THINKING DIFFERENTLY ABOUT DISABILITY
How did Caroline Casey and Kanchi change the way the business world saw disability.
Born with ocular albinism – a condition that made her legally blind – Caroline Casey hid her disability until well into her 20s, until her eyesight deteriorated to such an extent that she had no choice but to reveal her condition to her employer. Leaving her post and embarking on a soul-searching journey, she rode 1,000 kilometers across India on an elephant named Kanchi to raise funds for Sight Savers.
Alongside raising plenty of money for charity, she fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming Mowgli from The Jungle Book by doing this! But she also realized that no one should have to hide who they are, and that having a disability did not define who she was as a person.
So, upon her return to Dublin, she began a new adventure. She founded Kanchi, a non-profit organisation that aims to change general attitudes and behaviors towards people with disabilities, by working with business leaders. She believes that business is the greatest catalyst for change, and if we change the way businesses think and behave around disability then society will, naturally, follow. So Caroline developed a set of what she feels are the best practices for businesses to adopt in order for them to begin seeing disabled workers as assets as opposed to liabilities.
Hundreds of companies have adopted the policies, changing their procedures and attitudes. Kanchi’s a vision is that difference should be valued and respected, and it is changing the way that society behaves, in addition to transforming the social landscape for people with disabilities and driving disability up the global agenda. Caroline says “I am determined that disability is no longer seen as a ‘charity’ issue by businesses.
Globally there are 1 billion people with disabilities. There is no longer a place for discrimination in our society. We need to get away from lazy stereotyping and medical views of disability. Our populations are growing and ageing, people are living longer, society and business can no longer afford to ignore this issue”. In 2004, Casey also established the O2 Ability Awards to recognize Irish businesses for their inclusion of people with disabilities, both as employees and customers. The initiative has received international praise and, in 2010, a similar enterprise was launched in Spain. The awards are now being rolled out internationally- they will reach five more countries over the next five years.
Caroline Casey became the first Irish person to be appointed a young global leader of the World Economic Forum. She is also an Ashoka fellow and received an honorary doctorate from National University Ireland.
To learn more about Kanchi and meet some testimonies, read the article previously published in IM Magazine (written by the journalist Rui Pestana and design of Henrique Valente).