July is Disability Pride month. It’s a time for those living with disabilities can celebrate who they are.
By Mindy Henderson, Photo by Vanessa Todd
Did you know that July is Disability Pride month? It’s true! I wouldn’t lie about a thing like that. July is a month for the community of individuals with disabilities to celebrate who they are. It’s also a month for others to learn how to become better allies.
Let’s start with some facts. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 individuals has some type of disability, which nets out to over 61 million people in the U.S. This number includes a wide range of disabilities, but the most common are mobility disabilities, affecting 1 in 7 adults. Not a small population I’m talking about.
According to representatives at Inclusively, a job search platform focused on matching employers with candidates who may have a disability, only 28% of the community of adults with a disability are part of the workforce. Those without a disability who do hold jobs? Eighty-seven percent. I can tell you that I worked in corporate America for 20 years, for very large global companies. But in that 20 years, I was the only person in a wheelchair I ever saw.
As a person living from a wheelchair, I look around and see the progress we’ve made in the inclusion of other minority groups in the U.S. We have made progress. That’s not to say we are finished, by any stretch, but progress has been made. What I want to convey is that when I look around me—in offices and public places, on TV, in magazines and other media, in advertising—I still, in 2021, see very few individuals who look like me. Individuals in wheelchairs. Not to mention those who are visually impaired, have developmental disabilities, are hearing impaired…and on and on.
So, why should you care? What is the benefit to you when you employ a person with a disability? Perspective. Individuals with disabilities live and breathe problems and experiences no one else could imagine. I, for example, have become a creative problem-solver. I have a compassion and empathy that makes me a good people manager. Also, I have an impenetrable work ethic and loyalty to my employers because I am grateful to those who gave me opportunities to strut my stuff in the corporate world. Your company could be more competitive by hiring individuals with disabilities because they may think of ideas, products, services and answers to problems no one else would.
What do you get from including people with disabilities in your social circle? Again, perspective. Redundant, maybe, but still significant. Any time you expose yourself to and attempt to become comfortable with people who are not like you, you begin to see the world differently. You become more flexible and open and compassionate. Also, and I can’t speak for the other 60,999,999 individuals in the U.S. who have disabilities, but I am a freakin’ ball to hang out with! Therefore, you’d get fun and joy! #winning
All People Feel Valued
What would we get from building our cities so everyone could navigate them with the same ease? From turning on the TV and watching movies where the heroin could be Black, white, Asian, gay, straight…or in a wheelchair? What would happen if magazines featured ads from beauty brands that included models with disabilities in the mix of people who benefitted from their anti-aging creams and volumizing mascaras and lip-plumping glosses?
Simple. We would get to live in a world where all people feel valued and important and seen. A world where one person wasn’t more or less important or beautiful because of the color of their skin, the shape of their body or whether wheels or legs carried them from point A to point B. Simple, but important.
My dream? To live in a world where the most qualified candidate, the most sought-after actress and the most admired role model worked their magic from a wheelchair. And they were the standard to live up to.
Let’s Change the Standard
Here’s something to think about. Any one of us could acquire any kind of disability at any time. What if tomorrow, you suddenly found yourself part of a group of people who no one asked to lunch or happy hour because they were uncomfortable asking how you would get there? Part of a group that no one put in beauty ads because you weren’t the “standard”? Or who couldn’t board an airplane without being lifted and manhandled by strangers because the plane wasn’t designed for your wheelchair?
It could happen to anyone, any time. Let’s work on it now. Each of us doing our part to seek out, consider and include people with disabilities in our personal worlds. Let’s change the standard now for those who are currently excluded…and for those who may be tomorrow.
Mindy Henderson lives in Austin with her husband of 17 years. They have a daughter at Texas State University, a puggle named Mr. PapaGeorgio and a cat named Birdie. Mindy currently works as a speaker, writer, coach, host of The Truth About Things That Suck podcast and is a guest contributor to We Are Austin. This column is a tool she is excited to use regularly to help us all uncover those sucky but surprisingly beautiful circumstances. Connect with Mindy on Instagram at @mindyhendersonspeaks, or on LinkedIn.