Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities- Aoife McGlade

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace and Beyond

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed on the 3rd of December each year, is a global celebration that recognises all disabilities, both visible and invisible. It plays a crucial role in fostering inclusivity worldwide. This year’s theme is all about being “United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities.” It is an invitation for all of us to team up, speak up, and make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities.

I thought, no better time to open up and share a bit of my story with you all. My name is Aoife McGlade, and I am a 27-year-old Irish, white female currently in her third secondment on the MDS Management Graduate scheme.

My first two secondments where in the Sustainable and Responsible Business team at Syngenta’s Global Headquarters in Basel Switzerland and my third and current secondment is as a Marketing and Communications Trainee within British Sugar’s Agriculture Team. I’ve got Stargardt, a form of Macular Degeneration which impacts my central vision. Officially registered as partially sighted, I wear that badge with pride. When I was first diagnosed with a progressive sight loss condition 14 years ago, my confidence took a knock. I questioned my abilities and feared my disability would define me. But, with the constant support and empowerment from my incredible family and friends, I discovered that my disability doesn’t define me; it merely enhances my resilience, adaptability, and empathy.

Learning to navigate the world with progressive vision loss became an opportunity to push boundaries and break down barriers. Creating a diverse and inclusive world, though? That’s a team effort. Businesses, schools, communities—we all play a role. It’s about implementing accessible facilities, offering inclusive education, and promoting diversity in the workplace. Let’s build a world that empowers and embraces everyone.

“For too long I thought adjustments and measures in the workplace would be perceived as a financial burden to a company, special treatment or putting me at an unfair advantage… How wrong could I be!!”

Growing up, my parents always nudged me towards independence, and they didn’t stop even when Stargardt came into the picture. I studied Geography at Queens University Belfast, graduated, and spent 10 months in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. I’ve always been fascinated by the vastness of the world and the joy of travel. With the right support, planning, and empowerment, the world is accessible to all. Sure, there were moments of panic—boarding gate confusion, bus number mix-ups—but I learned that asking for help is not a weakness; it’s a display of strength.

Last October I started my MDS journey. MDS aligns perfectly with my interests in agriculture, fresh produce, and the industry’s push for inclusivity. For me joining MDS has not only been a journey of discovering where I fit within the industry, but it has been a journey of building confidence to speak up and be included. For too long I thought adjustments and measures in the workplace would be perceived as a financial burden to a company, special treatment or putting me at an unfair advantage… How wrong could I be!! Adjustments and accommodations in the workplace are access, empowerment, inclusion, and a legal requirement.

Last year MDS encouraged me to sign up for participation in the IDG reverse mentoring program. The mentoring program is about creating a more inclusive industry by sharing experiences. MDS sent me the application form, and I’m so glad I took the plunge. The program creates a safe and collaborative space for leaders to hear the lived-in experiences of those from under-represented groups. Not only did it embed confidence in my ability, but it enabled me to build knowledge and understanding of what great inclusion looks like. I also had the privilege of taking part in Syngenta’s 2022 Ask Me to Learn Panel to help normalise disability and embrace “Diversability”. Being a trainee on the MDS graduate scheme has given me an incredible platform to be part of the conversation and a part of the positive inclusion that is happening across the industry.

“let’s all dig out our favourite purple pieces of clothing and wear them in support.”

Being on the MDS graduate scheme I am surrounded by an amazing network and community of fellow trainees. Allyship is vital to make society and the workplace more inclusive. Allies play and important role in changing attitudes and breaking down barriers. I am fortunate to call a number of my fellow MDS trainees allies. My voice is amplified because of their support and together we as MDS trainees can make an impactful change in the industry.

Now, on to the big day—the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s about celebrating the contributions people with disabilities make in our communities and economies. By sharing stories this year and for years to come, we’re making sure awareness of disability equality keeps growing. So, on December 3rd, let’s all dig out our favourite purple pieces of clothing and wear them in support. It’s a small but powerful way to change perceptions, destigmatise disabilities, and let everyone see the diverse individuals that make this world truly unique. Because, in this world, everyone counts.