Stephen Leach has first hand experience of people accepting those who are different. His advice is "be flexible and willing to change the way you do things, because having an enabling attitude allows things to be achieved."
When Stephen was just five years old, he became sick with meningitis. Very sick in fact. He survived, but the disease left him completely deaf.
But the loss of hearing didn't stop Stephen. He completed his schooling in New Zealand at a time when there wasn't general acceptance of sign language. He then went on to earn a Bachelors degree at Gallaudet University in Washington DC – a facility that caters to more than 3,000 deaf students a year.
On his return to New Zealand, Stephen gained employment at a number of big organisations, including Air New Zealand and the Ministry of Economic Development. He now works with us here at Spark.
Stephen works in Mayoral Drive as part of the DBA (Database Administration) Team, specialising in Oracle and automation. He describes himself as persistent when investigating a problem and loves the varied and changing nature of his work. He feels like he can be himself at Spark because "people are quite friendly and approachable" and he can use technology such as Skype for Business to communicate with colleagues, stakeholders and customers.
Stephen is supported at Spark through an organisation called Workbridge, who cover the cost of sign language interpreters to accompany him to meetings and provide training. Without their assistance, Stephen feels like he would be more isolated at work.
His advice for people struggling to be accepted is to "always try to be positive and realistic and not take offense easily. Most people do not deliberately go out of their way to make your life difficult, they just need a bit of educating and help to understand that with a bit of flexibility there is always another way to get things done. For example I can't talk to people on the phone or attend a meeting at very short notice but these issues are easily overcome with an open approach."
Stephen also has some advice for all of us on how we can support and encourage people who are different. "The main thing is to be flexible and be willing to do stuff another way if someone with a difference is participating. With this kind of enabling attitude, barriers can be navigated around and things will be achieved." And for people like Stephen, it will make their lives just that little bit easier. We can all play our part.