Success means… being unapologetically yourself.
Three adjectives that describe me are... focused, warm, honest.
You can’t run a business without… making time for self-care.
In the next 10 years I will be… continuing to pay it forward.
Diversability is an award-winning social enterprise to rebrand disability through the power of community. We reframe the conversation around disability from one where disability is a medical diagnosis that needs to be “fixed” to one where disability is rooted in identity, pride, and empowerment.
I started Diversability based on my own personal experiences after a car accident when I was younger took the life of my dad and left me with a disability.
We seek to do three things that are “disruptive” is this space.
1) We unite the disability community, which is often fragmented by type of disability and "divided by diagnosis."
2) We want to engage allies in the conversation. There’s definitely a need for support groups and self-advocacy organizations, but in order for there to be progress, everyone needs to be engaged in the conversation.
3) Finally, we celebrate disability pride and empowerment. And if we can't celebrate it, then at the very least, respect that disability is an aspect of our intersectional identities and multidimensional lives. There are over one billion of us who live with some sort of disability, so I love the idea of empowerment without pity.
How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you?
I initially came up with the idea for Diversability in university during a diversity training my senior year. We were given a pie and asked to cut out slices of our social identities based on how important they were to us (i.e. race, gender, religion, etc.). Disability was almost half of my pie. Though I never publicly discussed it, it was something that I thought about on a daily basis, from carrying my lunch tray in the cafeteria to dropping a letter off in the mailbox. I glanced over at my neighbor’s pie only to realize that being “able-bodied” was the thinnest slice of his pie. It wasn’t even something he thought about. It made me realize that disability was often missing from the conversation because of a lack of awareness. Why was the world’s largest minority (one billion people) often overlooked in diversity conversations? Despite an abundance of student groups that addressed various aspects of diversity, there was a lack of groups focused on raising disability awareness on campus.
It was my “ah-ha” moment to start “Diversability,” a movement to get more people talking and thinking about disability. I introduced the group through an op-ed in the school paper. It was scary and I felt vulnerable, but I thought, “If not now, then when?”
Five years later, I started getting Twitter messages and emails asking about Diversability. Dreamers // Doers encouraged me to host one event to see if there was still an interest to build communities around disability and reframes conversations around it. The rest is history.
What were you doing before this? How did it prepare you for the entrepreneurial life?
Diversability started as a passion project, or "side hustle." I honestly never thought it would become my "full hustle!" One of the main reasons that startups fail is a lack of market need for their product. The "side hustle" is a helpful way to "test" your business to see how the market responds and pivot if needed without making large costly decisions.
My background is in business and finance, and I worked on Wall Street for a few years in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. When I re-launched Diversability, I was the Director of Business Development at REVOLT TV, the music network from Sean Diddy Combs. On paper, it was everything I had dreamed of for myself... I was only 26 and working directly with the Chief Financial Officer and sitting in on board meetings with Sean Combs.
My finance background isn't something that is very common in the disability space, so it has been helpful to come in with this background when it comes to thinking through how to create a sustainable business model (we are not a non-profit).
Do you have a fixed work routine? Is it important to have one? Any tips for our readers?
One thing I learned about myself while working in previous corporate roles was that I didn't like doing the same thing every day. When I worked in banking, I loved that no day was the same and I find that it's similar as an entrepreneur. I sometimes miss the structure of a 9 to 5, but I love the freedom and independence I have as an entrepreneur. You can often find me traveling for conferences, and when I am not traveling, I limit myself to one external meeting or call per day. Setting those boundaries has become extremely important to stay focused on what I need to get done without sporadic distractions throughout the day.. Each one of those requires a transition and a reset.
How do you generate new ideas to stay relevant on the market? Is it important to innovate in your space?
Most of our new ideas have come directly from our community. I remember at our re-launch event in 2015, I had a handful of attendees ask, "what's next?" I instead asked them what they were looking for or needed and went from there.
The idea for the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter came from a conversation I had with Disability Visibility Project founder Alice Wong. Over the past year, we have received around 60 submissions on average per month and can only pick one grant winner.
My most recent idea, #Trailhead4All for the disability community, is the largest #Trailhead4All workshop the Salesforce community has helped organize so far. Hopefully this will be the beginning of introducing more people with disabilities to Salesforce and on their way to getting certified and employed at competitive rates.
What is your proudest accomplishment of this year? What are you looking forward the most in the next 12 months?
It's still early in the year but one of the highlights so far was getting invited to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, an annual gathering of international politicians, business leaders, and some of the brightest minds in academia and civil society. Not only was I one of the 3,000 participants, I was also a speaker on the formal agenda, speaking on bias and diversity, social media movements, inclusive design, and disability. This was the first year there was a series on disability inclusion on the agenda -- I was honored to be a part of this win for our community.
Over the next 12 months, I'm looking forward to hosting the first #Trailhead4All for the disability community, a workshop to learn in-demand Salesforce tech skills. This is an initiative that came out Salesforce's Dreamforce conference a few years ago to get more underrepresented groups introduced to Salesforce. The Salesforce economy is going to create more than 3 million jobs over the next 5 years. The employment rate for adult Americans with disabilities is 27.7%. It just made sense that these workshops could be a way to close the disability employment gap. I'm also looking forward to entering year 2 of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter, a self-organized monthly microgrant for disability projects run by a group of us with disabilities who fund and select the winning projects.