“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein.
Einstein was thought of as anything but a genius when he was young. Life for him was like a fish trying to climb a tree. Then he found his lake. Mathematics. His story is not unlike many of our own stories. We of course are not geniuses as Einstein was but we all have a spark of genius our “music within” that we seek to discover and a “lake” that we hope to find.
When I was disabled in Vietnam I was sent home to Portland Oregon. At the time I was very much felt like a fish trying to climb a tree. It was not till years later that I realized that I did not have to search for my lake. I was sent home to it. The Portland/Beaverton area gave me the support and encouragement that I needed to be a part of the early disability rights and inclusion movement in the United States and eventually around the world.
I would like to take this moment to give a “shout out” to the individuals, organizations and employers who provided me with the “lake” I needed to learn to swim.
Portland State. When I was told by the Veterans Administration that my hearing was too damaged to ever become a professional speaker the head of the speech department, Ben Padrow told me “nonsense.” He worked with me for five years to achieve my goal.
Pacific Power & Light. When I was a college student in the 1970s I was working with disabled Vietnam veterans to try to get them jobs. PP&L donated their auditorium to me to conduct free trainings for persons with disabilities in the Portland/Beaverton area on how to find employment and be successful on the job.
When I was unexpectedly invited to Washington DC to attend the President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities I was a student and had no money to attend. PP&L raised funds and paid my way so I could learn and return and help persons with disabilities in our community.
U.S. National Bank of Oregon. When I was a student and had an untested idea to develop a supervisor training to change attitudes towards the hiring and development of employees with disabilities. U.S. bank offered to “donate 200 supervisors for me to “practice” on and help develop the program. That program eventually became the “Windmills” Changing the Perception of Abilities employer training that is not the international standard for diversity training for persons with disabilities.
Tektronix, Beaverton Oregon. One of the first employers to use and support the Windmills program. One of the undisputed leaders in diversity, inclusion for all their employees. They were one of the first national employers to train their supervisors in disability awareness.
“The California Governors Committee on Employment of the Handicapped” In 1979 they funded a nationwide search to identify the most effective and innovative ideas to change employer attitudes toward the hiring and promoting of persons with disabilities. They identified Portland/Beaverton area as the leader in the country. They funded Oregon’s model internationally.
Art Honeyman. A Portland State student, a disability activist, poet and a staple at the “Saturday Market” in Portland. He taught me that there was more to disability than my own challenges. He became a friend and mentor for life.
THE PORTLAND/BEAVERTON METRO AREA. The seeds of the disability inclusion movement are not associated with the Portland Beaverton area simply because I lived there. It is because the area lived in me. Its values, its support, its philosophy and its standards became my lake. Without it I might still be trying to climb that tree.
Your company can be someone’s lake, the environment where your employees will find and in return give meaning. On October 19th I am coming home. I may have left our home many years ago but our home has never left me.