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Flipping Our Mindset Regarding Inclusion from Obligation to Opportunity

Daniel Hodges

Daniel Hodges

Daniel Hodges has spent his entire life learning to thrive in a body that some consider to be deeply flawed. As someone who was born blind, and with a connective tissue disorder, Hodges is well-acquainted with the low expectations encountered by those with disabilities.

These experiences have ignited a fire in him to help create a world in which everyone is afforded the opportunity to reach their potential without the barriers that hold so many of us back.

In 2018, Daniel entered the University of Baltimore School of Law, with aspirations of practicing at the intersection of healthcare and civil rights law.

His involvement in Peaces of Me is an outgrowth of these efforts. Our collective passion for advocacy and the furtherance of equity and inclusion runs deep. Hodges says, “I am blessed and honored to be part of this amazing team.”

Peaces of Me Foundation is transforming society’s understanding of disabilities, differences, and chronic illness so that all individuals have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

More about Daniel’s work at – 

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The Interview Transcript

0:02 – Hugh Ballou Welcome to the Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, your host, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, where we build synergy as leaders with our teams through our common vision. And I’ve got a longtime friend and member of the Center Vision community and a powerful influencer in my life and other people’s lives. Was on the show a while back, but he’s got another story to tell more to go into. So I want to welcome Daniel Hodges back to the nonprofit exchange.

0:40 – Hugh Ballou So, Daniel, tell people a little bit about your background and why you’re doing this work in this nonprofit. You founded pieces of me.

0:49 – Daniel Hodges And thank you so much, Hugh, for having me back. So I am a father of three. I am a graduate from the University of Baltimore School of Law. I’ve got my bachelor’s in education. And like he said, I founded Pieces of Me Foundation with my cousin, Christy, back in 2019. And I worked to stand up a non-profit by night while I was finishing law school by day. And I also happen to be someone who is blind from birth, as well as having some pretty serious orthopedic and other chronic illness issues.

1:33 – Daniel Hodges And the reason that’s exceptional is because The successes I mentioned to you, parenthood, graduating college, graduating law school, they were not expected of me by the doctors or professionals growing up. They, you know, the, the general line was, well, maybe he’ll graduate high school, maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll just be at home watching football all day and not doing much else. I mean, I have one professional Tell my parents when I was a teenager that all I’ll ever be able to do is paint chairs or do other menial labor I won’t be able to go on and do any of the things I have so I do the work I do because I Want to help other people with disabilities whether they are born with them or whether they acquire them late in life that I?

2:25 – Daniel Hodges The expectations the world say we have to live up to, or in most cases down to, are often wrong. There is hope. There is a pathway to live out your full potential. And the world is better off when we all strive to find the limits of our own capabilities and then push beyond.

2:46 – Hugh Ballou And there are misconceptions. We who have sight and have our Our use of our limbs and some people don’t we call ourselves able and we call others disabled and it’s really you met 1 of our former guests on the not probably change Tori Lucas who wrote a book about dissing ability and it’s really thinking about. We all have abilities and we want to have. Access to the table. You know, I served Christian churches as music directors for 40 years, and one of my favorite hymn writers was Fanny Crosby, who wrote 8,000 hymns, and she was blind from birth, and wrote an autobiography in 91.

3:30 – Hugh Ballou I think we wrote it at 95 because she’d done a lot, and traveled the world. You traveled the world. You came to Lynchburg and spoke at our symposium. So, before I go into defining what really inclusiveness is, What are some of the misconceptions that we have? We know that we have a misconception about the word nonprofit and we have the scarcity thinking, but on the topic of today, which is flipping our mindset regarding inclusion from obligation to opportunity. So talk a little bit about that title and talk a little bit about some of our misconceptions.

4:07 – Daniel Hodges Well, I’m going to list three rapid fire. The first is that, you know, okay, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act problem solved. Not so much. Misconception number two is that you know, becoming more accessible and becoming more inclusive are burdens, their obligations to be managed, their cost prohibitive, all of these other things. And while they may require an initial investment in time, effort, and treasure, you know, there’s a bountiful amount of research out there that shows that the investment pays off in spades over time.

