SDW Member Profile – Olivia Shivas

What makes you different?

I come from a mixed ethnic background – my mum is Chinese/Malaysian and my dad is Kiwi/European, so I like to think I get the best of both worlds! I also live with a condition called muscular dystrophy and use a wheelchair. From the outside, I might look like an Asian disabled woman, but I’m just a typical young Kiwi who drives a little yellow car, I work full-time and live in Pt Chev.


What do you think diverse thinking is?

To me, diverse thinking is how my differences shape the way I view the world. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and has lived through experiences which make their thinking unique to them.


Why does it matter?

Although it is important to acknowledge and respect everyone’s thinking, this thinking does contribute to unconscious bias. It’s not necessarily the persons ‘fault’ they have an unconscious bias, but it’s important to be aware of the lens through which you view the world before judging other people.


How does diversity impact business bottom lines?

Rather than embracing diversity just to tick the boxes, having a diverse business which reflects the society we live in really shows from the inside out.


Employing people from diverse backgrounds enables new and creative ideas to flourish. By actively seeking employees with a disability, businesses are utilising a talented pool of untapped resource. People with disabilities are constantly thinking of creative ways to overcome physical barriers; we’ve developed an adaptive and flexible nature – essential in today’s business environment – and this carries into our work, when devising creative solutions to solve problems. Diverse workplaces positively impact the culture, which boosts the morale of a workplace, and a higher morale naturally encourages staff to be more productive.


We live in a world that is becoming more aware and inclusive of difference, and that’s why businesses need to consider the disability market now. There is an estimated 1.3 billion disabled people in the world. If you add their family, friends and supporters, that’s a lot of people who have a connection to disability, who want to contribute to businesses that align themselves with disability-inclusive values.


What is the one thing you would change if you could?

I want society to understand that people with disabilities make up 24% of the New Zealand population and for them to be embraced just like every other sector of society. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often an ‘add-on’ to the world of diversity. We celebrate women on International Women’s Day, and the LGBT community at the Pride Festival, but people with disabilities are not necessarily celebrated or seen in the same positive light in mainstream businesses and industries.


What is the one dream you want to achieve that SDW members can assist you with and how?

Think about how you can make your community more inclusive of people with disabilities. For most diverse areas in society, social barriers prevent inclusion. However, people with disabilities often face physical barriers too. Social change is more difficult to progress, but physical barriers are tangible and action can be taken straight away to remove those barriers – such as ensuring your local cafe has a wheelchair accessible restroom, your workplace has a working elevator or that public transport is accessible to those with sensory needs.


Rather than designing a community that fits the average person, if we design for people on the edges – such as people with disabilities – we design for everyone.