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The Need for More Disability Leadership: Conclusion

November 22, 2022 / Representation

A white disabled woman designer draws on a digital tablet at a computer. Her female coworker points at the screen.

By AACs Featured Writer Shari Cooper

This is the fifth and final blog in a series about disability leadership. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

For the past four months, I’ve given reasons why there needs to be more disability representation in leadership positions.

Disability leadership is a major issue in the world that's overlooked because most either don't know or don't care about it. I think the notion of people with disabilities being in leadership positions is hard for many to wrap their heads around due to the myth that disabled people are incapable. This myth is simply not true. There are many people with disabilities ready to lead. To do so, let's recap some of the obstacles that need to be overcome.

Let’s start with the issue of tokenism. No one with a disability wants to be in a position of leadership just to sit there with no power to make decisions to promote change, chosen only to make a company, organization or agency look good in the public eye. People with disabilities need to be in leadership because we’re qualified, and our work speaks for itself. Plus, perspectives that come from a population that makes up a large percentage of the world need to be heard.

Second, I took on the matter of diversity. To move forward in serving the needs of all—including people with disabilities—there needs to be diverse leadership at the top. It’s uncomfortable to lead where you’re the only minority in the room. I’ve been in many situations where I’m the only one of color and, although I'm proud to be there because I put in the work, I know others who look like me and also put in the work should be there, too. As I mentioned in a previous post, many people don’t like to talk about diversity because it’s an uncomfortable subject. Again, the only way to bring about a change is to take the issue of diversity head-on and make it happen.

Lastly, accessibility and reasonable accommodations need to take center stage for people with disabilities to be able to lead. If an establishment is not accessible for people to enter, exit and take care of basic functions, it’s going to make it impossible to lead. Often people are afraid of the word accessibility because they associate the word with cost. Just because an establishment may look inaccessible to the eye, there’s a strong possibility that it may just need to be tweaked. Not all establishments need to be put under major construction to become accessible. 

Once accessibility is addressed for everyone to be able to get into an establishment and function with ease, reasonable accommodations may be needed for people to perform leadership tasks. Again, reasonable accommodations are nothing to be afraid of. A reasonable accommodation could be as simple as sending minutes and documents ahead of time to give someone time to review or using a restroom as a changing station for those who need it.

At the end of the day, these issues around disability leadership must be taken into consideration if things are going to change. Hopefully, this matter won’t fall through the cracks so the world will be able to witness disability leadership in all capacities, now and in the future.

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.