Inclusive intent... An interview with Wael Alamri
A conversation with Wael Alamri, Program Lead for Disability Inclusion at the Women Development and Diversity Division.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia announced it was preparing a national strategy of 23 initiatives to ensure proper education and job opportunities are available for people with disabilities (PwD). This was met as an opportunity to develop a program on disability inclusion at Saudi Aramco. Wael Alamri leads the Ready and Able: Including People with Disability program, and he believes inclusion results in a safer community.
Value of inclusion
“I believe it’s important that people understand how to interact with PwD, and how to respond to their needs. This program raises awareness on matters relating to PwD in the workplace, yet most of the information is applicable within communities and personal lives, too,” said Alamri.
“Attitude is the first step to creating that inclusive environment. People shouldn’t be defined by their disabilities. There is a huge pool of talent that companies are missing out on simply because of the lack of understanding about what PwD can do and achieve.”
The Ready and Able program, open to everyone at Saudi Aramco, talks about many types of disability and encourages attendees to be comfortable asking questions.
“It’s a safe environment, it’s ok to ask questions about disability,” says Alamri, “because it is still something that people find sensitive to talk about.” Understanding the importance of inclusion in the workplace, increasing awareness of related issues, and helping attendees communicate more effectively across differences are key topics. “Language is important. This the reason we say ‘people with disabilities.’ They are people and it so happens that they have a disability. It’s the first step to promoting inclusive behavior,” he said.
What you don’t see
There is a tendency for people to think almost exclusively of PwD as having a physical disability. “This is one of the misconceptions about disability,” says Alamri, “that it’s always a person in a wheelchair. Many people are. However, PwD include all types of disabilities – we are talking about physical, mental, and behavioral disabilities.“
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) defines disability as any condition that hinders a person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others, be that through attitudinal or environmental barriers. Alamri clarified that, “someone with a chronic disease, like a heart condition, is considered a PwD. Autism, depression, blindness are other conditions that are the same.”
In addition to interpersonal inclusivity, practical challenges confront PwD in the workplace. A colleague may plan to attend a meeting in a different building only to find stairs their wheelchair cannot climb. “There are things that the nondisabled take for granted or do without thinking that present additional challenges to PwD. Accessibility is a major one. We want to make sure that all work locations are accessible and have the needed equipment for PwD.”
The globally recognized Universal Accessibility Code provides the technical specifications to ensure accessible toilets, restaurants, public buildings, and any other needed structural characteristics are available to provide access for all. “The code is often thought of as being only for people with disabilities,” says Alamri, “but actually it’s not. It’s about anyone being able to access a building with the least physical effort. When a building is accessible, it’s inclusive for everyone.”
There is room for improvement, but Alamri believes we are on the right track. “I see people ready for change. I see the younger generation in Saudi Arabia expecting companies to be more diverse. PwD are now considered contributors to the community, which wasn’t the case before.”
The Ready and Able program has already received hugely positive feedback, and one reason for this success is the open and supported discussions taking place. Being able to ask questions without fear of causing offence, and also hearing the experiences of PwD has been a positive step. “I think because I had personal stories, people felt like ‘ok, we can relate to this’. I don’t normally talk about my disability
as I am very comfortable with it, but in the workshops, it does help people if they see and hear about real examples,” said Alamri.
“My disability is Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), and it causes limitation to joint movements. I can walk, but it does affect the way that I walk, sit, and bend. I’m a person who, at one time, could not put socks on by myself. I had to think about how to make this an easier process. It was a struggle, until someone sent me a website link to a very simple device. I bought it, and since then my life’s been much easier. I became 100% independent.”
It’s examples like these that highlight the seemingly simple actions most don’t have to think about, but are situations that PwD have to plan for.
Part of workplace inclusivity is understanding that PwD are no different in their work role than anyone else. “It’s not just about having a job, it’s about having a job that is satisfying and fulfilling; being able to use your skills, education, and training, and seeing advancement opportunities, learning opportunities, and promotion opportunities. Just like any other employee,” said Alamri with a smile.
Safety for all
He notes that if we ensure buildings and facilities are built to accommodate PwD, not only do we create a safer environment for them, but inherently a safer environment for everyone. PwD have to be safety focused, because others may not be, and that could cause individuals to get hurt. “I consider safety in everything I do. I make sure that I don’t do anything that might cause harm, and this is true for anyone with a disability.”