Moving Unconscious Bias From “I Can’t” To “I CAN!”

Just because you can’t envision yourself doing something doesn’t mean that someone else can’t do it.
— Hellen Asproloupos, Scotiabank

Those were some words of wisdom shared with me recently during the launch of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion’s “Don’t Let A Barrier Be A Bully” campaign.

While my conversation with Hellen began centered around the subject of diversity and inclusion, it quickly migrated to the subject of unconscious bias. As founder of the Sledge Hockey Experience, one of our primary objectives is to help change people’s perspectives from “I can’t” to “I can” and to understand role that unconscious bias might play in the development of this perspective in your workplace.

The Sledge Hockey Experience team has encountered numerous experiences where attendees of the program arrive at the hockey arena thinking “I have no idea how to play this sport. I’m not athletic, and I’m going to suck at this.” It’s possible they are even wondering whether they are going to have a good time.

Here, Hellen’s words seem so appropriate because I often tell participants something similar -that is:  “Just because you can’t envision yourself doing something doesn’t mean that you can’t, that you won’t be able to, or that others around you won’t help lift you up and support you through the process. Inevitably, what always ends up happening is that your perception around people with disabilities will shift and your perspective will change".

 Here, Kris Dutkiewicz, the lead role next to Kevin Rempel at the Sledge Hockey Experience helps Alex Luey, a cancer survivor get into his sled at the Niagara Sport Commission’s community based event

Here, Kris Dutkiewicz, the lead role next to Kevin Rempel at the Sledge Hockey Experience helps Alex Luey, a cancer survivor get into his sled at the Niagara Sport Commission’s community based event

Reasons why include:

  • You are actively participating with people who have disabilities. I hire my friends from the sledge hockey community who live in wheelchairs or might walk with a prosthetic leg or something more. These people are our amazing staff and they will show you first hand how to live life without limitations.

  • You are going to fall down and you might even “suck,” but you will also learn patience and resilience and how to get stronger because everyone around you is doing the same thing. Whether you have a disability or not, it takes the same mental attitude and courage to pick yourself back up when you fall down. Resilience is necessary in life.

  • Playing sledge hockey, you will fully experience first hand what life can be like “with” limitations… and then realize that even “with those limitations” people like myself and my teammates (who are all around you) can (and will!) “school” you on the ice.

In other words, disability or not, the only limitations in life are those we put on ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.

Being involved in the Sledge Hockey Experience asks you hard questions like:

  • Where do you have an unconscious bias towards yourself, towards others, or towards those people with disabilities?

  • How can you become more aware of this in your corporate environment, and how could that awareness then benefit both yourself and others around you?

  • With the knowledge and self-awareness gained, how can you then affect change in your corporate office?

Take this scenario: You are going into an interview for a new job with the hiring manager and this person asks you two questions (Assuming this new role is slightly outside of your scope of expertise, ability and comfort zone.)

The hiring manager asks, “Have you done this type of work before?” and “If not, how would you handle it?”

Does your gut reaction tell you to say “No” and possibly back down from the position, or do you think about accepting the challenge with the belief that you can do it and that you’ll figure things out if given the chance?

If you’re the hiring manager what are your thoughts on giving the job to someone “unproven?”

The reality is just because maybe you can’t see yourself fulfilling the role, or because the last person in the position couldn’t complete the tasks, doesn’t mean that this new potential candidate can’t do it.

What’s important here is that we each shift our thinking from “I can’t” to “I can.”

 As a sledge hockey participant you will fall down, and at first it may seem difficult. However, this is part of the process we all must go through in order to develop resilience in our lives.

As a sledge hockey participant you will fall down, and at first it may seem difficult. However, this is part of the process we all must go through in order to develop resilience in our lives.

Perhaps your perception is that someone in a wheelchair cannot be strong and resilient.  Your perception is framed that way because you personally can’t envision yourself being strong and resilient if you had to live your life in a wheelchair. That doesn’t mean however, that someone else, living in a wheelchair, is like that. Just because you may think you wouldn’t have the willpower to learn new skills and adapt to your new reality doesn’t mean other persons with disabilities aren’t ready, willing, and able to take on these challenges.

According to a recent employer survey, conducted by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, when asked the question “In your opinion, why are other businesses that you know of not hiring people with disabilities? The top answers were:

  • Fear of the unknown, or stigma. (71%)

  • Unaware of supports available like CCRW. (51%)

  • Lack of awareness of the level of skills a person with a disability has, or a belief in a lack of talent - no way a person with a disability can do the job. (71%)

What if we could help you shift that perception? How would that change your business, to have a new understanding of people who are living with disabilities? At the Sledge Hockey Experience it is our hope that we do just that. That we help shift and change perceptions about people living with disabilities and you bring that new belief and attitude into the workplace.

At one of our recent events, Ken Lucyshyn, VP of Walker Aggregates, had this to say:  “What you [The Sledge Hockey Experience] did for us is, this experience really brought us together...when I walk through the office now, I’m more mindful that everybody is an individual and what they’re about.”.

Comments like these are what make our job at the Sledge Hockey Experience so great. We aim to help people remove unconsciously bias and remove the doubt around another person’s ability, shifting instead toward conscious confidence that we live in a capable society where all people with disabilities are considered for what they CAN do, rather than for what they CAN’T.

How can you begin to help make a shift from “I can’t.” to “I CAN!”?

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If you’d like to learn more about how Kevin Rempel and the Sledge Hockey Experience can enhance your corporate culture and provide you with a unique team building experience, please visit www.kevinrempel.com or www.playsledgehockey.com.