Shining a light on the invisible – Not all disabilities are visible

Published: 22 Sep 2020

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This eye-opening event was chaired by Heather Connery, CRB Chief of Staff at Willis Towers Watson. In tune with the festival’s theme, the event was focused on the importance of being your authentic self and how other people’s perspective is often the biggest barrier to those with ‘visible and ‘invisible’ disabilities.

Mike Ashton, Managing Director at Willis Towers Watson was the first to share his story of how he became partially paralysed after a road traffic accident in September 2019. With medical professionals warning him that everyday activities such as holding a drink would not be possible, after months of rehab Mike has made a remarkable recovery (assuring us that he can indeed hold a drink).

Next Barbara Schönhofer MBE, founder of Insurance Supper Club (ISC) spoke bravely of the journey she has had with her neurodiverse daughter. Whilst highlighting the challenges that come with living with someone who is ‘differently normal’, Barbara praised her daughter for making her the person she is today, affirming the importance of neurodiversity to the insurance industry.

Senior Director at Willis Towers Watson, Travis Gaertner, then shared his story. Having been born without his lower legs, Travis was forced to adapt from day one. Now a two-time Paralympic gold medallist, he has shown that anything is possible, and he is not stopping there. Now a member of team USA Basketball, Travis is gearing up for the Tokyo Paralympic games (whenever that might be).

Finally, Director of Ergocom and Workright at Home Sue Godby shared her experience of what it is like to be an occupational therapist, working specifically with those with less visible conditions. Sue has made it her life’s work to create a level playing field in the world of work, working closely with employers to help them make allowances for her clients.

What was made extremely apparent during the session was the understanding of ‘difference’ as opposed to disability, and that it is not about what you can’t do but what you can do. The panel highlighted that other people’s perceptions are often the greatest impediment to those with disabilities. It is these perceptions that create false limits.

The global pandemic, which has brought with it new ways of working and a heightened awareness of wellbeing, presents a great opportunity for the insurance sector. As an industry which is fundamentally about protecting others, now is the chance to use differences between people to its advantage. Ultimately, it is those parts of the industry which champion authenticity that best understand other people’s perspective.