Do personal branding and disabilities mix?
A few days ago, I was standing in line at the post office to claim a package. The woman in front of me was at the head of line, waiting patiently for one of the tellers to become available. I remember that she wore sunglasses even though it was overcast.
Just as the teller directly in front of us said goodbye to a man who had paid a bill, another man quickly shuffled over to the teller’s window, cutting ahead of Ms. Sunglasses, myself and everyone behind me.
I wasn’t particularly in a rush, but when I noticed her shaking her head in frustration at the perceived subtle bullying, I spoke up. “Hey, there’s a line here,” I blurted.
The man didn’t react in the least bit but the teller looked around him at me and somewhat sheepishly said that “disabled people don’t need to wait in line.”
And then I turned to Ms. Sunglasses- “well, how are we supposed to know that he’s disabled? It’s not like he’s wearing a sign.” (In hindsight, perhaps he was deaf.)
And that got me thinking.
Most physical disabilities can be discerned (almost) immediately but others might take a conversation to come out, and there are also many non-physical disabilities. How does that affect someone e.g. at a networking event? Does that automatically hurt or help their personal brand?
If you’re disabled, I see three options with regards to personal branding strategy:
1) Reject the disability
Do everything you can – again, from a branding point of view – to hide the disability so that people you meet don’t focus on it, positively or negatively, giving you a fairer shot at comparing yourself with others or more specifically, standing out on your own merits and your merits alone. Especially in today’s online world, this is more possible than ever before.
I’m an asthmatic. When I was in basic training in the Israeli army, the doctors gave me an exemption from all strenuous exercises but I never told my commanders. I wanted to see how I could hold up against everyone else without that excuse for once. It wasn’t easy and it was a bit dangerous but I don’t regret it.
2) Accept the disability
This is the middle-of-the-road approach.
Just be yourself. Don’t flaunt anything, but don’t hide it either. Some people will remember you for who you are, and some people will remember you (also) as that guy/gal with a disability who they met or were impressed by.
Kind of like that guy at the post office.
3) Embrace the disability
Not that the disability should replace your personality, make it a central part of your personality and who you are.
This might sound like the best approach, but it’s the most challenging by far.
Arguably the most famous disabled person alive is Stephen Hawking. He’s brilliant, and would still be so regardless of whether he suffered from a motor neuron disease or not. But the fact that he is so prolific while being so severely disabled has only made his accomplishments all the more impressive.
Another example that I experienced here in Israel is the Na Laga’at (“Please touch” as opposed to “Don’t touch/keep away”) theatre ensemble of deaf/blind actors. Without the disabilities, this would just be another ordinary group of performers, but there’s nothing ordinary about this funny group:
So what do you think: which of the three options is best? Or in which situation?
Do you know or can you recommend anyone that exemplifies your answer?
(Do you find my use of the term “disabled” to be offensive? Do I need to watch my language?)