Whether we like to admit it or not we all make assumptions about people. For example, we make assumptions that the older generation can’t use technology or that people with learning disabilities can’t have jobs or adult relationships. These assumptions are based on prejudices that we have about people that distort our views and create inequality and unfairness in society.
I work for RIX Research & Media. I work with a colleague who has a mild learning disability called Ajay, also known as the Wiki Master. Pre Covid-19, I did not work directly with Ajay. We were work colleagues who knew each other and spoke to each other daily. We often spoke in our mother tongue, Gujarati. I recall when Ajay spoke to me in Gujarati for the first time and how I realised that he was able to express himself much better than in English. So there was one assumption proved wrong – that his use of English, a second language, was an indicator of his cognitive ability.
Ajay runs a weekly workshop in our office with some members of the purpleSTARS, a group that brings together artists and technologists with and without learning difficulties. The group’s aim is to transform museum experiences and make them really inclusive through the use of sensory and digital media. With the outbreak of Covid-19 and remote working enforced, this workshop continued virtually, online. I volunteered to join and co-facilitate these sessions with Ajay.
Over the last several weeks I have been observing Ajay during these sessions. I had what you might call an epiphany during our recent session. Ajay’s capability and skill blew me away. I realised that I was the third wheel in the session! My steer and input was not needed or required. I sat in silence, listened and watched my colleague Ajay with an overwhelming feeling of pride.
I watched and listened as Ajay confidently took control of the session, told the participants what they were going to do, provided detailed instructions and shared his screen to model and generate ideas for the Wiki they were working on. One of the group could not think of content to add so Ajay helped him reflect on meals he had made the previous week. During the session some of them admitted they were a little out of spirits and It was wonderful to watch Ajay motivate, encourage and support them and to witness firsthand how they look up to him.
What I realised in that moment was that Ajay is a very competent and capable person. I realised that with the right support, encouragement and opportunities anyone can flourish, grow and reach their full potential.