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Caroline Casey: “I wanted to fix the system without shaming and blaming”

By Audrey Perera

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August 18, 2021

True Colors Festival Goodwill Ambassador Caroline Casey is also the founder of The Valuable 500 – the largest global collective of 500 CEOs of the most powerful brands personally committed to disability inclusion. Here are some of the best moments from a recent interview by Audrey Perera from True Colors Festival.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A rebel at heart

“I’m a rebel, I have a big heart. Business is about human beings. We sell to humans, we innovate with humans, we’re supplied by humans, humans buy our stuff. And so we have to use our heads and our hearts. Business is the most powerful force on our planet and the choices made by business leaders create the culture. The V500 is about creating a global society where we all belong. Disabled or not. A world that is equitable for everyone, that people are free to belong to, uniquely as themselves, not to fit in or to be pushed into a box or a silo or a stereotype. I believe that difference is incredibly powerful.”

Inclusion is everyone’s business

“We are all accountable in the world for inclusion and for creating that world where everybody belongs, nobody can abdicate that to somebody else. We all have a role to play.”

It is no longer okay to leave people behind

“It is no longer okay, no longer acceptable, at this point in our evolving humanity to leave 15 to 20% of our global population aside. Despite repeated requests from persons with disabilities over the years, during the global pandemic our business systems changed and flexed overnight when they had to in order to accommodate flexible home working. We have now witnessed this – we know about it now and we can’t un-know what we know. So as we build back better we need to learn the lessons and ensure inclusion for all.”

Coming out of the disability closet

“I struggled for so long in my own life, desperately wanting to belong, I tried to fit in and be somebody else. I hid the fact that I was registered blind. There’s a beautiful quote by Maya Angelou, which says there’s no greater agony than an untold story inside you; the agony in this world when people are hiding who they really are to “fit in”. At 28, I finally came out of the disability closet. It was my leap into the world. To try to own my space as myself, and I want that for everybody else. I want it to be true when I say to my nephew, you’re perfect the way you are. I want everybody’s true nature to be able to shine. How can anyone shine through if they’re trying to hide who they are?”

 

Becoming a TCF Goodwill Ambassador

“There’s nothing more wonderful than being able to be yourself. We’re all different, but we need to respect that difference and allow people to reach their potential so that we can all give and be part of this world in a positive way. So the values of True Colors, which is a celebration, it’s “Yes! It’s like I’m rocking my beautiful difference.” It’s not asking, it’s not hustling to be heard. It’s a celebration of who I am. And we need to celebrate that beautiful difference we have.”

One World, One Family

“For me, it’s like the likeness of being. We are all different, yet interconnected. What is the same in every one of us is that we’re human beings. 96% of our DNA is the same — 96%! And that 4% which is different, is the beauty of us. And it should be celebrated.”

Grief and belief

“The sudden death of my father channeled me to do what I had always wanted to do. The grief was a great force, it blinded me from the risk. I didn’t want to hear what people were telling me: “What are you talking about? Who do you think you are to get 500 of the world’s most influential CEOs to care? What are you talking about, thinking you could have the main stage of the World Economic forum at Davos?”

“I had an arrogance about what I believe in. I was willing to put everything that I had into it, everything, because if I wanted other people to believe in me, I had to believe in me, and then believe in us (the V500 team). I wanted to fix the system without shaming people and without blaming people; I wanted to try and rewrite the way disability was included.”

The arts as change agent

“Change starts with the arts. We don’t realize artists around us every single moment of our day, how much the arts touches us. There’s something in the arts that helps our hearts peel open in a non-threatening way.”

On safe spaces to mess up

“I truly believe most of us have the intention of doing something that doesn’t hurt another person. And the best way is to express that intention. I will often say things like ‘I’m really sorry. Maybe I should know this, but I don’t.’ ‘I’m worried that I’m going to offend you. How do I say this?’, ‘Should I know this?’, ‘Can you help me?’ People are so worried about getting it wrong…but if you’re not going to speak about something, we can’t learn and grow.”

Cancel culture

“The fear of getting canceled out means it doesn’t get spoken about. We have to be able to create spaces where people are allowed mess up. And they’re not bad because they’re messing up. Abusive behavior is entirely different, and must be called out. There’s an abusive behavior in cancel culture as well. I can’t imagine there’s one person who’s an expert on all inclusion in the world. How could you know every lived experience?”

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True Colors Festival 2020/2021

True Colors Festival (TCF) presented by The Nippon Foundation is a series of performing arts events presented across geographies, in celebration of diversity and inclusion as “One World One Family.”

Through festivals since 2006 in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, and Japan, TCF has presented more than 1,100 performing artists from more than 30 countries and attracted more than 40,000 people.

The re-start of TCF 2020/2021 marks its commitment to tap on the power of the arts to connect artists and audiences in experiences such as music videos, film screenings, children’s programs, musicals, concerts, and workshops.

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