Entrepreneurship Growing in Popularity Among People with Disabilities

Here we are in October: Pumpkin Spice Awareness Month, right? That’s true, but it’s also Disability Awareness Month. Why is this monthly observance even more important than sweater weather and pumpkin-flavored everything?

Did you know that people with disabilities around the world are the largest minority and yet the least talked about groups of people? Take cerebral palsy for example: worldwide, 17 million men, women, and children live with this, the most commonly diagnosed group of congenital disorders, yet many people don’t know much about the condition.

People with disabilities are also one of the largest groups of people who struggle with unemployment. Did you know? In 2018, the employmentpopulation ratio—the proportion of the population that is employed— was 19.1 percent among those with a disability, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. In contrast, the employmentpopulation ratio for those without a disability was 65.9 percent.

Those numbers callout an obvious disparity that needs to be remedied. How do we come together to create societal changes that welcomes disability in the workplaces? Firstly, Corporate America’s all-business brain needs to shift to an all-embracing thought process; a mindset that celebrates disability — and all differences pertaining to lifestyle — as assets and equalizers rather than limitations or restrictions to opportunities, successes, and health — now isn’t that the kind of attitude and belief we should all try to adopt?

People with disabilities are incredibly creative, proficient, and accomplished men and women; ignoring that fact based on physical or emotional prowess becomes the bigger issue than any workplace accommodation or adaptations will ever be.

A 30-something year-old woman with a cerebral palsy, I know a thing or two about competing to keep my spot in the workforce. I am not alone – between the discrimination, unintentional or otherwise, and the lack of proper accommodations in the workplace, many people with disabilities turn to entrepreneurship in order to create some space and make some marks on the community.

I have decided to taking creative control of my professional prowess. Alongside my business partner, Erin Kay, we have come together to create Claiming Disability Inc.

Claiming Disability Inc is more than a clever business name, it is a movement, a battle cry to strong and determined men and women who know that ‘disabled’ is not a label informing limitations, but a badge of honor to be celebrated with pride.

Claiming Disability Inc provides education, emotional support, and mentorship that encourages confidence and increases professional and personal successes in the lives of men and women with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

Under the enthusiastic leadership of Kay and Miller, Claiming Disability Inc is a multi-media brand producing educational and empowering media content and news-worthy-campaigns that encourages confidence and increases professional and personal successes in the lives of men and women with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

Our platforms include podcasts, blogs, photo shoots, literature, and clothing and accessories. Claiming Disability Inc will also provide keynote speakers for high schools, colleges, universities, professional conferences, personal and development events. Claiming Disability Inc speaking engagements will also help to raise awareness of inclusivity and equality for people with disabilities.

Do you know one of the coolest things about creating this organization and this space for people with disabilities?

If you guessed that it’s being able to build a supportive and understanding community of men and women living with or around disabilities, and coming together to find camaraderie in the commonalities — then you know why this work is so important.

At Claiming Disability Inc, we are encouraging people to proudly claim their disabilities and share their stories. Why? Because when we share, we connect, and when we connect, we learn we aren’t alone. When we know we aren’t alone in our experiences and our feelings, it becomes easier to live more authentically and speak more freely about who we are.

 

Check us out!

Claiming Disability Inc website: https://www.claimingdisabilityinc.com/

Mollie’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wheeliegoodwriter/?hl=en

Mollie’s Personal Blog: https://wheeliegoodwriter.com/

Erin’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/disabilitiesarebeautiful/?hl=en

Claiming Disability Inc Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/claiming_disability_inc/?hl=en

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17 Million People

17 million. That’s the number of men, women, and children living with Cerebral Palsy, the most commonly diagnosed group of congenital disorders. Yet, not many people know very much about the diagnosis.

So, what is Cerebral palsy? This medical diagnosis, usually causing a degree of disability, is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture. It’s caused by damage that occurs to the immature brain as it develops, most often before birth. Signs and symptoms appear during infancy or preschool years.

