“Disability is in fact the inability to make progress and achievements. The achievements that people of determination have made in various spheres over the past years are proof that determination and strong will can do the impossible and encourage people to counter challenges and difficult circumstances while firmly achieving their goals.”

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai

On Sunday, October 6, 2019 I engaged my tolerance and diversity students at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) in an exercise about disability. In the exercise, which was designed to simulate communication and confusion within an organization, there are typically three roles (I added a fourth to facilitate the exercise in my classroom):

  1. The CEO (who can see, but not talk).
  2. The Manager (who can talk, but cannot see).
  3. The Employee (who is blindfolded).
  4. The Goalie (who holds an object that will be retrieved or interacted with; in this case, it was a service bell you would find on a desk).

The participants are situated as follows:

  • The CEO is facing the manager and the employee (who is placed at some point behind the manager).
  • The manager is directly in front of the CEO, facing him or her with their back to the employee.
  • The employee is behind the manager, blindfolded, but able to move freely in response to instructions from the manager to find it.
  • The Goalie is positioned somewhere in the room; either in a fixed location or is instructed to move at will.

Ideally, the CEO and the manager will develop a way to communicate with each other; the manager also needs to think about how to translate the CEO’s nonverbal communication to the employee. This gets especially confusing when the issue of who’s left or right comes into play. The employee is blindfolded and must listen to the voice of the manager to know where and how to move.

In my tolerance and diversity class, we conducted the exercise twice with two different sets of students (who volunteered and agreed to allow themselves to be video recorded).  Both versions are included in this video, one after the other. For the first group the Goalie did not move and remained in the same position; for the second group I instructed the Goalie to move evasively as the Employee got closer to her — thus creating further confusion and frustration.

Following the exercise, we discussed what the experience was like for those who participated (and later, for those in the class who were observing). We then bridged that exercise into a conversation about individuals with disabilities in the workplace or at our university. Students shared their experiences either as an individual with a disability or their interactions with people of determination in their personal or professional lives.

After this, I introduced an article analysis assignment of a Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Case for Improving Work for People with Disabilities Goes Way Beyond Compliance.” The assignment asked them to do three things:

  1. Summarize the main idea of the article.
  2. Identify and Paraphrase the four ways a company can create a culture of support and inclusion.
  3. Propose how you can personally create a culture of support and inclusion in your organization.

During our next class we then discussed their insights and ideas from the article while engaging in a thoughtful dialogue about the topic.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Four years ago today — on September 8, 2014 — I stepped off a United Airlines 777 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and took the first step on my journey as an expat in the United Arab Emirates. The 1,461 days since have been filled with exponential personal development as I have continuously challenged myself to be a better version of me. Not every lesson has been successful; some took several tries to get right and others are still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, I am progressing personally and learning to reframe a challenging situation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

Being in Dubai has also allowed me to develop professionally in ways that would not have been possible in the United States. After teaching marketing and management classes for the past three years in the College of Business Administration at the American University in the Emirates, the start of this academic year marks my shift into the College of Education. I will now teach five sections of the following three courses:

  • HAP 200, Happiness Studies
  • INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • TOL 200, Tolerance and Diversity

In related news, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education selected me as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 applicants to join “Cohort 3” of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.” The program provides curriculum, programs, and networks to equip the next generation of UAE leaders with an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset to ensure the country’s ongoing economic achievement.  It also included an educational visit to Stanford University this past July 10 to 13, 2018 for specialized training in design thinking, the conceptual foundation of the initiative.

Unfortunately, while being overseas opens opportunities that were not possible for me in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max. Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. It is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends for my physical absence in their lives. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Overall, I remain grateful for my expat experiences in Dubai. I also look forward to the future with optimism and excitement, despite not being fully clear about what it has in store for me. If you want to learn more about my expat adventure, I suggest the following posts:

It’s  rewarding to get recognized for your role in education. Case in point: I was selected by Maggie Williams to step into the June 2018 “Spotlight” of Chief Learning Officer Middle East. The Spotlight is a short interview completed virtually, face to face and can be written or video.

Through this profile I was invited to share my insights into education with the Chief Learning Officer Middle East community of educators, learning and development professionals, and human resources practitioners. Presented in question and answer format, I  addressed each of the following inquiries:

  1. How would you describe the culture of your business?
  2. What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years?
  3. What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the region’s talent requirements?
  4. What is your Philosophy?
  5. What’s next on your agenda?
  6. How can people connect with me?

Of the questions above, the one I found most interesting was the second one: What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years? My answer to that question follows:

I envision three big challenges facing higher education and corporate training in the next five years; they are broad in scope, but specific in application and can be characterized as: pedagogical, practical, and portable.

The first, pedagogical, means that all learning activities should be anchored to educational objectives; these provide parameters for the development of curriculum and metrics against which assessments can be measured. As educational offerings continue to embrace entertainment, it is essential to ensure there is still value to that experience.

The second, practical, acknowledges that learning should be useful and applicable to the real world; it might not be immediately actionable, but it should be relatable to the learners taking the course. Giving a nod to the influx of entertainment in learning, learning should leverage all technology and tools to make it as engaging and entertaining as possible — without sacrificing the integrity of the instruction.

The last challenge, portable, speaks to increased use of mobile devices as delivery devices. At the most basic level educational offerings should be developed using responsive design principles to ensure their accessibility on as many devices as possible. Ideally, learning modules will be specifically designed for mobile devices via customized apps, technology, or tools. Consideration should also be given to making content available offline and for users with low-bandwidth connections.

Do you agree — or disagree — with my predictions?