4:51 – Daniel Hodges And misconception number three is, you know, if I bring somebody with disability into my nonprofit or my place of worship, that I’m doing them a favor by just saying, hey, welcome to, you know, welcome. We’re glad to have you. Sit in the corner over here and we’ll serve you. And in reality, it’s so far from the truth because there is an intrinsic need inside of, I believe, all of us to serve, to be part of reciprocity, to really belong in a way that values the gifts and talents we bring to the table.

5:25 – Daniel Hodges And so this mindset of You know, oh, well, you’re here for us to serve you and the, and the equation stops there really is based on a misconception of what we have to offer and what we’re looking for in our relationships.

5:40 – Hugh Ballou Wow, so we have the official programs in America called and the I stands for inclusion. They want to talk about diversity, and from where I sit, there is diversity already in the culture. And I think the key component to that, and we won’t get into the political ramifications of that program, but it’s been hijacked sometimes for political and personal gain, when really it’s an important paradigm, important principle to have inclusiveness. So what is inclusion? And can you describe that for us?

6:19 – Daniel Hodges So if you use the term inclusion or belonging, which is the word I started to pivot more towards, it’s not just about letting somebody into the space, whether it be physical or virtual. It goes so much deeper than that. It is saying, I value what you bring to the table, so I’m going to do my best to leverage the things that you bring and to eliminate or reduce the barriers that would keep you from fully participating. So things like accessibility, things like becoming you know, conscious of meeting people where they are.

7:04 – Daniel Hodges Things like leveraging people’s gifts and talents are all wrapped up through reciprocity into the topic of belonging or inclusion, because it’s much more than simply saying, well, you’re here, you’re stuck in the corner somewhere. We’ll pat you on the head every once in a while. And we’ve now checked that box.

7:24 – Hugh Ballou Check the box done. We do that in many ways, but this is, This is an area that we do not give attention to and many times don’t aren’t really aware that we’re not giving any attention to it. Say a little more about inclusion and the scarcity mindset that we have about that.

7:50 – Daniel Hodges So, um, there’s a couple of key things that happen. One, as I’ve touched on already, is people look at, well, I may have to install a ramp or I may have to get my website updated to be fully compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines so that screen readers can use it. And we stop at thinking about the cost or maybe just the effort of changing our behavior or mindset And those are real concerns. I don’t want to downplay that, but what we often miss is when we stop there, we stop remembering that By making these investments, we are opening the doors for people to really come in and enrich what we’re doing.

8:43 – Daniel Hodges If it’s a for-profit business, these are things that boost the bottom line. If it’s a place of worship or non-profit, the cultural benefits that come from bringing in a diversity of perspectives and experiences, really enriching that environment. And, you know, I think along with that, we get caught up in this mindset of accessibility or inclusion may lower standards, you know, maybe it will drop off some of the expectations in order to be more inclusive, and that, to me, is not real inclusion.

9:25 – Daniel Hodges If it’s a material requirement, then it ought to be upheld. Now, how one meets that requirement Maybe you know up for some Modification for instance as a law student. It was expected of me to be able to read digest analyze and utilize the material that was presented in my classes. That expectation did not change even though my modality for reading went from being a physical printed textbook to an electronic version in Word or PDF or on the Amazon Kindle. The core expectations remain the same, so Really, that speaks to the fact that a real belonging advocate believes in meritocracy, but meritocracy that allows us to compete or to thrive on all of the material elements of whatever we’re striving for.

10:33 – Hugh Ballou Meritocracy. That’s not a word we use a lot, is it?

10:38 – Daniel Hodges Especially in this space because we’ve kind of learned to treat meritocracy as a bad word and it’s not. Meritocracy simply means that we’re allowing people to live out the best of their gifts and talents and to place the people and the organizations in a position to succeed but also doing it in a way where we’re being open-minded about the process for demonstrating merit, demonstrating gifts and talents, so that we’re not inadvertently screening out really well-qualified applicants or well-qualified participants based on inclusion or accessibility barriers, as opposed to screening out people based on maybe they’re not the right fit for a particular thing that we’re going for.

