From Waitress to Workplace Warrior : Alycia’s NDEAM Story
Reflecting on NDEAM: Marty turns the tables and interviews Alycia
Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia. A podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.
Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.
Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. It is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. And man, have we had a month. This is where mine and Marty’s business began so many years ago when we started doing advocacy work for disability inclusion in the workplace.
We are changing it up a little bit today. Marty is on, welcome, and I’m going to be handing over the interviewing mic to Marty, he’s going to be the interviewer and I am going to be the interviewee. Because we’re talking about workplace and that is my sweet spot.
So handing over the mic, let’s do it.
Marty Anderson: I’d like to first start off with a question for our interviewee, Mrs. Alycia Anderson. What does employment mean to you?
Alycia Anderson: Employment means to me… when I was growing up, my dad would tell my sisters and my brother and I a lot, “You need a reason to get out of bed every day.” And for him, that meant going into his office and working hard.
And so from a very young age that’s what we did too. We always went into work, and so it was embedded in in me at a young age.
That was one of the motivators of my life. No matter, I had a disability or not, and so working really started from a young age all the way into… I mean now we’ve got our own business and we’re entrepreneurs and traveling all over the place. So the beginning of it was just kind of the philosophy of you got to have a reason to get out of bed every single day.
Marty Anderson: And I love that. That’s amazing. Your dear Papa. We miss him very much. And he did so much to set some foundational lessons. For you and I think that, that was a tremendous one.
So before we dive in to some more interview questions, I kind of want to frame the months topic of NDEAM for our listeners. I want to share a quick look at what the current state of disability in the United States looks like as far as unemployment for people with disabilities.
And as of February 23rd, 2023, the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics let out a report and it was titled, Persons with a Disability Labor Force Characteristics in 2022.
Where it outlines that there are 264,000,000 non-institutionalized Americans in the United States over the age of 16. And out of that, there are approximately 231 million people living in the United States without disabilities and nearly 157 million of those 231 million, or almost 68% of those are people that are considered a part of the civilian labor force.
There are nearly 33 million people living in the United States with a disability. And out of those 33 million, there are about 7.5 million who are actively looking to be a part of the labor force. Of them there are nearly seven million Americans with disabilities working in the United States, 30% of them are only working part time.
8.2% of people with disabilities compared to 3.5% of their able-bodied counterparts were unemployed.
Now, this same report stated that workers with disabilities were less likely to have completed a Bachelors Degree or higher. They were more likely to work in service occupations. More likely to work in production, transportation and material moving. They were less likely to have private wage or salary positions and less likely to work in management, professional and related occupations.
Now there is some positive news out of this report. Over 900,000 more Americans with disabilities joined the labor force from 2021 to 2022.
So the number of people with disabilities in the United States that want to work is growing and we can only imagine that these numbers will continue to grow.
Alycia Anderson: This statistic is pretty interesting because that’s relatable to during COVID when we were all working from home and we talked about a lot how flexible schedules and technology offerings in the workforce creates equitable and inclusive environments for more people with disabilities to have employment and jobs.
So offering those types…, and that’s something that we learned during COVID when we were all kind of forced to work from home and employment rates rose, which is very fascinating, and it kind of proves the point that if we are allotting those types of environments flexible schedules or giving the opportunity to work from home where people with disabilities can access their own environments, their own technologies, their own accessibility… how much more opportunity there is for people with disabilities to have varying types of employment that weren’t necessarily considered pre COVID because we weren’t thinking outside of that flexible schedule box.
Marty Anderson: Yeah, it does go to show that the workforce has people with disabilities that want to be a part of that workforce, too.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is just that opportunity for businesses to take a hard look at where they’re at with disability in their workforce.
How did you overcome the challenges of disability employment in your life?
Alycia Anderson: My first job ever was… I was hired to be a waitress in a wheelchair at a Mexican restaurant, and this was my first opportunity to experience inclusion in the workforce and the collaboration that it took.
And it what it was to be successful in this type of venture…, it took an open minded forward thinking company, and in that, it also took my willingness to try.
And every day I would go into work and I would carry margaritas and fajitas on my lap, and I would bring them to my guests. And this was a job that put me through college. I did really well. It was something that went viral back in the 90s, like stories about this waitress in a wheelchair.
Marty Anderson: I remember those days as we were part of each other’s lives for so many years, I have to say that it was very, very empowering, even just for me as a disabled man to watch how you would maneuver and be so professional.
And I remember that after those articles went viral for you. You had even spurred a little bit of a modeling career for a moment with an AT&T commercial and some things with cranberry juice where you…, but it sparked you to continue on so.
Alycia Anderson: Well, and what it did was it gave me the opportunity to share with the public every single day that I chose to go into work, that people with disabilities can do any type of job.
Even the physical ones, the ones that we are typically counted out for because of ableism, because of our biases that we have towards disability, that the workplace can look at it as a limitation rather than an asset.
In my career, I’ve always wanted to work at the jobs that were probably not the one that you were going to hire the girl in the wheelchair for.
