Breaking down barriers in small business

Two years ago, Tai Chi instructor and owner of Tai Chi for Busy People, Mike Soric recognised potential in one of his students Kara, a young woman with a disability.

Keen, determined, and always present in class, Kara developed a love for Tai Chi, which grew into a dream of becoming a professional Tai Chi instructor.

When she shared this with Mike, he knew he could help her fulfil it.

“Tai Chi philosophy is inclusive, and we want people to see that there is no barrier. Being inclusive is just human nature. It’s not something you need to force. It’s just the right thing to do,” says Mike.

“We’re very passionate about Tai Chi for health in the broader community. But also, to provide an inclusive environment and break down as many barriers as we can. That’s always been very important to us.”

Little did Mike realise the benefits of becoming more inclusive to his business, his team and his own professional development.

A tailored approach is better for business

As a young woman with a disability, Kara learns differently, and in learning to teach Tai Chi, both Kara and Mike needed to make some changes. Rather than see this as a barrier, Mike jumped at the opportunity.

“We believe strongly that there shouldn’t be any barriers, and it was up to us to find a way to help her achieve the necessary requirements,” he says.

Mike and partner Denise, who is also a Tai Chi instructor, were clear that it was up to them to develop new teaching techniques and communication skills. Kara is mostly non-verbal, communicating through Auslan and assistive technology.

“It’s all about communication. We have been working with her to teach her to communicate effectively, to do the movements safely and effectively, and to teach that safely and effectively,” says Mike.

Over the last two years, Kara and Mike have worked together each week to train the trainer. This process was all about upskilling Kara, maximising her skills and abilities, and teaching her new skills in a way that was tailored to her.

Mike also learnt Auslan with Kara teaching him so they can better communicate with each other.

Kara can now teach all the warm-ups, and often jumps up next to Denise when she’s teaching to show the movements to the class.

Stepping up from student to class leader

The benefits of working with Kara have been many for the team and students at Tai Chi for Busy People.

Mike and Denise are now working to help Kara complete her formal qualification as a Tai Chi instructor. For Kara to qualify, she will need to demonstrate that she exceeds the minimum standards in movement, safety and communication.

As someone who is mostly non-verbal, Kara has mastered the text-to-talk computer, and the difficult technique of ‘mirroring’ when teaching, which some instructors struggle to do well.

“The text-to-talk computer has worked very well. Initially Kara was very reluctant to use it, but over the last two years our Tai Chi group has really encouraged her to use it, and now know to pause in conversation so that she can respond,” says Mike.

Mike has also documented every training session they’ve had, as well as videoing each session so that he and Kara can see just how far she has come on her journey to instructor.

Not only does Kara want to become an instructor, but she has aspirations of working with people with a disability to share her skills and experience with others, as well as open up opportunities for paid work for herself.

“We’ve been really lucky to have Kara embrace this philosophy, and to share this with others, providing a positive example of what Tai Chi, movement and the social aspects of it can do to improve people’s health,” says Mike.

When Kara does qualify as an instructor, she will become the first person with a recognised disability to become a professional instructor and will be able to seek paid employment.

Community support every step of the way

Kara’s next opportunity is to attend a week-long workshop on a scholarship from the Tai Chi for Health Institute of Australia, with Denise. The local community also raised funds to cover travel and accommodation costs for Kara and her mum.

“There’s so much community spirit and support for Kara to reach this goal. People are not only welcoming but are also helping to raise money. It’s really a village that’s behind her,” says Denise.

Mike and Denise also hope that by attending the workshop and telling her story on stage Kara can start to open the minds of others and encourage them to create more inclusive environments that benefit everyone.

Learn more about the benefits of creating an inclusive environment for your small business here.