What does this matter to you? Unless you have cerebral palsy or love somebody who does, probably not much. But that’s exactly why World Cerebral Palsy day matters so much.

People with disabilities need more recognition for their unique attributes and contributions to the world. You see, too often, people with disabilities are known for their differences or for the abilities they lack, as defined by society.

We — disabled people — are so much more than a label from a diagnosis. We are, simply, people. But we are people who dealt more challenging and complicated cards. Those cards, even if they give us more struggles, they give us even more strength. And creativity. And special skills to adapt and solve problems with ingenuity and determination. We have a special sense of humor and a deep compassion for underserved or misunderstood people.

That’s what World CP Day and Disability Awareness Month is all about: recognizing the millions of people who rise up from challenging experiences each day to join the rest of the world.

More importantly, this day and this month stands as a reminder: disability is just a word to describe the way a person might experience life. But the word disability does not determine a person’s value and impact in this life.

Be Like Barbie

My eyes are bad, and I’m pretty sure I’m seeing double. 👀 👀

A big step in disability inclusion is disability representation in media and material things.

Way to go, Barbie , for making this beautiful girl and helping her roll onto store shelves nationwide (worldwide, maybe? A girl can dream).

Barbie

With her sleek, jewel-toned chair, this fashionista is joining in the important imaginative play of thousands of kiddos, (and the occasional 33-year-old woman), to teach them togetherness and to normalize diversity.

This toy is more than favorite plaything or pastime; this toy is a tool for teaching kids how to be comfortable and compassionate towards their peers who may not look, move, and live the way they do.

Mostly, this girl, with a pretty smile and confident pose, is helping thousands of kids who have disabilities and use wheelchairs celebrate who they are; when they hold this Barbie in their hand, and when they roll her wheelchair around their living room floor, they will begin to understand that they are not alone and that they are not the only kid whose body is different. They will know that different is not wrong, that they are exactly who they are supposed to be.

No matter how bad my eyes may be, it is clear that good change is happening; I want to see more of it. Toy companies, be like Barbie.

Love Grows Love

Life is the most impractical and fragile miracle; life never goes the way we plan — all the beauty and happiness of humanity can get marred by the ugliness of evil — and just as quickly as day becomes night, the magic of life is taken, swiftly and too easily.

Mindless tragedy is confusing; why anyone wouldn’t value and protect the miraculous gift of all life is incomprehensible for so many of us. Together, we may feel powerless against a darkness created by beliefs, values and prejudices that dehumanize and devalue and steal the precious breath of too many people.

In times of devastating heartbreak and fear, remember that there is no force greater or more powerful than love; light, love and compassion will rise from the destructive fires of hate and ignorance.

Wrap your arms around those you love most; hold tightly to the miracles surrounding you. Give thanks for another day, use time wisely and for good. Fix your eyes on morality, integrity, kindness and truth. The truth is, love grows and spreads like wild flowers wherever it is planted.

Goodness and Grace

So, my friends, I pledge to sprinkle love, kindness, happiness and compassion wherever I am. I pray you do the same. Though it feels like a dark day for so many of us, there will be bright spots among us, if we choose to see and be the light.

As you go out into the world today, carrying on with your daily routines and to-do lists, remember to act with love and compassion and know that goodness and grace will grow in your path.

There is peace even in the darkness of hate; there is calm in the mad noise and evil haste of our world. Go and find love. Create love and be love. Mostly, honor and protect the miracle of this day, of all life.

Be kind and gentle with yourselves and others – today and always.

When I Dream…

I dream of living in a world where the word ‘different’ doesn’t carry the weighted connotations of ”less than” or “outsider.” I dream of living in a world where different is a celebration not a condemnation. I dream of living in a world where different perspectives, ideas, lifestyles, races, faces, bodies, and abilities are seen and appreciated.

