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Yves Veulliet – Global Disability & Inclusion Program Manager (IBM) – May 2014

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“I would like to share with you a part of my personal journey and the intimate connection that exists between the private and professional experiences of an individual.

On the 12th of July 1987 at noon I was part of the comfortable majority of the population.  I was a 21-year-old guy in good shape enjoying riding his motorcycle.  On the 12th of July 1987 at 10 past noon, I had brutally left this normal world to enter a different world.  There were gravels on the road and the back wheel of my motorcycle slipped on them and I fell into a gulley four meters lower.  I hurt my back and damaged my spinal cord.  Ever since this moment I’ve lost the ability to walk.

This was an unexpected, brutal experience with a life-long implication that you can imagine. I spent eight months in a rehabilitation clinic where I learned how to adapt to a new life, how to cope with a low level of accessibility of the public spaces in Belgium, the country where I live.  When something terrible happens to you or to somebody who is close to your heart, you will go through the same sequence of different emotions: denial- anger – depression,..  Yet the intensity and the duration of these different kinds of emotions will vary from one individual to another.

It’s very difficult for the people around you because this emotional journey is not a one way journey.  If you have some health issues for instance, you can never gauge between depression and anger back and forth.  This is quite disturbing for your relatives, your friends, your parents, etc. because they don’t understand. One day you look fine and the other day you look so sad.  They don’t know what they can do, they feel powerless. This is also true that some people may get stuck in the depression stage for the rest of their life.  However, after a certain period of time most of us realise that it doesn’t matter you’ve lost many of the cards Mother Nature gave you when you were born.  You still have some in your hands, and that is up to you to play them smartly and as wisely as possible.

After all these set of emotions that you go through then comes a time when you start thinking of your role in society and how you would like to contribute to the society in which you live.  It’s just a matter of choice.  It’s like shall I practise sports intensively?  Shall I try and find a job?  Shall I stay home? I took the decision to take part actively in society by finding a job.  When this road accident occurred, I was studying to be a teacher of History and French literature.  But, due to the very low level of accessibility of schools and universities, I could not continue to study in a traditional way.  I therefore started to explore the world of work with my Resume as thin as a razor blade!

I was lucky enough that I could start my professional career in school in Brussels, where I was in charge of transforming the paper administration into a more computerised administration. Then after some years, I decided to explore new working experiences and started sending out an updated and thicker CV, including a real working experience. I mention my disability in my CV.  In my view, if you don’t do that, the message that you send to the recruiters is that you’re not at ease with who or what you are.  Of course, most of the doors remained closed.  However, one or two slightly opened, and one of them was IBM, back in 1992.

After having held different positions in the business, my mission today, as part of the Diversity organization at Global level is to manage and seek ways to improve IBM’s existing programmes as well as identifying existing inhibitors to a successful work experience for my colleagues and employees with disabilities. IBM’s commitment to diversity has always been at the core of our business and IBM has a long history when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion. On the disability side, IBM hired its first employee with a disability in… 1914!

I’m often invited to conferences to speak about IBM’s policies to facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.  There’s always one question in the back of the minds of the CEO or HR leader that most of the time listen to me very politely, which is the following – “Why should I have to hire a person with a disability to do a job that a person without a disability can do?”  As long as you have not clearly answered this question, you can create the most extraordinary or innovative programmes to support inclusion of people with disabilities, you won’t succeed.  My answer is clear; employers do not need to hire people with disabilities.  They need to hire people having the appropriate skills and talents to help their business thrive in the marketplace. If it turns out that the best person for the job lives with a disability, so be it! The role of the employer in these circumstances is to provide a work environment which is accessible enough for these individuals to be as effective and as productive as anybody else in their role, and to grow their career.

“The mission of any actors in diversity and inclusion in business, regardless of its size or sector activity, must be to create an environment where people from all cultures, all backgrounds, all types of differences feel comfortable being themselves and can fully achieve their potential”
– Yves Veulliet

If you would like to know more about this exciting topic of disability from both a personal and professional perspective,  I am the author of a book in which I explain, through my own experience, the consequences of becoming disabled after an accident, the psychological consequences and the impact on the social and professional life. I also explain how to make other people, including employers, disability confident.”

Yves’ book is available under the title ‘Turning Point – The fall and rise’ at online retailers such as Amazon UK, Amazon US, in both eBook and hard copy formats.

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