11:35 – Hugh Ballou So, it’s. Leadership is based on relationship as part of our principles and center vision. As, you know, and we were on a call today with the community members. And we share wisdom with 1 another, and you shared a little bit about what what. You’re going to talk about today and I thought you got some great responses. What did you think?

12:00 – Daniel Hodges Absolutely. And I think there’s a desire, there’s a desire to learn, there’s a desire to engage in these conversations. I find a lot in, you know, when I’m discussing this off to the side with people, that maybe there’s a little hesitancy because we don’t want to say or ask the wrong thing. You know, nobody wants to get canceled, nobody wants to get accused of being a bigot. And I get that, and heaven knows I’ve run into my own stories of discrimination and bias and some really challenging things I’ve had to overcome by virtue of misconceptions.

12:43 – Daniel Hodges But I also recognize that if we can’t engage in authentic, sometimes very raw conversations, it is impossible for me or other advocates to meet people where they are so that we can dispel some of those myths and misconceptions.

13:00 – Hugh Ballou Oh, very well put. You have the ability to talk about difficult topics without being critical or negative about some of the stuff that’s going on in the past. So it’s, I think it helps us listen in a new way. So let’s talk about, it’s already a problem for leaders to figure out engagement. And we tend to want to bring in the people we like and know and trust. And so we got this circle of people who are going to be yes, people around us, because that’s where our comfort level is. And you spoke a minute ago about the discomfort.

13:40 – Hugh Ballou So we’re talking and I have some experience of working in the dark because I don’t know if you remember 20 years of my life. I own the camera store photo lab. And in color photo labs, it’s dark. There’s no light. You might have a little highlight where the switch is for the light when you’re done. But you’ve got to learn a different set of skills, which really sharpens up our perceptions. But how do we learn how to engage people in a meaningful way? This isn’t only about people who are blind or deaf or with other challenges.

14:20 – Hugh Ballou It’s about everybody, isn’t it?

14:22 – Daniel Hodges Absolutely. And the first thing I always tell people is it is not only okay to be curious, it is actually sometimes advantageous to be curious. But I want to differentiate curiosity from skepticism. Curiosity starts off by saying, I believe you can do this, and I would love to learn how. Skepticism, by the, you know, by contrast, says, well, if I close my eyes, I can’t do this. Therefore, you know, kind of obviating all of the training, all of the things I’ve learned over the years.

15:02 – Daniel Hodges And, you know, I think As a leader, the other thing to focus on is if you want to fully engage people with disabilities, or I think really anyone, you start by asking, what are this person’s gifts and talents? We talk about how we feel like everyone has gifts and talents. Okay, let’s live out what we believe. Let’s assume talents, gifts, potential, brilliance. Let’s find it, let’s identify it, and then let’s then figure out how to leverage it for the purpose of our common goal. Once we have done that, then our conversation about accessibility takes on a completely different tone because then we’re saying, we know this person is going to add so much to what we’re doing It just doesn’t make sense not to figure out how to get rid of the unnecessary barriers to let them shine, as opposed to by saying, well, if we have to be accessible, what’s in it for us?

16:06 – Daniel Hodges It just flips that paradigm all the way around because we know that everyone’s going to benefit when we start from that mindset.

16:14 – Hugh Ballou So how do we, if we don’t know people as leaders who have disabilities, How do we network and find capable leaders regardless of how they show up in society?

16:34 – Daniel Hodges I’m a big proponent of saying, reaching out to organizations like mine, Jesus Is Me, or other organizations who are similarly out there promoting full inclusion and access for people with disabilities, particularly those that are disability-led, I’d be hard-pressed to find an organization out there doing the work who isn’t, you know, very interested in saying, oh, you want to be connected with thought leaders in our space? Yeah, let’s see how we can help you. Because again, that is, it’s best for all involved.

