People with disabilities have always had a voice. We’re just teaching the world different ways to listen.
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The Need for More Disability Leadership

July 1, 2022 / Representation

A Black professional woman in a wheelchair holds a marker in front of a white board as she leads a meeting with three colleagues

By AACs Guest Writer Shari Cooper

This is the first blog in a series about disability leadership.

A leader is a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country.

When I think of great leaders, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris. I also think of Ken Campbell, Justin Dart and Judy Heumann.

You certainly know the first three names, but do you know the other three? The second three are people with disabilities and some of the greatest leaders I know. Question: why aren't there more people with disabilities in leadership positions?

There’s a major lack of disability leadership representation in the world today. Does the world think people with disabilities are incapable of leading? I believe that’s a true statement. Let’s take the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), for instance. FDR was the only American President to be elected four times. He also helped the country recover from the Great Depression.

Even after all FDR did for the nation, he didn’t want to be photographed while sitting in his wheelchair after being stricken with polio. FDR knew the people would look at him differently. They would think of him as weak, incapable and incompetent. Although this is sad, it’s true.

Are we as a people ever going to look at people with disabilities as able to lead?

People with disabilities in leadership roles will make mistakes and are going to have to learn the ropes, just as leaders without disabilities do. I’m no scholar, but many leaders are great because they’ve learned while leading. Don’t you think people with disabilities deserve that opportunity?

If the world doesn't open to disability representation in leadership, it’s going to be missing out on a unique perspective that can perhaps make changes to benefit everyone.

On a different note, as we come together to promote the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives everyone is talking about, it’s going to be a flop if disability leadership representation is not one of the goals that’s executed.

There is much to say about the topic of disability leadership representation. I’d like to invite you to tune in as I explore this topic and develop it into a series.

Until the next time, look around your community to see how many people with disabilities are in positions of leadership. If you don’t see any, ask yourself why, and what you can do to change that.

Shari Cooper is a strong advocate for everyone who lives with a disability. In her position as Public Relations Assistant for Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, Shari is the “blogger-in-chief.” She’s also a columnist for the Dayton Daily News Editorial pages and an award-winning speaker. This year, she served as the official emcee for DD Statehouse Advocacy Day, introducing advocates as well as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and other speakers. She even gave a TED talk at TEDx Dayton in 2014 called “Are you OK with yourself?” But the role she cherishes most is that of disability awareness advocate.

Shari’s impact as an advocate is far-reaching. She has served on the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities and on the Ohio Secretary of State’s Americans with Disabilities Council. In 2008, she was elected to the Board of Directors for the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities. She’s served on the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of The Disability Foundation.