The IET and its Young Professionals are seeking to make engineering a more diverse and inclusive profession and want to highlight people from different backgrounds who are already working in engineering. In the first of a series of stories featuring young engineers, Kyle Manel, a Development Operations Administrator from Canada, shares his experience.
IET member, Kyle Manel, is a Development Operations Administrator. His role entails operating, monitoring and developing the computer network infrastructure at inBay Technologies. This, he describes, as “like trying to balance the world on a finger”. Always having an interest in technology, straight out of school Kyle set up his own computer repair business. He enjoyed this, but soon knew that he wanted to work in design and development, and so signed up for university, where he completed a degree in information and network technology.
Kyle’s biggest workplace challenges focus on his role as a computer network specialist: developing solutions rapidly, prioritising tasks and time management. However, over the years, many of Kyle’s colleagues have wrongly presumed that his biggest challenges must revolve around the fact he has a disability. Many don’t see ‘Kyle the technical expert’; they see ‘Kyle the disabled colleague’. This is because Kyle has cerebral palsy. Caused by oxygen deprivation during pregnancy, which results in a number of different functional issues, in Kyle’s case the symptoms manifested as lower body weakness and muscle control issues.
“I have difficulty with my balance, don’t walk around very well and need crutches to move about. I may have trouble moving things around the office, so I often keep a bag with me or ask others for assistance. However, my upper body is completely ok. In the workplace my actual disability has no bearing on my thinking or capability to resolve problems or to communicate,” he explains.
“When I was younger there were many people that said I couldn’t run my own business. I think that’s probably an assumption or a grandiose over calculation on disability in general. People assume having any kind of disability whatsoever is clearly a big problem when it’s often not,” he says.
“I look at my disability as an opportunity for creativity I suppose,” he continues. “It provides me with a unique perspective that other people don’t have – in particular a keen interest in and an ability to problem solve, something recognised as invaluable to an engineer.”
Unfortunately, like many working disabled people, Kyle has experienced both negative treatment and positive discrimination in the workplace. When he first started working he felt like he was treated as the “most fragile thing in the office”, which left him feeling very self-conscious and uncomfortable.
“There have been people who have treated me as though I wasn’t capable of the work at hand, that my skills aren’t real and I got my position through favouritism, but discrimination isn’t always about being picked on,” he notes. “It’s often when people do too much for me, robbing me of an opportunity to grow and develop myself professionally. I certainly need to go a winding route to develop many skills but I can still achieve them. I get more frustrated by this ‘help’ as I’m somebody that very much focuses on the experiences. Even with the best intentions it is very frustrating.”
In response to this, Kyle has focused on developing his communication skills and works hard to make sure employers and colleagues see him for the skills he brings to the business, rather than as the ‘disabled guy’. This is because he recognised very quickly that if he didn’t communicate what he was capable of then few people were likely to give him the opportunity to try. “They’d either do it for me or not let me do it at all,” he says. He’s learnt to make himself sensitive to when others have questions around his condition or abilities as this allows colleagues to understand his capabilities. But, as he explains, he won’t know what questions you have if you don’t ask.
"To be honest, one of the best ways people can possibly help me – and even benefit themselves – is by asking questions. Being too shy, or too arrogant to ask is one of the most limiting things you can do. Almost every disabled person I know would love to be asked more questions – who doesn’t love talking about what they do, what they have a passion for. I welcome questions and have recently tried to find more ways to help people to ask them.
“Instead of making impromptu assumptions and acting on them, the best advice I can offer is to simply ask ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ Just like you, many of the challenges I have had, I have enjoyed discovering solutions to. Giving me the opportunity to learn from my own actions, at times fail, and through failure learn to succeed is immensely valuable. I want the opportunity to learn from my mistakes, not be denied the opportunity to make them.”