The Christmas lights folks hang up in their house at this time of year are wonderful and take me back to when I was young, anticipating the arrival of Old St. Nick. As a disabled wheelchair user, however, it used to bother me that I was not able to hang up Christmas lights at my house…that is until I started thinking outside the box.
Often times we use the “think outside the box” phrase rather loosely. But for a person who has a disability, that phrase is actually a rule of life. For instance, a disabled person may need to use extra planning or problem solving skills to get to work every day. Even picking something up off the floor requires a little bit of planning! This may seem a very simple thing to most, but the fact remains that in performing these tasks, a disabled person must think “outside the box”.
That same line of thinking can be extended to the way a person with a disability might perform tasks at work. He or she will complete the task, but perhaps differently with the use of Adaptive Technology, or with some other reasonable accommodation that typically costs less than $600.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Office, “On a daily basis, people with disabilities must think creatively about how to solve problems and accomplish tasks. In the workplace this translates into innovative thinking, fresh ideas and varied approaches confronting challenges and achieving success.” (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012)
Because people with a disability usually perform tasks differently, they generally are free from the problem of Functional Fixedness. This problem is defined as the cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used. Most times, seeing things from another vantage point increases the ability to see the whole picture, as opposed to not being able to see the forest for the trees.
You now may be asking, “How can I begin to think outside the box?” I’m glad you asked. The following are some steps to do so:
• In a debate or conversation, defend the side you disagree with
• Brush your teeth with the opposite hand you usually use
• Practice writing with your non-dominant hand
• Drive a different way to work
• Change your work schedule (i.e., do filing early in the morning instead of in the afternoon, or vice versa)
• Write a blog
With practice you will begin to see things a little differently…or at least from another perspective. You will open yourself up to other possibilities, as well as become stronger and more flexible to handle tasks that come your way.
And by the way, to solve the Christmas lights problem, I went to the local hardware store and purchased kitchen cabinet wood trim. I stapled Christmas lights to the trim work and set them inside the interior windows of my house. Problem solved.
David Spears is a member of the Workforce Solutions Navigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.