So I learned from a very young age in my employment sort of ventures that I had to speak up for myself. I had to advocate for myself and… right, wrong or indifferent, I always had to be ready to go into each and every employer, be ready to almost wish away my disability, and jJust be ready to tell them how I can physically accomplish a job a task and then get to the interview, get to my expertise and then hopefully have an opportunity to be hired.
And when I was younger in navigating that, that was really hard and it was uncomfortable.
Looking back, I wish I would have been a little braver in using my words and my advocacy to ask for more accommodations and the things that I needed to make those experiences a little bit easier.
Marty Anderson: It’s interesting that you say that because I remember this strong young lady who was just tackling the world and all that she wanted to do, and you used this to leverage yourself to get that bachelor’s degree at Chico State. And then from there, the world really opened up for you and you went on for your masters in in Leuven and you worked over there as well.
Tell us a little bit about that.
Alycia Anderson: Yeah, so I put myself through college through my bachelors degree. I received a full ride scholarship to move… to live in Belgium and got a master’s degree in adaptive physical activity over there.
And while I was over there, I got an opportunity to work an intern for the International Paralympic Committee, and this was a bucket list employment opportunity for me.
And when I got over there my intention was to do just that. My goal was to work for the International Paralympic Committee and I saw that it was part of this program. It is why I did…. I moved over and made that that change in my life.
And to receive that type of opportunity, I again needed to be bold with my words and my actions, and introduce myself and share my value to create opportunities and reach the dreams that I really wanted that was not handed to me.
It was me having the courage to go into that organization and introduce myself to everyone and suggest that we will be working together one day, and that is exactly what we did.
Let’s take a quick break. You’re listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia.
Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson.
It is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
We are changing it up a little bit today and I’m handing over the interviewing mic to Marty, he’s going to be the interviewer and I am going to be the interviewee.
Marty Anderson: You came back from your Masters degree in adapted physical education and you got back to the United States and tell me about what happened?
Alycia Anderson: I mean, I got back to the United States off of this couple of year stint with the Paralympics and receiving my Masters and I was high on life.
And I thought I was going to get any type of job that I wanted in disability sports and that was my dream back then.
And I got back to here… home and just realized all my connections were for international, and it was really hard for me to find the position that was a right fit and my twin sister Regina had started a corporate career in sales and account management.
And she was working for at that time, it was a specialty coffee company. This was like, right when coffee was starting to become this hip thing, and she was selling coffee and making some money in commissions, and I thought, well, there… I was a waitress maybe I can do that while I’m looking for a job in disability sports science.
She advocated for me to have a position there because it was again a very physical job. It was a lot of travel, a lot of physical navigation. I mean, I would call Marty in to work with me because I’d have to set up these huge coffee sets I’d go into like universities and sell coffee programs and have to set up the breweries and the marketing.
And it was big 6-foot boxes and at that point I never wanted to tell my boss that I couldn’t do anything. And this is not something that I suggest to any of our listeners today, but at that stage of my life I was somewhat insecure with my disability and so I would lean into the people that I could trust the most. Which was you, Marty. And I would call Marty and say like, hey, you gotta meet me over at this location. I’ve got a six foot box. I can’t do this.
Marty Anderson: That job at Java City, really and your experience at the Paralympic Committee began to open your eyes to this corporate world of professionalism, and it must have spurred some more dreams and desires into you.
So we ended up deciding to get married and then we had another exciting choice, right? You were offered another position and another career.
Alycia Anderson: That job helped me realize what I’m good at. I was really good at two things, I was good at disability sports and being in that space in that industry, but I was also really good at sales and I learned that from being a waitress and it translated into account management.
And I was one of the top of the team and so I started doing really well in my career and yeah, the next opportunity that came to me was working for another company that was in Silicon Valley at a technology company, a startup. And I got into technology, real estate sales, and that’s really where my career started to really flourish as a businesswoman and we… like you just said, we had the opportunity to move up from Southern California to Northern California.
And that’s really where I honed in my… and learned to be strong in…, in sales and business.
But there was a lot of obstacles. There was a lot of discrimination. I was excused out of properties because they’ve been sued by ADA.
I’ve had meetings in the grass… there was times when I was fully invited in, in every way, and things were accessible, and there was times when I was invited out simply for being me, and that was my reality in my career.
Navigating discrimination and navigating ableism in the workplace and constantly having to pinch myself and show my value and my abilities when on the surface level, it might not have looked that way to my company or my clients initially.
Marty Anderson: You tried to just be the best that you possibly could, and then I started realizing that you were really becoming a change maker at your work, making your clients think in different ways.
The experience that you bring with your disability and having to think of all the intangibles to solve problems was translating into all the work that you were doing but then another opportunity came your way.
Alycia Anderson: An opportunity came my way to work for another startup, which is the space that I really like to be in from a technology perspective, and it was a scary move to go from a job that I’ve been at for a very long time… established… I felt comfortable with where I was… with my disability and accessibility and I was accepted.
To go to a new environment was scary.
