Diversity: Consider Unseen Disabilities When Telling Your Diversity Story

Posted by John Brown
July 8, 2024

When we “talk” about diversity, there are obvious topics on which to focus – race, gender, origin, sexuality and physical ability. These forms of diversity are rich with examples of personal and professional triumph. One area we often overlook, however, is the stories of individuals with unseen disabilities. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population may have some sort of disability that is not readily apparent. During Disability Pride Month in July, it’s important to also consider the needs and achievements of those with mental health issues, who are neurodiverse or who have a vision or hearing impairment, for example, as they are also an integral part of your firm’s diversity story. Additionally, these stories are fascinating because nearly everyone can relate to overcoming their own perceived shortcomings.

Diverse Thought Drives Creative Solutions

Your colleagues with unseen disabilities undoubtedly have perspectives that can help foster creativity and problem solving and contribute to corporate knowledge. For example, an intellectual property attorney with a hearing impairment is particularly interested in medical devices because of their lifelong experiences (and frustrations) with hearing aids. Their technical knowledge and personal involvement feed their practice and contribute to the growth of their firm. A neurodivergent segment marketing director requires frequent solitude and serenity to effectively complete their job, but their experiences as a person with a disability inform their work in marketing and directly influence how the company approaches diverse customer audiences and employees.

Get the Story Started: What to Ask and How to Listen

To effectively hear the stories you want to tell, start by having honest conversations. A good approach to finding a subject is to make a general announcement to your group. Give individuals the opportunity to come forward on their own terms. Be straightforward and treat your respondents nonjudgmentally. You most likely have a lot to learn about these individuals and their disabilities. If it helps to prepare questions ahead of your conversation, do so but don’t be afraid to go off script. Be interested in their story and take note of how they’ve adapted to or overcome their disability. For some, it’s an ongoing process. For others, a conquered hill has propelled them forward. Don’t worry about asking stupid questions – the person has probably heard them all before!  Listen to what has influenced and motivated them and the struggles they’ve faced. Most likely, you share some of the same experiences and thoughts. Be sure you’re able to conceptualize the connection between how they manage their disability to their role in the organization.

Start Writing

As you would in any piece, be fair and accurate in your storytelling. It may be helpful to reach back out to your colleague and ask if there’s anything else they’d like to contribute. Be sure to let them review what you’ve written and document their comments and approval. Once you’ve published your work, be ready to field questions from your colleagues.

Each time we tell the stories of diverse colleagues, we break down the barriers of misunderstanding and fear. We also create an environment where others feel safe and welcome. Workplaces such as this are most likely to excel in original thinking, creative problem solving and employee retention.

John Brown is a vice president of content. He is based in Atlanta, GA.