17:14 – Daniel Hodges So, reaching out in your network, reaching out to organizations who are vested in promoting this mindset. And again, being really curious and, you know, treat it like, you know, treat it like a treasure hunt as opposed to something that is burdensome. And I think those doors will open up for you.

17:38 – Hugh Ballou So, you what was behind. The, the reason for starting your own nonprofit, well, nobody owns it, but starting the pieces of me foundation, what’s behind that? And what do you what’s the purpose of it?

17:58 – Daniel Hodges I’ll start by explaining the spelling of it, and then that will lead into a more fulsome answer of your question. So we spell PEACES, P-E-A-C-E-S, as in peace, finding it, growing it, world peace, inner peace, those sorts of things. And we did it that way because Christy and I had found so many times in our lives that People, ourselves, our family, others that we cared about were being treated as though if you had a disability, you were missing something, you were broken or somehow incomplete.

18:40 – Daniel Hodges And so we started this organization. With the philosophy in mind that as we discover to embrace and grow who we are, and to meet other people where they are, there is so much potential to create real, lasting, sustainable solutions, not by quote-unquote fixing anyone, but by saying, you are beautiful, you are brilliant the way you are, let’s connect together, let’s lift one another up, and let’s really create the kind of change that carries momentum and meets people where they are and

19:23 – Hugh Ballou It’s pieces, p e a c e which like you said is piece pieces of me dot org because it is a 501 C3 organization and on your website, it says our mission and kudos to you. Pieces of me works to eliminate stigma associated with disability, physical difference and chronic illness by providing resources and connections to individuals, families and appropriate training to professionals in these spheres. So a big piece occurs to me. Since I’ve known you, you’ve helped educate me on the need, on the opportunities, on the values here.

20:07 – Hugh Ballou So, it seems like everything we do, we need to be educated in a different track. So, what are the challenges for us as leaders in learning here? It’s an educational journey for us to learn how to maximize what we’re talking about.

20:24 – Daniel Hodges Well, you know. And our, and our vision is similar in that we’re transforming society’s understanding of disabilities and differences so that all individuals have the opportunity to reach their full potential. And the lack of opportunity, the stigma, all arise from the societal perceptions that are baked in regarding what disability means, regarding what inclusion looks like, And so the challenge is really, my challenge is finding people to engage in those small conversations where I can say, this is a safe space.

21:07 – Daniel Hodges Don’t worry about me getting offended. I am here to learn with you. Because by the way, the other thing is, I have learned so much as an advocate by talking with other leaders on what their hang-ups are, what their fears are, and so our biggest hurdle is the idea that we already know how the story goes, and our biggest opportunity is how much amazing How many amazing lessons we have yet to be able to learn together and just how exciting that can be over the long haul.

21:49 – Hugh Ballou And you’ve worked on a vision statement, let me read that’s on your website as well. Pieces of Me Foundation is transforming society’s understanding of disabilities, differences and chronic illnesses so that all individuals have the opportunity to reach their full potential. So, what what’s happened in my life since I’ve known Daniel Hodges is you’ve helped me in a very gentle way, but a very inclusive way to understand what’s the word you use instead of inclusive.

22:25 – Hugh Ballou Belonging the belonging piece, which is a very gracious word, and we all want to belong. And so that’s that’s a really powerful vision statement, transforming society’s understanding. That’s maybe what we’re all about, the nonprofit world. What challenges have you had, if you want to share any? We’re almost at the end of this really helpful interview. People think, oh, I’m going to start a nonprofit. This guy did it. He just started it and everything, get aboard and everything’s magic.

22:58 – Hugh Ballou What are some of the challenges that you would caution people to cover the bases when they’re starting up a non profit.

23:06 – Daniel Hodges Well, it is. It is a tremendous amount of work. You know, I you know, Christy and I started this, you know, right before COVID and the recession and everything else set in. And so, you know, funding is a challenge. Building the community, you know, quite a challenge. And it’s, it’s, you know, you have to learn. Sometimes your best friends are great team members. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes you have to learn where to put those boundaries in. Um, And I think, you know, identifying the kind of culture you want to have, you know, is also a real concern.

