Written by Kevan McBeth, Founding Partner - Affective Consulting 

My 6 year-old son crawled up on my lap a few weeks ago and asked me to help him play this new game he’d found on the iPad, called Scribblenauts. For those of you who are in the same age bracket as I am, who grew up with dot matrix printers and Commodore 64’s (don’t judge!), the easiest way I can explain Scribblenauts is it’s an old-school text based adventure game (like Zork) on Steroids. Instead of typing in “Hit troll with axe”, now all you do is type “axe” into the field at the top of the Scribblenauts game, and an axe appears which you can arm your character with- so you can now watch him hit the troll with the axe instead of imagining it (How fun!).

The reason why my son came to me in the first place was that he needed me to help him with a scenario in the game. He had his character and a companion at the edge of a body of water that they needed to cross. In the water was a blood thirsty shark, patrolling the waters and seemingly removing any chance of the two characters safely crossing the channel by swimming. He needed an alternate way to get across the water, and thought I could help. I typed “bridge”. But the bridge was too short to fit across the body of water. I typed “boat”, but when we loaded the two characters on the boat, the boat sank from their weight. I typed in “snorkel” thinking that I could maybe try to masterfully steer the two characters to safety across the water with some fancy swimming and timing of the shark’s moves.

Let’s just say it didn’t go well.

Finally, my son said “Hey! I know! Dad- type in “Lightning”!! I looked at him strangely. Lightning?! Really?! How would lightning help us?? I reluctantly typed in lightning. Carter then placed his little finger on the lightning bolt and brought it down to the water and released. The lightning bolt electrified the water, killing the shark. He then instructed me to type in “scuba” as we did before, and he placed the scuba gear on his two characters. They swam leisurely across the water and onto the other shore.

Level cleared. Problem solved.

I sat there for a few minutes and marvelled at the genius and simplicity of my son’s solution. It was staring us right in the face the whole time, I just didn’t see it. Because I wasn’t being creative. I was thinking logically, but I didn’t explore the idea of doing things differently to remove the single barrier (the shark) from getting us to our goal on the other side of the water.

To me, this is the perfect analogy for supported employment. As Human Resource professionals, managers and business owners, we get caught up in trying to make our systems and approaches to employment fit the situation of employing an individual who may need job customization or natural supports to be a part of the workplace. If the bridge is too short, or the boat can’t hold us all, we stay stuck on the shore. Issues like “there needs to be enough work to be full time”, “they need to meet the full qualifications of a position to work”, “our workplace is too small to have a supported employee” or “the work we could find for someone isn’t enough to be meaningful” are all short-bridge solutions we try to apply to the situation. Because those are all we tend to know.

Supported employment isn’t about trying to find work for an employee with a disability, its more about our inability to think creatively about what meaningful work really is.

But if we aren’t able to think outside the box, and allow ourselves to see the creative solutions, we miss an opportunity that could lead to developing a meaningful work opportunity for an employee with a disability. Someone who may love to come to work for you for 4 hours a week. Someone who could take that little extra bit of work off the plates of your employees, allowing them to focus on their core work responsibilities and duties. Someone who could bring energy and passion to your workplace on a daily or weekly basis.