Mindset Matters: The Evolution Of Disability In Corporate Life And The Next American Frontier

With the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) approaching it becomes imperative that as a society we begin to reframe this piece of legislation and examine it in a newfound way. Corporate culture should take the lead in advancing this opportunity because it is through shrewd leadership that will not only reveal the sheer power of the ADA but offers a new vision that lies in front of us to strive toward a just and equitable nation.  By expanding the meaning of the ADA beyond the bounds of legal parlance corporate culture has a tool to see the enormity of possibilities where imagination and creativity can become part of the arsenal that brings us to the next wave of growth and prosperity. The disability community can use the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us” to show the world of business that they should no longer be marginalized, but rather part of the larger conversations in corporate life from human capital issues to product development. The disability community must play a fundamental role in the growth of business for the 21st century.

In the nascent description of The Americans with Disabilities Act through the lens of business, it will be the next wave of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that may have even more profound roles than activists and those in the halls of Congress. It is the language of business that impacts the minutia of our daily lives. Whether it is the products and services we buy to make our lives better or the media we consume that shapes the way we think, business provides an ongoing narrative to the circadian rhythm of our lives. It is so commonplace, that we often don’t even recognize the power it exerts. Entrepreneurs with disabilities can no longer sit idle, they must get into the arena and explore not only how to use a great idea to start a business, but help set the stage for other entrepreneurs with disabilities to not only contribute to the economy but develop a pathway for potential employment and job security for those that may not have been given the opportunity. 

While the ADA can serve to galvanize creative entrepreneurs with disabilities to start their journey to become founders and business owners, it is just as important for venture capitalists to think about the Americans with Disabilities as a tool to envision a new market sector that is rife with opportunity in a whole host of ways. Venture capitalists play a unique role in the evolution of the ADA as a business document. Perhaps venture capitalists can be appreciated like the patron families of the Italian Renaissance such as the Medici’s. It is their role to provide support to these young entrepreneurs and create a foundation that enhances their opportunity for success but also develops a pipeline where there is further potential for growth and the ability to foster a business ecosystem for those with disabilities where they can thrive. 

However, as venture capitalists should play a role in cultivating entrepreneurs with disabilities, companies from numerous sectors ranging from technology, healthcare, to consumer products should be open to potential investing in outside companies as well as thinking about the role of the intrapreneur. It is the character of the intrapreneur that offers another road for innovative, passionate, go-getters with disabilities to help redefine their role in the business milieu and show their value in the future of business. However, for this to come to fruition takes a joint effort. Corporate leaders have to be aware that one, this is a real possibility, and two create the opportunity for there to be the mechanism for real communication to take the next steps. It is here where diversity and inclusion leadership and Employee Resource Groups (ERG) become an essential role in this process. Much like the accelerator programs that pepper the landscape of the technology industry, diversity and inclusion leaders to C-level executives have to rethink the actual use of disability ERG groups and explore their true potential beyond just their role to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. Rather, the ADA should galvanize companies to go deeper and think about how they can mine for talent and serve the organization to better innovate, create, and ultimately generate more revenue.   

While we experience the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, commemorating the upcoming anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act serves as more of a reminder that we as a nation must find ways to come together and be on the frontier of innovation to offer the potential for a better tomorrow. Persons with disabilities understand struggle and hardship. It is through their eyes that we can find ways to continue to have resolve, determination and as Winston Churchill understood the notion that “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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