A day in life of disability, FT offices

Why disabled people like me give up on careers (In the FT recently, Niamh Ni Hoireabhaird wrote, it gained her a visit to the Prime Minister's office - demonstrating the platform the FT can give you.):

“…When I was 13, I was diagnosed with a rare, progressive neuromuscular condition called Friedreich’s ataxia. My condition means I find it hard to balance and my energy is low, so for the past two years I have relied on a wheelchair. My cognitive ability and aspirations of a career remain intact, despite the obstacles. In England and Wales nearly one in five people has some sort of disability, so the chances are you know somebody in my position — whether their condition is visible or not. So why do so few of us make it through mainstream education and into the world of work? Now I am 21, my attention should be focused on my degree in French and Italian, and my summer internship in London at the Financial Times. Yet, I am struggling with the practical and administrative problems that go with being disabled. Each day brings low-level difficulties that add up to an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and defeat. It’s no wonder so many of us give up on our ambitions….” The article is behind the paywall, but I can send you a copy if you ask nicely or there are free articles available.

It highlights the daily problems of disability, where the world is set up for typicals. This chimes with this blog from an ASD person (see here on how hard the day can be)


Thoughts from Autist living in a neurotypical world

A thoughtful blog about how one autistic person (E Price) functions in a neurotypical world. It’s a 15 min read about various aspects of their life and gives a tiny glimpse into the compromises needed.

It starts:

“I’m an Autistic person with a pretty put-together looking life. I always make rent. I have money socked away in savings and investments. I juggle several teaching jobs and do statistical and methodological consulting work. I sometimes find time to write. I have a social life. Except for the occasional noticeable chest crumbs, I present as clean and well-dressed. I manage my stress. I sleep. I eat.

I don’t think I strike the average person as disabled at all. I get work done on time. I show up to things I say I’ll show up to. I don’t show much distress in public. I rarely ask for help. Because psychological disorders are often viewed through a lens of impairment, people might call into question whether I am neuroatypical at all.

Viewing disabilities — and mental disorders — through a lens of impaired functioning is very flawed. The fact that I am functioning does not mean I’m not impaired, or that functioning is not hard. That I can survive, day by day, does not mean that I am thriving, or that my life is as easy as it is for a neurotypical person. And the aspects of my life that are impaired are rarely visible to an outside eye.

We often don’t see a person at their lowest moments — when they are crying and nonverbal, or engaging in self harm, or refusing to eat, or isolating from everyone they love. We can’t always tell if someone is struggling to make it through the work day, or if their sleep and exercise habits have been disrupted. And we don’t know, from the outside, what a person has been forced to sacrifice in order to live a seemingly “functional life”.

A lot of us “function” because we have to.

A lot of disabled or mentally ill people are able to work a job, pay rent, and get by through an elaborate system of compromise and sacrifice. We may have abandoned career paths that were too demanding of our mental energy, or lost relationships that were too socially or emotionally taxing. ...”

“Even with all the immense, unfair advantages that life has given me, life as a neuroatypical person is hard. There are many careers paths I could never successfully follow, and workplaces I could never inhabit. Frustratingly, this is not due to a lack of interest, motivation, or skill, but because I’m not good at existing in a milieu where small talk, meetings, ambient noise, and social politics are abundant.”

A thoughtful read check it out here from E Price.

Running Effective Meetings

I had an awkward moment at a moderately important board type meeting recently. At 11am (as I had written to everyone beforehand more than once) I said I had to leave. The meeting had run 2 hours which was the agenda time allotted. The Chair asked where I was going? As if to say "isn't this meeting the most important matter in the world?"  I replied "to an event I had committed to several weeks ago, to which I had told you" and promptly left.


There are many types of meeting and different types of effectiveness. I now Chair and have chaired several types of these semi-formal to formal decision making and oversight meetings and have some thoughts on making them effective.  They are of a different timbre to creative meetings and confusing the type of meetings I see leads oft times to ineffectivness.


Making these meetings efficient and productive takes preperation time. 


Ideally the chair needs to work the CEO or other key decision makers in the meeting to ensure the agenda points and clear and prioritised.


Once the points to raise, discuss and decide upon are known. The Chair needs to carefully allot or review the alloted time for those agenda points.   This is a crucial skill.  Too little time will mean the meeting will not run well.


At this point, you need to decide if there is then too much in the agenda and adjust accordingly.


This (1)  time setting (2) priority setting and then (3) agenda adjustment are 3 crucial areas the chair should resolve.


Appropriate papers then need to be sent with enough time in advance for people to read (although I will note another a completely different type of meeting which will not use advance papers - this meeting has members read papers all together and make a decision with the same knowledge base).


If the meeting members are not reading the papers in advance, you need to tell them and then potentially remove them from the board/commitee if they do not have the time to commit. 


Ensuring board preparedness is an item that you should have assessed on a regular basis. As is  self evaluation and skills audit if this is a formal board and meeting structure.


At the meeting, you need to be deadly efficient at keeping the time alloted correct yet allowing enough debate to flow.   This is where member prep and time allowance come together.  Members unprepared can take time up with unnecessary clarifications.


Still in your quest for effectiveness you must not abandon intriguing points and useful ideas.  However, when these interesting points arise but not directly relevant to the topic you need to capture them and park them.


If seen this called a nugget harvesting or the parking lot system. 


Note the idea nugget. State you are closing this nugget topic but noting it down to be followed up appropriately.  Putting it in the parking lot.


If a decision is needed to be made.  The decision maker needs to make it.  It might not be the chair but you have to make sure the decision is made.


There may be a case for delaying the decision due to a lack of information.  However in a well run meeting all the appropriate papers should been prepared.


You will never have 100 percent of the information.  Making decisions under uncertainty will be a mark of the quality of your decision maker.   Having all the information prepared will be a mark of the strength of your team and also the strength of your oversight.


Keeping to time. Ensuring decisions are made. Action points are noted.  Good ideas go into the parking lot for follow up.


Allowing members to leave on time is another mark of an effective meeting.


The chairs job is not finished here. The chair should follow up effectively on parking lot ideas, also with the CEO or specific board members or presenters on any points or decisions that need to be made.


Putting it all together you have:

-Effective preparedness

-Time Management

-Make decisions

-Save good ideas

-Follow up

More thoughts: My Financial Times opinion article on long-term investing and how to engage with companies.

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.

If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try:  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Or Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.

A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.

Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here.