disabled individual in the street, and may not recognize the impact of their actions until they hear Daniel’s story or engage with others in the program.

“Every presentation, every conversation, every opportunity we have to get out there, our goal is to just make one person think differently,” says Carla. “We feel confident that if we do that every time, that we will change the world in some small way.”