I dream of living in a world where different is the great equalizer, and the creator of opportunities to learn and connect, to fill unique niches, to understand and to think more broadly, and to make necessary changes to systems and policies so that we can all live happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

I dream of a day when the word “disability” isn’t spoken as a way to describe someone who is unable, but is a declaration of someone who is able to live an adventurous, love-filled, busy and impactful life, amidst some of the most challenging circumstances. I dream of a day when disability is completely abolished from all languages.

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I dream of a day when people with mobility challenges are seen as strong and powerful people, not lacking abilities, but who live with additional abilities to think quickly and creatively to solve problems and create space where there is none.

I dream of a day when labels fall off and lose their meanings and when people are no longer cataloged — as disabled or otherwise. I dream of a day when we are all one humanity, with no boundaries or limits. I dream of a day when — whether you get around on your wheels, your heels, your hands, your crutches, or heck, you scoot around on your butt — you pick your place, you make your space and you fill it with confidence.

I dream of a day when I am not stared at as an oddity, as a puzzle to be solved, as questions to be answered; I dream of a day when I am seen, really seen, as the whole, entire woman I am.

I dream of a day when my disability is not a glaring issue, but just a glimpse into who I am: a goofy, smiley, smart(ass), compassionate woman who works hard, who loves and laughs even harder — and who feels most confident in a dress, some jewelry, and a red lip. 💄

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When I Call Myself Disabled

When I call myself disabled, sometimes it’s an explanation for a chaotic reality or a reason for routine. It’s a guttural release of anger, annoyance, irritation and anxieties. It’s a badass badge honoring strength and determination. Other times it’s a scarlet letter, so big and red I can’t control its flare.

When I call myself disabled, it’s a flinch, a stare, a questioning or inquisitive glare. Not any more from a passerby’s curious eye, then from mine in my own mirror, counting my scars, marks, and bruises, and wondering, ‘where did this new one on my knee come from?’ 

When I call myself disabled, it’s constant tugging and pulling at my clothes, lamenting the fact that fighting with fabric is sometimes a losing battle; cotton, rayon, polyester and denim don’t always want to sit pretty on my sitting crooked body. It’s why I bought the Get Naked sign hanging in my apartment. It’s adjusting my legs, my spine and my neck, their muscles and bones lit up in fiery pain, so that I’m sitting up as straight and tall as I can; it’s wishing to blend in seamlessly with the crowd while hoping to be seen.

When I call myself disabled, it’s acknowledging that life with autonomy, choices, experiences and opportunities isn’t an impossible dream, but a logistical nightmare. It’s a crash course in creative, out-of-the box thinking, it’s knowing that adaptation and problem solving is a necessary, sometimes minute-by-minute, part of this life.

When I call myself disabled, it’s a collection of experiences continuously tipping the scales between grief and gratitude. It’s  grieving opportunities lost, access denied, relationships ended and abilities stolen, but it’s also gaining  a healing gratitude for my heart and my eyes and my mind and my voice — the critical functions to be a good, wise and loving human — that allows me to see the world through an ultra-compassionate lens, recognizing and renouncing injustices or inequalities; it increases my capacity for bonds and interconnections, forever tied through understanding and awareness.

When I call myself disabled, it is a fact; I can’t argue with reality. Instead I must surrender to my physical body, no matter if it’s slow, sluggish, riddled with pain, and a serious fall risk, it is mine.

When I call myself disabled, it is a prideful truth; a deep satisfaction in all that I have accomplished and achieved. It is a fear for my future but a celebration of my present.

When I call myself disabled, it is a battle cry to the army of disability warriors who surround me. It is a march in solidarity with the millions of people who know the injustice, who feel the inequality and who persevere through the struggle.

When I call myself disabled, it is knowing that I am more than a label stuck on by opinion; I am me for so many reasons and there is no one else I’d rather be.