23:49 – Daniel Hodges But really, I think what I’ve learned over the years is that as a leader, I’m going to I’m going to have have moments where I pull a rabbit out of my hat. I’m going to have moments where I look back and say, man, I wish I could have handled this better, because I hope that I’m becoming a better leader every day. And so I think learning to give You know, we talk about giving our teams grace, which is always necessary, but learning to give ourselves grace as well. Let ourselves grow into these positions.

24:25 – Daniel Hodges Let ourselves grow into our brilliance and surround ourselves constantly with people who are helping us look toward what is possible, as opposed to looking back or looking down toward the things we’re trying to avoid. Always be looking onward and upward and have people who are in your circle who help you do the same. I think is such a critical point.

24:52 – Hugh Ballou Good words, good words, good words. So I’m going to let you make a final statement, a challenge or a thought for people to ponder. But before we do that, I want to let people know they have an opportunity or have the community open. For a while, we were welcoming new people to apply to be part of our center vision leadership community. And it’s, it’s focused on nonprofit leaders, but, you know, everybody needs leadership, but we do have a mix of people with different backgrounds and different talents and different focus in the community.

25:28 – Hugh Ballou And we share wonderful wisdom. What is so you can find it at nonprofit community dot org. So it’s, it’s leadership, but nonprofit community in the community. We resonate, we learn from each other and we have guided conversations and workshops and masterminds all kind of opportunities. So, Dale, what’s what’s 1 or 2 reasons that people should consider joining our community.

25:54 – Daniel Hodges You know, There are a lot of things out in the world right now masquerading as leadership or strength or you know, a positive way to, you know, move people in a certain direction. And really, they’re not what they seem, you know. A lot of what we think of as leadership is really bullying or tyranny in nicer clothing. What people will learn about in the center vision community is what leadership truly is. That leadership is not compulsory. Leadership is consensus building. And that is something that I knew I needed coming into the community a few years ago.

26:50 – Daniel Hodges And I’ve gotten A deepening understanding of that in spades, and I think that is really the value proposition here is learning that how to create a leadership culture in your organization that is built on. What is real strength, which is synergy, which is consensus building, which is humility, and all of these other things that make a strong leader who can build a sustainable, ever-growing culture.

27:25 – Hugh Ballou Wow, that was profound. So we invite people to come check it out. It’s monthly. You can quit if it doesn’t work for you, but nonprofit community dot org, check it out. There’s a little information page there and you can click to apply to join and you’ll be glad that you did Daniel. What do you want to leave people with today?

27:45 – Daniel Hodges I’m going to finish off by going back to that vision statement and discussing a two-word phrase that I think is easily overlooked, which is all individuals. You know, when we think about all individuals, it’s so easy to say, oh, that probably means all individuals with disabilities, differences, or chronic illnesses. No. When I wrote All Individuals there, I meant all individuals. And here’s why. By transforming those understandings and opening the doors to real fulfillment.

28:28 – Daniel Hodges We are allowing people like myself to come in and elevate the experience of everybody in that room, whether or not they have a disability. Hugh, I would hope you would tell Hope you would say that when I’m participating in the community discussions,

28:52 – Daniel Hodges I’m elevating that conversation. Whether I’m talking about disability or not, whether somebody has a disability or not, that my participation elevates that conversation. And assuming that’s true, that is exactly the kind of example that I’m hoping to point toward when I say all individuals, because real belonging means that we are elevating the experience for everyone we are Lifting everyone in our sphere of influence based on getting rid of some of these unnecessary barriers.

29:26 – Hugh Ballou Profound Thank you and I would agree with you and you also demonstrate a very strong underutilized leadership skill of listening. So, I commend you for that, and your contributions to the community are really enormous. Thank you, Daniel Hodges, for being our guest today on the Nonprofit Exchange.

29:49 – Daniel Hodges Thank you for having me. Thanks.

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