Breaking down barriers through education and awareness

Monica Radu serves as an Ambassador for the Romanian Diversity Charter while working as an IT Analyst at Groupe Société Générale. Being a wheelchair user for 25 years and a person with a disability, she enjoys sharing her experiences and observations. Her aim is to enhance awareness and understanding of the challenges associated with the professional journey of individuals with disabilities.

Monica, what does it mean for you to live a good life?

In my pursuit of beauty, I have found that building meaningful relationships with others is essential. It allows me to connect with different perspectives and to learn from the experiences of others. It also gives me a sense of community and belonging, which is important for my overall well-being.

Ultimately, I believe that living a good life is about finding a balance between our individual pursuits and our connections with others. It is about cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning, while also finding joy and fulfillment in the everyday moments of life.

In the editorial you wrote for us three years ago, you called yourself “A little alien in Bucharest”. Do you still feel that way or has anything changed for someone living with a disability in the Romanian professional and social landscape?

I still feel somewhat like an alien in Bucharest, perhaps because I've always viewed the world in a particular way, with my attention focused on the subtle essence of things. However, I do believe that changes are happening at a slow pace for people with disabilities in Romania.

There is more awareness about disability issues, and more efforts are being made to create inclusive environments both in the professional and social spheres. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go in terms of breaking down stereotypes and barriers, and ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to resources and opportunities. I don't forget this because I often encounter the puzzled look of people who seem to have not yet had the opportunity to meet or to imagine to some extent the existence of a person with a disability. That look speaks of pity, curiosity, fear, sometimes contempt, where there should only be a natural willingness.

The disability experience has a medical and a social aspect. What do you think are the most common misconceptions and prejudice for people with disabilities and for those without one, when it comes to disability and inclusion?

To achieve true inclusivity, it is important not only to change individual attitudes, but also to address systemic barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in society. This includes ensuring accessible transportation, housing, and workplace accommodations, as well as addressing the lack of representation of people with disabilities in media and leadership positions. By actively working towards these goals, we can create a more equitable and inclusive society for all.

Another important aspect of inclusivity is the need for education and awareness. Many people may not be familiar with the experiences of individuals with disabilities and may not know how to properly interact or accommodate them. Through education and awareness, we can break down barriers and create a more understanding and accepting society.

It is also important to involve individuals with disabilities in decision-making processes that affect them. This can be including them in policy discussions and consulting them on issues that directly impact their lives. By giving them a seat at the table, we can ensure that their voices are heard and their needs are taken into consideration.

Ultimately, achieving inclusivity requires a collective effort from all members of society. It is up to us all to challenge our biases and work towards a more just and equitable world for individuals with disabilities.

Has your own perspective on disability changed over the past years?

As I continue to learn more about disability and the experiences of people with disabilities, I have come to appreciate the importance of disability representation in media and other forms of public discourse. Seeing people with disabilities represented in a positive and accurate light can help to break down stereotypes and promote greater understanding and acceptance. I have also realized the importance of advocating for disability rights and accessibility, both on an individual level and on a larger societal level. This includes pushing for more accessible infrastructure, policies that promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities, and greater representation in decision-making processes.

Overall, I believe that my evolving perspective on disability has allowed me to approach life with a greater sense of empathy, understanding, and openness to diverse experiences and perspectives.

What do you think are the hardest things for employers to understand regarding the design of an inclusive workplace and culture?

I think one of the biggest challenges for employers is simply understanding the needs and experiences of employees with disabilities. Many employers may not be familiar with the specific accommodations and support that are necessary for different types of disabilities, and may not know how to create an environment that is truly inclusive. Additionally, there is the complementary but equally essential issue of ingrained biases and stereotypes surrounding disability. Often, disability, which involves a difficulty experienced by a particular person, may be taken personally by a potential employer who feels unjustifiably uncomfortable with the disability. In fact, it is within their power to alleviate the burden on the person with a disability through acceptance and understanding and by having the courage to move towards that common ground where both parties' interests converge on an equal footing.

You mention in your book (Dantele interioare) that conscience should be something taught in schools. If you were to train managers and HRs on disability, what would be the three most important things you would build upon?

Understanding the diversity within the disability community is crucial for effective inclusion. This involves recognizing that disabilities can be visible or invisible, and that individuals with disabilities have different needs and preferences. Accommodations and support should be tailored to each individual's unique situation.

Creating a culture of respect and inclusion in the workplace involves more than just implementing policies and procedures. It requires fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable to be themselves and where differences are celebrated. This can be achieved through education and training, open communication, and creating opportunities for diverse perspectives to be heard.

Being proactive in identifying and addressing barriers to inclusion is an ongoing process that involves continuous feedback and improvement. It requires a willingness to listen to employees with disabilities and to work collaboratively with them to develop solutions. This can involve making physical changes to the workplace, providing training and support, and creating opportunities for career development and advancement for employees with disabilities.

You have recently founded the Monica Radu Association. Would you tell us about your decision to take this step and the mission of the association?

I founded the Monica Radu Association to create positive change in the disability community in Romania. After experiencing my own injury and navigating the challenges of living with a disability, I felt a strong desire to help others who may be going through similar experiences. The mission of the association is to promote inclusion, accessibility, and empowerment for people with disabilities in Romania, by providing resources, support, and advocacy.

Can you share with us some of the best practices regarding disability and inclusion in Romania? What is something that we can learn from other countries on this matter?

One important step is to raise awareness and educate the public about the diversity and capabilities of individuals with disabilities. This can help break down stereotypes and stigma, and promote greater acceptance and inclusion. Additionally, providing reasonable accommodations and accessibility in public spaces and workplaces can help individuals with disabilities participate more fully in society.

In terms of learning from other countries, there are many examples of successful disability inclusion practices that Romania could adopt. For instance, some countries have implemented quota systems for hiring people with disabilities in the public sector, ensuring that a certain percentage of jobs are reserved for individuals with disabilities. Other countries have implemented accessibility standards for public spaces and buildings, which can greatly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

You have gained a deep understanding of life and on what truly matters. What would you tell a person living with a disability who has lost hope?

I would encourage them to focus on their strengths and abilities, and to seek out resources and support that can help them achieve their goals. It's important to remember that living with a disability does not define who you are as a person, and that with determination and hard work, you can still achieve your dreams. Surrounding oneself with a supportive community and focusing on what is possible rather than what is not, can be a powerful way to overcome adversity and find purpose and fulfillment in life.

Interview by Ioana Bîrdu, Carta Diversității din România. All rights reserved.