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Equal Entry – Accessibility Activists Interview

Published: Wednesday December 8, 2021

Alycia Anderson  is an accomplished TEDx motivational speaker, published writer, corporate inclusion consultant, and founder of The Alycia Anderson Company. Alycia’s authenticity and charisma draw others to her and she naturally connects them to inspire, mentor and support. Alycia holds a European Masters Degree in Adapted Physical Activity emphasizing the benefits, practices, and principles of inclusion. Alycia is an internationally recognized speaker and has spoken to organizations each year including Abercrombie & Fitch, Arizona State University, and Fleishman Hillard.

Born with sacral agenesis and wheelchair-bound since birth, Alycia shares her journey to help communities and companies understand the true benefits inherent to building a diverse, inclusive, and accessible workplace and society. Shining light on how our diversities are core to the qualities that make each of us uniquely qualified and able in life. Alycia right sizes everyday obstacles to open your mind to a world of possibility. And that’s how she rolls.

How did you get your start in accessibility?

I claimed my spot at birth, I suppose. I was born with sacral agenesis in 1975 when the disability rights movement in America was just gaining traction. Two years earlier, Congress had passed the first legislation to address equal access for people with disabilities, laying out the foundation that paved the way for the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act 15 years later.

Though the door was opening for millions of people with disabilities, my parents understood that I would still face tremendous obstacles and hardships growing up. I was the first generation of children with disabilities to face the raw elements of inclusion and integration following the passing of the Rehabilitation Act 1973.

I have been a participant in an experiment of inclusion and accessibility my entire life. So, my parents made it their mission to fight for a world where I would have the same opportunities as everyone around me. From an early age, they ingrained in me a simple, powerful message: You can, you should, and you will. The work I do in inclusion and accessibility is part of who I am and we all know there is no such thing as inclusion without access.

Still, it took years of insecurity and frustration for me to realize that my disability wasn’t a limitation, but a superpower. In addition to my parents’ unwavering love and support, there were others who encouraged me along the way: Regina, my able-bodied identical twin sister; Brad Parks, my coach and the founder of wheelchair tennis; and Dr. Rebecca Lytle, my college professor, as well as, my husband whom I met on the tennis courts at 12 years old showed me through unconditional love and support that I can accomplish anything.

It was people and daily challenges overcome and finding hope on the other side of fear that has inspired me to be confident and vulnerable. These people helped shape my advocacy voice, vision, and purpose that I now bring to the stage in my speaking engagements around the world.

You often give talks about disabling ableism. What are the primary messages you want people to know about this topic if they haven’t met you or seen your talk?

Ableism is a social prejudice or discrimination that favors one over someone with a disability. Ableism is everywhere. It exists in a glance at the supermarket, a passing comment during a job interview, the way our media portrays the lives of people with disabilities as inferior or somehow “less than.” It’s so ingrained in our society that it’s often overlooked and goes unnoticed, but without recognizing ableism and its effects we will never fully understand what inclusion, accessibility, and equity really mean for every diversity.

In my TEDx talk , I take the stage and speak about the damaging effects of ableism through my personal story of learning to love and celebrate my own disability. Through examples from my childhood and adult life, I explain how finding the beauty and capability in every human being — in other words, “disabling ableism” — is the only way to move toward a more diverse and inclusive world.

We need to shift perspectives. We can’t be forced to hide our differences. We need to embrace them, honor them, experience them, believe in them, discuss them, share them, and include them as life’s beautiful treasures.

My TEDx talk was a longtime dream come true and a love letter to myself, delivered in hopes that others with disabilities and society at large might find a light to empower them and take action by flipping the switch on ableism in their lives, and to examine — dismantle — the ways that ableist thinking exists. I truly believe wholeheartedly that this is the modern pathway to inclusion for all of us.

With exotic plants behind her, Alycia in her wheelchair holds a sign "The heart of inclusion"
Image Description: With exotic plants behind her, Alycia in her wheelchair holds a sign “The heart of inclusion”

What have you gained in your role as a sales executive that helps you in accessibility?

I have always worked. Journeying from the first waitress in a wheelchair to vice president of sales at an award-winning software company and now the owner of my own business. This path has shown me many things.

Looking back at my executive role, and in fact, every role I’ve held, one thing sticks out: I was the only one like me in each and every one of these organizations. The need for accessibility was always a new thought to my employers and was always something I had to figure out. Whether it was proving that I could work in the environment that existed or I needed changes that would accommodate me to fulfill my duties. Communication has always been the key to sharing my accessibility needs.

There is no perfect situation and, in every position, I have always found the need to adapt in one way or the other, gaining from these experiences a realization that inclusion and accessibility in the workplace is collaborative, collective, ongoing, hard, and sometimes uncomfortable work that we must do together.

I am now embracing my path and dedicating my voice full-time to teach about the benefits of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility as a motivational speaker and corporate inclusion consultant mentor. In doing so, I hope sharing my story will lead to inspiring others to achieve their fullest potential, further conversations about the real bottom-line benefits inherent in a diverse and inclusive society, and in turn, help make tomorrow’s workplace more accessible for all of us.

What is an accessibility barrier you would like to see solved?

Ableism to me stands at the core of all accessibility barriers and leads to accessibility being an afterthought to the development of all products, services, goods, and infrastructure in our world. Ableism cuts at the root of progress by being one of the last standing acceptable measures against equality for all and it facilitates exclusion.

As a world, we have begun to dismantle the beliefs that one race is better than another or one sex is superior to another. We have done this by accepting the idea of equality which promotes acceptance of our differences in these areas and choosing to highlight, explore, and even feature these differences as valuable attributes to the richness of our world.

Disability, whether visible or invisible, needs to have a regular seat at the table. Our society will never truly care about accessibility, nor the efforts it requires to gain it until the disability is visible and included in all diversity and inclusion conversations and efforts. This is true within education, within the workplace, and within all opportunities, yet, once society starts to see these things regularly, they will also see the true possibility and opportunities accessibility brings for all of us.

Alycia sits on a yellow bridge with her hand and foot on the wheelchair next to her

Image Description: Alycia sits on a yellow bridge with her hand and foot on the wheelchair next to her

Thank you to Equal Entry for highlighting my efforts!