People often look at those with disabilities or suffering from chronic illness and only see the negatives. It’s not really surprising since it’s human nature to judge a book by its cover, but the reality can be very different. Today, I want to share why I think there are more positives than meet the eye and that those with disabilities can play a huge role in achieving success through creative problem solving.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working alongside a wheelchair-bound colleague named Nicole at a time when my own condition was starting to become more challenging. I was at a point where I had to give more thought to changing my own approach to work and life. What she showed me is that many people living with disabilities may help to bring fresh perspectives when it comes to creative problem solving.
Disability to creativity
Nicole was a big help during this time, as I observed her not only thriving in work and life despite the challenges that come with using a wheelchair, but also balancing auditions and pursuing her acting career. She now proudly represents the disabled community as a series regular on network TV. Her mindset is something special and she showed me that there is a way to work around disability and even use it to raise your game.
Rather than seeing life with a disability as a hindrance, she sees it from a different perspective. When it comes to a team and professional settings, Nicole explained that “People with disabilities are innately incredible problem solvers. Having a person with a disability on your team will be a tremendous asset because you will be working with someone who is constantly thinking outside the box.” This has been something I’ve tried to focus on in turning perceived weakness into strength in my own career and life.
With more and more companies preaching and practicing diversity and inclusion as a means to bring in a broader range of perspectives, disabled and chronically ill employees also need to be considered.
Netflix’s Queer Eye’s Wesley Hamilton and I discussed how valuable it can be to encourage and empower disabled and chronically ill workers to become entrepreneurs.
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This past week leading up to the @queereye season 4 premier made me start to expect the unexpected. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed because I believe that this moment is truly going to be something huge for my life and the world. My life has changed since being on the show, and now the world gets to witness that. My Queer Eye episode spoke my truth. They did such a great job keeping the moments that made the most impact–showing all the emotions, the tension, and then the uplifting. I am more proud of this episode than I ever could have imagined. I can’t wait to see what positivity and influence it creates. Thank you @tanfrance @antoni @jvn @karamo @bobbyberk for everything I will have a special piece in my heart for each and every one of you. ðWatch for blogs about my time with the Fab Five! Iamwesleyhamilton.com #queereye
“We fight so hard to be accepted, that we should reinvest our time to create something valuable. I created something to change the perception of disability by doing things like CrossFit and starting a business and I would encourage anyone who feels like they’re fighting too hard to be accepted to take control and create that thing. Whatever you’re trying to do.”
Innovating to adapt
Differently abled fashion professional Laura Cox has opened her eyes to an even bigger need for her community, with her sight set on developing and launching her own adaptive fashion brand.
“I am now at a crossroads in my career where I am inspired by my own life experiences and want to really make a difference in the fashion world by creating adaptive clothing for people with disabilities. The idea of adaptive clothing will help people with disabilities feel like their best selves without trying to fit in clothing that does not support their needs.”
With everything Laura has had to navigate to get this far, as well as having a great idea with a proven need, her experiences have almost put her at an advantage over those who might not have had to get as creative with how they approach things day-to-day.
Knowing your limits
Part of being creative and resourceful as a differently abled professional includes being self-aware, knowing your limits, and listening to your body.
Chris Carrino, the radio voice of the Brooklyn Nets and NFL commentator for Compass Media Networks adds that it’s healthy and important to be realistic with the expectations we put on ourselves, personally and professionally. Like myself, Chris was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy (FSHD) in his early 20s.
“You have to be realistic with ‘can I do the job?’”, he adds as an example. “When I signed with my agent I was upfront that I had muscular dystrophy and couldn’t go after sideline reporting where I’m chasing players around, or climb the steps at the stadium. But, when you turn on the radio, what comes out of that IS the job. I can do that.” And he has for more than two decades.
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It’s worth noting that, just like any professionals in any field, able-bodied or not, we can overdo it and burn ourselves out. We often tend to put extra stress on ourselves to overdo it and prove we “belong” as much as our peers without similar challenges.
Appreciate what you have
Whether it’s aiming high and creating your own business, or standing your ground for equal opportunity within an organization, appreciating yourself and what you’ve been able to accomplish leading up to it is key. It’s not easy, but when you learn to do that, others tend to believe it as well.
Wesley adds, “You have to be your own advocate. But it is easier said than done. We can understand that we’re feeling defeated, but we can also advocate for ourselves when we know we deserve more. And when you advocate for yourself, you also become a voice for your community.”
I hope this article reminds not only our own community of that, but those that can empower us as well.