Advocating for Ability

Diversity initiatives should include students with disabilities.
Advocating for Ability

DISCUSSIONS ABOUT DIVERSITY often center around issues of race, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation. But another issue often gets lost in the discussion: physical and mental ability. Students who live with disabilities often face special challenges when pursuing higher education, and they should be part of the diversity conversation, emphasizes Christine Pellissié, dean of diversity at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) in France.

That has been the case at GEM, says Pellissié. The school has designed a number of programs to serve the approximately 40 students with disabilities who enroll in its programs each year. For example, it has offered courses in French Sign Language since 2009, and it also supports Sensihandicap, a group of student ambassadors who organize events related to issues faced by those with disabilities. GEM addresses these issues more comprehensively through two larger initiatives:

GEMaccess. This suite of services and initiatives is customized to each student’s requirements, Pellissié explains. As part of this program, the school will help students find housing that accommodates any physical limitations; provide personalized tutors or supervisors to those who do not have complete autonomy; and, when necessary, adapt the timing or mode of course delivery based on a student’s needs.

The school also works with employees who incurred their disabilities during their working lives, offering professional reorientation and guidance to help them adjust effectively and return to work as soon as possible. In this way, says Pellissié, “GEM wants to contribute to companies by meeting the recruitment needs of people with disabilities.”

Finally, GEM is working to make its programs more accessible to those with disabilities through the creation of MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform. Through online education, the school can offer educational opportunities to those who otherwise could not come to campus.

The Management & Disabilities Certificate. Since 2012, GEM has offered this certificate program to train managers to integrate employees with disabilities into the workplace. So far, about 60 students have earned the certification. The program is organized around three activities:

Learning from theory. Participants watch a series of videos based on typical situations encountered by managers.

Learning from experience. Next, they explore their own attitudes about disability by sharing their personal and professional experiences. In addition, students speak directly with those who face unique challenges and work with mentors, who are typically practitioners who have addressed these issues in the workplace.

Learning from reflection. Finally, they write journal entries on what they learn in the course.

The certificate program was created to raise employers’ awareness of both the needs and value of employees with physical and mental limitations. “Managers must become advocates for the professional integration of people with disabilities,” says Pellissié.

At a time when so many business schools have expressed a commitment to embracing diversity, Pellissié hopes that they take similar steps to include physical and mental difference in their initiatives.

“The duty of a business school is to help companies recruit men and women with the ability to think differently and be innovative,” she says. That includes recruiting men and women with disabilities, who often have different strengths, backgrounds, and approaches to problem solving. By serving their needs in business education, she adds, “we are confirming our faith in the idea that difference is the force that drives innovation.”