I was really afraid to make that move, but you encouraged me to go to the interview and go explore the idea, and this really stems a huge part of our platform today. With this… the interview on the conversation with Dimitri, the founder, co-founder of this company Knock that I worked for.
Because it was the first interview I had ever gone on that I didn’t have to wish away my wheelchair.
I didn’t have to… he didn’t know I was showing up in a wheelchair because I used to hide it… because I was afraid that I wouldn’t get my first wheel in the door.
Every hiring manager, I’d hide my disability until I got through the door that I got to this interview.
He didn’t… He didn’t flinch. He was impressed with all of my accolades. He hired me.
Then I started speaking like through that first next year and we started writing content and speaking on disability inclusion, and so I asked Dimitri why’d you hire me? You didn’t know I was going to be in a wheelchair, have a disability.
And he said… he listed off things that were related to my experience, and then he said something really interesting. He said that he knew I had to be a proficient planner. He knows I have to plan and pre plan and plan some more to do the same exact job that he would hire somebody else for. And he knew that proficiency around planning would translate to my work, and this was such an important moment in my entire career because it shifted my perspective and he not only looked beyond my disability, but he knew that it was core to the qualities that made me uniquely qualified over other candidates, and that my disability was core to me and to who I am.
And this is where we’re taking the diversity and inclusion and accessibility and disability inclusion conversation in the workforce today in DEI movements in accessibility advocacy movements that our differences are powerful, our differences are leverageable, our differences are assets rather than traditional limitations.
We’re in this beautiful space where we’re looking at that from a corporate perspective and that’s what we’re advocating for loudly.
Now today in our business, which is to include disability in that diversity and inclusion conversation because it transcends and crosses all other lines of that conversation, and it is so powerful.
Marty Anderson: Alycia, it is powerful and I want to give you kudos. Like I do every day on just how amazed I am by your fortitude to continue to drive on and what we really want to do here is encourage our listeners that it is possible.
And your story definitely does that for us.
What may be some of the biggest barriers that you faced throughout your career?
Alycia Anderson: I think some of the biggest barriers that I faced and that are frankly very present in the workplace today, that any company that’s listening to this should be aware of and take note of… is lack of disability inclusion, exposure, lack of the discussion within your organization, unfamiliarity with the conversation, lack of programming and policy, and accessibility and technologies in place.
This lack of representation, so your employees can see other employees with disabilities leading and working and doing the jobs that other people are doing, lack of including disability in DEI programs that are being implemented all over the place, these things need to be tackled.
And we need to start to remove some of these barriers by hiring people with disabilities.
Being willing to ask others about their backgrounds and experiences and share yours in return.
Lean in with empathy. Marty, we’re talking about empathy all the time, right. Like, lean in with empathy in these conversations and show up with a commitment to advocate and share and progress.
Change within your organizations because we’re all benefiting from it. People with disabilities are becoming employed. They’re valuable assets of the hiring pool. You’re creating return on investment from implementing accessibility.
There are so many values that come with shifting the conversation of limitation or liability to absolute assets to your organization.
Marty Anderson: Yeah, and that’s awesome. All of these things that you bring to the table with all of your expertise and knowledge from years of experience. It’s…, and I hate to say it, but it’s not always really good stuff that’s happening.
What are some of the worst things that you had to face in your climb?
Alycia Anderson: Exclusion. Not getting the job, not having accessibility, being left on the sidelines.
Marty Anderson: And oftentimes having coworkers try to minimize your efforts and take advantage of opportunities that could have been yours. I remember times you bringing microaggressions into the conversations that were, and your HR people asking why are you the only ones asking for special accommodations?
And the list goes on and on.
Alycia Anderson: Those companies out there that want to dive into those conversations more, that is. What we do right.
Marty Anderson: That is what we do.
Alycia Anderson: We’re doing this with our business going into companies and talking about disability inclusion and advocating.
Marty Anderson: Of course. so to stick to tradition, it’s that time of day in the episode again for that pushing forward moment, what advice might you give to those disabled people listening that are looking for their job or trying to advance their careers or find a way into this workforce?
Alycia Anderson: Go for it. Ask for what you need to do it. Ask for the promotion. Ask for the raise. Don’t take no for an answer. Be ready to share what your value is and really understand that there’s no limitation in any position that you would ever want or dream up?
And if I could add one more pushing forward moment for the organizations that are out there that think about disability inclusion as like ohh gosh, there’s just so much… where do we start? You need to just start and you need to remember that you’re never going to be done. That it’s progress over perfection. There is a saying in disability advocacy, nothing for us without us. Hire people with disabilities to create all of the magic that you are missing in your organizations.
Marty Anderson: Yes, representation matters. Tap into that unlimited resource of the 80% of unemployed disabled people.
They’re out there. Find them, hire them.
I have enjoyed being the host and interviewer today, and I want to say that this concludes another episode of Pushing Forward with Alycia.
Alycia Anderson: You did a great job.
Marty Anderson: It has been fun having the opportunity to be the interviewer today. We hope that all of our listeners enjoyed this episode.
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Alycia Anderson: Yeah, it is.