From the time I can remember my father always encouraged hard work, disability or not. He would say on repeat “through hard work one finds value and purpose in themselves. This is an especially important thing for anyone facing a lifetime of adversity.” So, I have always worked. This was way before inclusion was ever a thing to aim for in the workplace. And for me to find success in this venture, it always took a forward thinking nimble company to embark on the journey along with my never give up attitude and willingness to try. Inclusion in the workplace is collaborative, collective, ongoing, hard and VERY uncomfortable work.
From the first waitress in a wheelchair to reaching heights as an executive in corporate America to now owning my own business, I have excelled professionally despite the many challenges that come with being disabled in the workforce. Challenges of access or lack thereof. Challenges exclusion or disbelief. Challenges of overcoming the embarrassment of not fitting in as “typical.” Challenges of self-doubt or the doubt that has been placed on me by others. Challenges of blatant discrimination or being looked at as a punitive liability at work rather than an asset. Challenges of ableism. All very uncomfortable challenges to overcome throughout my career but also my motivation to try a little harder, to accomplish a little more and to prove that I can too.
The 1-4 conversation.
The hard truth is that 1-4 of us will experience some type of disability in our lifetime. Disability is the largest marginalized group in our country. Disability crosses all barriers and lines of the inclusion conversation but is oftentimes left out of the conversation due to its complexity. We are taught from a young age to favor the “able” body over all others. This is so ingrained in what we believe about disability that most of the time we don’t even realize its impact but oftentimes limits the professional opportunity, growth and advancement of someone with a disability over another.
Where do we go from here?
As a society we need to shift today’s perceived impossibilities of another into tomorrows absolutely possible for all of us. What we need to realize is our differences are valuable attributes in a work environment and can make us uniquely qualified over another. Mastering how to overcome one thing makes us proficient in something else bringing competitive value into the workplace. Inclusion at work oftentimes only takes minimal adaptations to be successful. But first we have to open our hearts and expand our minds and beliefs in another. Being willing to “see the person first” and being open to having the hard discussions around the topic paves a path forward that works for everyone.
From me to you…
Today is Labor Day as we celebrate ways American workers have contributed to the country’s success over the years. I personally take a lot of pride in the fact that I have found success in the workforce not only as a woman but more importantly a woman with a disability that can get the job done! 70% of people with disabilities are not counted in the workforce. Think of all of that missed talent and room to still grow. I encourage employers to tap into the untapped potential of people with disabilities and hire.
And on the flip side of the coin I encourage anyone with any type of disability (visible or invisible) to go for that one thing you have always dreamt of accomplishing most.
Because, If I can. You can!