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15 Years Later

Recently, I posted some thoughts to my High School’s alumni message board. I thought my words were worth sharing again here. Enjoy…

I still remember some foggy details of graduation day, most notably, it was a green-lit, stormy-skied afternoon and evening. Our expected outdoor ceremony got rushed indoors. I remember thinking, as I rushed to get out of the wind and rain – and hoping that my loosely-pinned cap would stay in place – that I had heard once that if it rained on a couple’s wedding day it meant that their future together would be a good and happy one. Maybe rain on high school graduation day would mean that my future would be happy and successful and “bright,” as my parents and grandparents predicted.

It’s been 15 years — that whole, “it feels like just yesterday” thought bubbles up as I type that realization — and, for the most part, I can confidently and proudly share that my suspicions about rain equaling success and happiness are true, give or take a few detours and road bumps along the way. I’m happy to see that, for most of us here, life has been a happy and fulfilling challenge.

Challenge isn’t a bad word. The experiences that test us — so much so that we feel like we might break in half — those are the life moments where we are revealed to ourselves; our innate spirit and strength and courage shows up and we realize we will not break, only bend. If we choose to believe in ourselves and in our capacity for love and belonging, we can face any change, conquer any uphill challenge and come into an adventure of newness.

Since graduating, I have stepped into newness, taking new shape and filling new spaces, time and again. I have accomplished so many things, some that I never thought possible, between career shifts, creative endeavors, relationships and creating a home and a community for myself. My life, for the good and the bad, has unfolded much more interestingly and become more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.

Who I have become — an engaging and outgoing woman who is proud of her career and the impact she makes — is thanks to a choice I made, shortly after graduating high school and moving to Florida for college. I chose to start believing in myself, something I struggled with in high school, and to embed myself into life more. That meant searching out clubs and groups and areas where I am needed — for me, that space was disability advocacy and using my position on the university newspaper to bring light to disparities and inadequacies in inclusion and accessibility, to speak to my peers and school leaders; it meant actively seeking my people, coming away from the wall and giving myself permission to insert myself into the fold, without anyone else telling me I belong — because I already knew that I do.

Challenge

Honestly, I figured most of you, who graduated around the time that I did, would read this and think, ‘oh, yeah, I remember her, that quiet, nice girl in the wheelchair.’ I say that not to evoke sympathy or pity but as an opportunity to share that I am aware now that my insecurities and my shame around my disability meant that I didn’t give many of my classmates a chance to get to know me very well back then.

I didn’t involve myself in the temporary high school world very much because I didn’t know that I had a place, that I belonged. I remember being quiet and kind of shy — two things I’d never say about myself now — because I wasn’t happy to be one of the only girls in class who had a physical disability (at least from my perspective). I felt too different and like my peers were probably judging me and probably wouldn’t accept me, so why even try to involve myself. High school was a very lonely time for me, but it didn’t have to be. I had every right to be there, I had a place and I did belong — I just never believed it enough to include myself more with you. I’m sorry to you, my peers, for blaming you for my not feeling included or accepted in high school. The truth is, it took me a long time — and let’s be real, from 18 to 33, it is still a daily struggle sometimes — to accept myself and my place in the world.

If you have made it this far, you are a champ. Stay with me a little bit longer.

This long-winded stream of consciousness is to piggyback off of my friend, and disability-warrior sister, Emily Millette‘s post about her sweet boy, Ro, and the wild importance of teaching and encouraging acceptance and inclusion of all differences. I couldn’t agree more with you, strong and courageous momma, now more than ever, we have to lead by example and teach our children and young people to see beyond those characteristics that make us different from each other, embrace them and lead each other into the fold.

I also believe that we cannot put full responsibility on those around us to make us feel welcomed and accepted. When we walk (or roll) into a room, or a new experience, or a new group of people, we must know, down to our bones, that we belong there. So, please, teach acceptance of others, but start with teaching the children you love that they belong in every room they enter. Remind them, every day if you need to, that they have a place already, simply because they showed up. Tell them they will find their people; help them find the courage to step in and speak up. Show them what it means to have wild courage to be seen and heard.

Thank you for reading. I hope that like me, your lives have been full of more sunshine than rain.